Hey, Mike! Why haven’t you been blogging much lately?

October 14, 2020

Well, one reason is the utterly rancid “block editor” that WordPress has started imposing with increasing insistence on its poor users. If there is one thing that world really doesn’t need, it’s a completely new way of writing text. Seriously, WordPress, that was a solved problem in 1984. As Henry Spencer very nearly said back in the eighties, “thy creativity is better used in solving problems than in creating beautiful new impediments to productivity“.

But enough pointless whining: instead, check out this bad boy:

Taylor (in prep. for 2020: Figure V). NHMUK PV R5937, “The Archbishop”, cervical vertebra V (most anterior preserved cervical vertebra, probably C6), left side still encased in plaster. A. Reconstruction of right lateral view with neural spine, prezygapophysis, diapophysis, condyle, cotyle and cervical rib restored. The prezygapophysis from the succeeding vertebra that has adhered to this element is shown in red. B. Dorsal view with anterior to the right. C. Posterior view. D. Right lateral view. E. Anterior view. F. Ventral view with anterior to the right. Scale bar 20 cm.

Yes, it’s your friend and mine, The Archbishop! It’s a big titanosauriform sauropod excavated by F. W. H. Migeod for the British Museum (Natural History) back in 1930, from the same Tendaguru Formation that yielded the awesome Giraffatitan specimens in the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.

Yes, I admit I have been working on the Archbishop for more than sixteen years, and that I gave a talk about it at SVPCA 2005, and that I failed utterly to get it done as part of the Paleo Project Challenge 2010, and that as early as 2011 I was in despair about ever finishing it, and that I promised to do it by SVPCA 2016 but didn’t.

But in 2018 I did something significant, which was to actually start writing the paper in public. Now anyone can follow the progress of the project — and it’s progressing. The manuscript currently runs to about fifty printed pages, although that length is inflated by twenty-odd beautiful illustrations — of which the “Cervical V” image above is just one. (Do click through to see it in all its glory.)

So, yeah. That’s the main reason I am not blogging much. Because I am writing the paper. Finally.

23 Responses to “Hey, Mike! Why haven’t you been blogging much lately?”

  1. Thomas Munro Says:

    Great stuff! You seem to be very deep into it already, but given that you’re using markdown and Github, for future projects you might want to try manubot:
    https://manubot.org
    which gives sumptuous html and PDF output from markdown, better than all but a handful of journals in my opinion. References can be cited just be inserting the doi. Here’s a preprint describing it, made using it:
    https://greenelab.github.io/meta-review/
    Note the table of contents on the left, and the mouse-over popups on the citations. I think it’s damn impressive. I collaborated on one, but I don’t have the technical know-how to start one myself. I think a simple GUI-based version of this would be the long-overdue death of the dreaded Word-Endnote combo.

  2. llewelly Says:

    wow! This looks like some very good and very interesting progress.

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks, Thomas, that looks really good! I’ll try it out.

  4. llewelly Says:

    Also, the scap in figure D looks enormous – supersaurus-sized.

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    Interesting, llewelly. I’d not thought about that. Of course, it’s only a quarry map and probably not very carefully scaled. But I will be looking into proportions later in the paper. (The section is already there at https://github.com/MikeTaylor/palaeo-archbishop/blob/master/archbishop-manuscript.md#size-and-proportions !)

  6. llewelly Says:

    well, with that in mind … It does look a little out of scale – probably it will turn out to be less than supersaurus-sized. Oh well. : )

  7. llewelly Says:

    specifically – there’s a spot where you quote Migeod saying it was 87 inches. That’s about a foot shorter than I thought it was based on the scale given for the quarry map.

  8. oliveunicorn Says:

    I dislike the new block editor too . And will you pubish a link to your paper when it’s finished ?

  9. Mike Taylor Says:

    Yes, of course I will publish a link to the finished paper! Here at SV-POW! Towers, we do not have a record of keeping quiet about our own work :-)

  10. Marco Says:

    So… Is this specimen “just” a bigger, older and more complex specimen of Giraffatitan or is definitely something else?

    My best regards for your work the SVPOW team is amazing!

  11. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks, Marco!

    The evidence is that this specimen is not an individual of Giraffatitan. It’s noticably less pneumatic for one thing, and there are a bunch of specific differences in the cervicals and dorsals. The phylogenetic analysis is recovering the Archbishop as a somphospondyl in all most parsimonious trees, though only one more step is required to force it to resolve as a brachiosaurid. Three more are required for it to be the sister taxon of Giraffatitan.

  12. nwfonseca Says:

    Very cool, exciting that you are moving forward. I look forward to reading the paper when it comes out. I like the figure you posted here. It is very well organized, as a non expert it took me a moment to find anterior end until I saw the cervical rib in the illustrated portion. Would an anterior posterior or the like marker be helpful? Similar to the north marker in architectural drawings? I work in CAD for my career and the the figures in paleo papers are very similar to the orthographic projections. The biggest challenge is to design a good layout within the confines of the page. I always wanted to take a stab at one, looks like a good challenge.

