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Making progress

Well, it's been a couple of weeks since my last post, and I've been busy... working my way through the long list of things that have to be done before I can go home. And Donald's paleontologist friends have been busy down in the basement, sorting through fossils, plaster casts, latex molds, notes, papers, letters, books and photos, and boxing them up to go to various researchers and institutions: Yale, the New Jersey State Museum, the Smithsonian Archives, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, and elsewhere.

It's a complicated job. Donald's old friend and collaborator Bob Hook is leading the effort, which means he has to come up here from his home in Austin, Texas—a trip he's already made four times this summer. He's brought in colleagues such as Hans-Dieter Sues of the Smithsonian and Scott McKenzie of Mercyhurst College to help sort things out. (That's Scott and Bob in the photo below.) It's all very technical, and way over my head, so I'm very grateful that Donald designated Bob as "scientific executor"—and of course grateful that Bob has the time to do it!

Scott McKenzie and Bob Hook

I was pleased to hear that there are still three or four scientific papers due to be published that will carry Donald's name as co-author. And yet another extinct critter has been named after him, a genus of side-necked turtles from the Miocene era dubbed Bairdemys. I'll quote here the abstract of the paper announcing this find:

A new genus, Bairdemys, is erected for two species of side-necked turtles. Bairdemys venezuelensis (Wood and Díaz de Gamero, 1971) from the late Miocene Urumaco Formation of Venezuela is represented by four skulls and a number of shells. Bairdemys hartsteini from the Miocene of Puerto Rico is known from a skull. Bairdemys is a member of the Podocnemididae because it possesses a cavum pterygoideus, and is related to the Shweboemys Group because it has a well-developed secondary palate. It differs from all other Podocnemididae in having large ventral convexities on the secondary palate, the eustachian tube separated by bone from the fenestra postotica, and the frontal and prefrontal strongly convex dorsally.

You can see why I've left the basement sorting work to the pros, since I wouldn't know a pterygoid from a pterodactyl. I'm glad somebody does!

Fubarichtys prolatus

Speaking of naming fossils, I've learned that many researchers turned to Donald for help when coming up with scientific names for new discoveries, because he knew both Latin and Greek.

One colleague asked for help in naming a fossil fish that was known from several specimens, all of which had broken necks or other damage—pretty screwed-up specimens, hard to recognize. Donald dug into his repertoire of Army slang, added a Greek root meaning "fish," and came up with "Fubarichthys"—FUBAR being the acronym for "Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition." And thus it was entered in the annals of science... if you don't believe me, you can read about it here. Another critter of dubious origins was dubbed "Otozoum quiensabe"—"Giant-animal who-knows?"—in a typical example of Donald's wry humor.

Meanwhile, I've been upstairs photographing furniture. I built a couple of ultra-low-cost light stands, following the instructions on the "Shoot That Quilt!" website that my friend Holly and I put together a few years back, and rigged up a bedsheet backdrop in the living room. (I hung the sheet from a shower curtain rod, and hung that from a couple of hooks screwed into the ceiling.)

Photop setup

It took some Photoshop work to get rid of the wrinkles in the backdrop, but the end results were pretty good:


These photos gave me something to show antique dealers and auction houses. It's one thing to tell a dealer, "My dad left me a bunch of antiques"—that word has been thrown around so loosely that it's almost meaningless. It's somewhat better to say "My dad left me a late 18th century Queen Anne highboy top, curly maple, with a cove molded cornice over a central fan carved drawer, resting on ogee bracket feet" (to quote a description I copied from a dealer's website). But it's best of all to show clear color photos. I posted these on a private website and invited a select few dealers to peruse them.

And it worked. So far I've had two antique dealers tour the house, a third one is coming later this week, and Wes Cowan Auctions in Cincinnati is sending their Director of Fine and Decorative Art in a couple of weeks. My photos hooked them. For the record, this was all done with less than sixty bucks worth of materials and a consumer-grade digital camera. Well, and Photoshop... that helped a lot.

Tobacco stains

Before photographing each item, I had to wipe it down thoroughly. I used a Pledge-type lemon oil, and what came off was not just cobwebs and dust, but an evil-smelling brown layer of tobacco tar, the result of 25 years of pipe smoking. (Smokers, this is what your lungs look like.)

So... the basement is about half cleared out (though it'll take another month to finish the job); I've got people lined up who hopefully will take the furniture off my hands; I've sold about fifteen cartons of books (admittedly only a small fraction of the total); and I've thrown out many bags of trash. I'm still a long way from done, but at least I can see progress, and that feels good.

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