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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dinosaur tracks discovered in Arabian peninsula

By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 12:02 PM on 23rd May 2008

The tracks of a herd of dinosaurs have been discovered on mud flats in Yemen - the first discovery of dinosaur footprints on the Arabian peninsula.

They were made by 11 long-necked sauropods, the largest land animal in Earth's history, which walked on four stout legs and ate plants.

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Sauropod footprint


A tourist touches a footprint of a sauropod, 31 miles north of the Yemeni capital Sanaar. Below, an artists's impression of the largest land animal in Earth's history

"The nice thing is we finally filled in a bit of a blank spot in the dinosaur map," said Anne Schulp, a palaeontologist at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, who worked on the study.

"Until 10 years not even bones were known from the Arabian peninsula and at last we have some dinosaur tracks."

The footprints dating from about 150 million years ago showed the sauropods travelling at the same speed along a river, likely in search of food, Schulp said in a telephone interview.

The creatures roamed the Earth from about 228 million years ago to 65 million years ago, the middle of the age of dinosaurs.

The well-preserved tracks, found about 50 miles north of Yemen's capital Sanaa, ranged from 43 centimetres to 70 centimetres and suggested strides of about 2.5 meters, Schulp added.

dinosaur footprint

Discovery: The sauropod footprints are the first dinosaur tracks found on the Arabian peninsula

Paleontologists have so far unearthed only a few dinosaur fossils from the Arabian peninsula and possible fragments of a long-necked dinosaur from Yemen.

"The nice thing about tracks is you can tell what these guys were doing," Schulp said. "You can put some life into the fossils."

The researchers had first found evidence of a large ornithopod, a two-legged, plant-eating dinosaur, and then discovered the sauropods' tracks close by.

Schulp and his colleague Mohammed Al-Wosabi of the University of Yemen measured the shape and angle of the different digits in one of the prints to identify the bipedal dinosaur as an ornithopod.

They then used the size, shape and spacing of the other prints to determine body size, travel speed and other distinguishing features of the sauropod herd, they reported in the journal PLoS ONE on Wednesday.

"We really want to learn when did which dinosaurs live, where, and why was that," Schulp said. "How did the distribution change over time, why did one replace another and move from one place to another?"

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It's a Bus. It's a Train. It's Both!

By Alexander Lew


What do you get when you cross a bus with a train? A dual-mode vehicle that has the versatility of a bus, the speed of light rail and fuel economy vastly better than either.

Toyota and its truck-making subsidiary Hino Motors have signed on with Japan Rail Hokkaido to develop the vehicles, which carry 25 people and reportedly burn one-fourth the amount of diesel fuel required by conventional buses. Japan Rail started testing them about 18 months ago, and bringing Toyota aboard could speed up development and commercialization of what may be the mass transit vehicle of the future.

Dual-mode vehicles have four rubber tires for road use and four steel wheels for the rails, and it takes less than 15 seconds to go from road to rail and back again. It drives just like a bus on the road, and a hydraulic system raises the tires and lowers the steel wheels as the driver guides the vehicle onto the tracks.

Japan Rail provides rail service for the island of Hokkaido, and about one-third of its lines carry less than 500 people. It developed the dual-mode vehicles as a means of cutting costs on those lines without reducing service. The vehicles use a Toyota microbus body and axles built by Hino. The two companies will help Japan Rail refine the technology and increase passenger capacity with an eye toward commercial production.

"Our contribution is expected to be another step toward more practical use of the dual mode vehicle," company spokesman Kenichiro Baba told AFP.

Combing the versatility of a bus with the speed of a train has allowed Japan Rail to tailor routes and services to the communities it serves. Rather than scuttling service on under-utilized lines, Japan Rail has simply switched to smaller vehicles.

Dual-mode vehicles would be a great addition to America's mass transit infrastructure. It would make rail transit feasible in those areas that don't have the population density to support a lot of stations, and make mass transit a more viable option for exurbs. Riders could simply hop on at a bus stop in their neighborhood, then ride the rails to their destination.

Photos by Flickr user NeiTech.





'Indiana Jones' graphics meant to go unnoticed

Hayden Landis

Industrial Light & Magic's Hayden Landis, who was the computer graphics supervisor on the latest Indy film, views stills at the San Francisco headquarters of the Lucasfilm special effects division.

(Credit: Michelle Meyers/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO--There's just something about that familiar Indiana Jones music. You know it--dun ta dun ta, dun ta da...

Even having spent months slaving over some 540 computer-generated images for the just-released Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the admittedly jaded Hayden Landis still gets excited when he hears that theme song.

"The little kid in you comes out," said Landis, computer graphics supervisor on the film, recalling the music in the opening of the movie trailer. "I grew up with Indiana Jones."

It's that very nostalgic feeling that Landis and his team at Lucasfilm's Industrial Light & Magic tried to create with the film's visual effects--at director Steven Spielberg's request, Landis said.

Whether it was from nostalgia or some other motivation, people have turned out for the movie in force. Hollywood Reporter said Sunday that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has tallied an estimated gross of $269 million worldwide for its opening weekend, finishing No. 1 in all major markets. In the U.S., the Associated Press reported, the movie grossed an estimated $101 million from Friday to Sunday, plus $25 million from its opening night Thursday.

Spielberg "wanted to make sure it looked like all the other" Indy films, Landis explained Friday in an interview with CNET here at ILM's headquarters. Spielberg even shot the film with one of the very lenses used for the first Indiana Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was released 27 years ago.

From a technological standpoint, that meant some challenges in seamlessly matching the computer-generated images (CGIs) to the older film style--lens scratches and all. In that vein, the computer animation couldn't be "in your face," and if ILM did its job, viewers will hardly notice the 45 minutes of CGI in the film, Landis said. Interestingly, about 300 people worked in-house on CGI for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the same number of people who worked on the film's set, Landis said.

Another technological challenge was the sheer array of types of CGI used in a film which, like its prequels, involves worldwide adventure. "We have a bit of everything in this," Landis said, listing examples like water, space, hair, and creatures.

movie poster

An Indiana Jones movie poster is displayed prominently in the lobby of Lucasfilm's Industrial Light & Magic in San Francisco.

(Credit: Michelle Meyers/CNET

For example, in a jungle chase sequence shot in Hawaii, to make an area look more like undisturbed terrain, the team tapped into ILM's virtual garden library and added lush plants digitally. A relatively plain road was magically converted into a dramatic cliffside, he said.

ILM also created a new software tool for the film called Fracture, which allows the special effects team to "destroy" (i.e. blow up) huge "set pieces," (i.e. buildings), Landis said. These are things that were never possible before CGI, he added, because of health risks or other constraints.

As for working with Spielberg, Landis called it "refreshing," because the director always had a clear big-picture idea of what he wanted and left the details to others.

Next up for Landis is another nostalgia-oriented project--a redo of the Star Tours ride at Disneyland. The big question...will Captain EO make a comeback?

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