  13. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks, nwfonseca!

    The caption does say “Dorsal view with anterior to the right” for part B and “Ventral view with anterior to the right” for part F — surely it’s not possible to say “Right lateral view with anterior to the right” for part D? It’s implicit in “right lateral”, and anyway why would I depict it different from the dorsal and ventral views?

  14. nwfonseca Says:

    A good visual should be able to communicate effectively rather quick without needing a caption. A caption should capture what can’t fit in the visual or would crowd the image. In architecture for example, there is always a north arrow so you are able to orient yourself at a glance. If there was an anterior marker and you oriented your other views in relation to it I wonder if it would be possible to eliminate the caption or use it to describe the important features. As you said, once we knew B was dorsal with anterior to the right it was implicit which direction each view was. I understand architecture and paleontology are completely different disciplines so what works in one world doesn’t necessarily translate to the other. However, I find it useful to look at how others work to improve my own. Not that I have any negative critique of your figure and your letters correspond well to the caption (which isn’t always the case in other figures I have seen)

  15. Mike Taylor Says:

    This is an interesting idea. I think where you architects have the advantage over us is the established convention that an arrow indicates north. If I put an arrow in my figure I will need also add the word “anterior” to interpret it — and then, is that much better than having it in the caption? Maybe a little. And of course it’s never too late to start a convention.

    Arrow-points-north for ground plans is simple enough, but what is the convention for multiview illustrations of (for example) a ship or a an aeroplane? How is anterior indicated in those?

  16. nwfonseca Says:

    Yes, a set of standards is very helpful. I could technically look at a drawing in a language I don’t know and still orient myself. There are many variations on the north arrow, sometimes they have an “N” on it sometimes not. After a while we are able to easily identify the north arrow. We can also use reference markers which is often a circle with an arrow that points at a view and has a number or letter in the circle that corresponds to a label under an elevation view.

    Tangentially related, being that I am not a paleo expert I can’t contribute much apart from asking lay person questions thus the main way I can contribute is through what I know. (I should point out that I am not one of those “experts” in another field who contradicts what I read because I design stuff.) I am actually an exhibitions designer by trade (and paleoartist, hence my interest in your blog which is one of the few I still read) but exhibit designers use a lot of architectural conventions. I appreciate being able to converse with people whom I respect in a field I love, thanks for that!

  17. Mike Taylor Says:

    I can’t really visualise “a circle with an arrow that points at a view and has a number or letter in the circle that corresponds to a label under an elevation view” — can you point me to an example?

    BTW., your contribution is very much appreciated! Thank you for hanging around here reading our stuff, and for contributing. It’s always fascinating to see how different disciplines handle similar problems.

  18. Andreas Johansson Says:

    Just out of curiosity, what’s a “block editor”?

  19. Mike Taylor Says:

    The “block editor” is the name WordPress have given to this crappy new editor that they want bloggers to use now instead of the perfectly cromulent one we’ve all been using for a decade. I suppose they thought that it sounded better than “lame-ass editor”.

  20. nwfonseca Says:

    Thanks for that Mike, this blog is really one of the few that have consistently maintained a kind and collegiate atmosphere even while fighting the good fight.

    Sure, I can try and show you an examples: https://sta.sh/01ghyt443i7c in it you can see the reference markers that refer to either a view on the/another sheet “page”. The one without the arrow is a detail marker, in this case it refers to the previous page where we have a detail on how the wall is constructed. Here is an example of something similar using your figure: https://sta.sh/01bde96v6cj8

  21. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thank you for these very kind words — it always delights me how consistently positive the comment streams have been on this blog.

    I see what you mean with the markers. Interesting. The idea in my original illustration is that it’s obvious how each view relates to the others because you could print out the diagram, fold it into a cuboid, and have all the faces show the right thing. But I admit that “obvious” is a bit of a movable feast.

  22. llewelly Says:

    it certainly wasn’t “obvious” to me. Although, now that you’ve said it, I can see most (all?) of the diagrams in the paper which depict multiple views of the same bone could in theory be printed, cut out, and folded into cubiods with each face showing the appropriate view of the bone. (Some are missing one face, presumably due to it being unprepared, or due to the specimen being too fragile to flip? )

    A few dotted lines and you’d have a cut-and-fold-your-own “The Archbishop” project. Some assembly required …

  23. Mike Taylor Says:

    Not all of the illustrations have this fold-into-a-box property, because those bones that are mounted on their bases would need one of the two lateral views to be composited upside-down for that to work. So for those, I have cheated and spun those lateral views round 180 degrees.

    To see how the box thing works in practice, see this old post — in which, you will notice, one of the lateral aspects is printed upside down.


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