Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Predator Still to Me

By Eric Mikols

When I was a kid (not to say I’m old now), there were a few immutable facts that I lived with. I knew, for a fact, that the earth was round. I also knew, for a fact, that George Washington was our first president. For a fact, I knew that two plus two always equaled four and it was utter nonsense to think it would ever equal more or less. There was no arguing these facts, and why would I want to? They made sense and the world worked fine with them. When I was a kid, I knew for a fact that the Tyrannosaurus Rex was the most fearsome predator the world has ever seen.

Now they tell me that he wasn’t.

Jack Horner has become a betrayer to me. As I grew up, he was the man I wanted to be. A famous paleontologist: foremost in his field with both finds and knowledge. He was a consultant for “Jurassic Park” and has gained a strong reputation for his theory on dinosaur growth. Then, as if he were mad at me, as if I had wronged him, he took my world and tried to shatter it to pieces. His 1994 article "Steak knives, beady eyes, and tiny little arms (a portrait of Tyrannosaurus as a scavenger)" in The Paleontological Society Special Publication was hate mail seemingly sent to my heart and childhood. Though no one else read it like I did, I still imagine the conversation he would have with my younger self;

“What’s your favorite dinosaur, young and wide-eyed Eric?”
“Gee, golly, and gosh, it’s always gonna be the T-Rex!”
“Why so?”
“Well, because he’s the best one there is! He’s the meanest, biggest, and coolest dinosaur ever and the biggest predator of all time!”
“He was a scavenger.”

And the world fell apart and I didn’t know what to hold to. I didn’t believe it (and still don’t). The Tyrannosaur couldn’t be a scavenger. He was the Tyrant Lizard.

I’m not going to say Jack Horner doesn’t know his facts. He’s still an expert of Hadrosaurs and his discovery of the Maiasaura is one the most important findings for dinosaur parenting behavior (and he should stick with mothering herbivores). But, he’s obviously wrong on this point of the Tyrannosaurus and I hope he someday recants (after all, even villains like Darth Vader could turn around near the end, so why not Jack?).

Horner argues that the T-Rex was a scavenger because its arms were too short to grab onto prey and hold it with any sort of grip. Well, that seems a little biased to me. If we were to follow Jack’s reasoning, those with short arms couldn’t play basketball, wrestle, or swing on a rope. Say we concede that the T-Rex had short arms (he did, after all). What of the shark? The most fearsome predator of the sea and it has no arms at all! Am I supposed to believe that a Tyrannosaur, with a mouth the size of small car, one that puts Jaws to shame, couldn’t do the same job as a big fish? Horner needs to stop limiting one’s ability by their slight hindrances.

Jack Horner also suggests that the Rex was a scavenger because its olfactory bulbs (the glands that contribute to scent) gave it a great sense of smell, allowing it to scout out carcasses over large distances. He compares our dinosaur king to vultures. Well, that sure sounds like a reason for something to scavenge; even though it could use the same sense of smell to find fresh prey, or other Tyrannosaurs (who would be a threat since they were predators). Horner’s first argument is to attack the T-Rex’s disability, and his second argument is to attack its strength? Where’s the consistency?

We could go on with Horner’s defenses but they all fall apart. Weak teeth, slow speed, and a digestion system that can handle bone marrow all crop up in his crazy, angry mind. Weak teeth? I can crack a Jolly Rancher in half with my molars and I’m just a puny human. Don’t tell me the T-Rex had weak teeth, especially considering that theropods (bipedal dinosaurs) replace theirs rapidly. Slow speed? What about the fact that his big brain (one of the largest of the Cretaceous period) would allow him to be more clever and stealthy than his smaller brained contemporaries? That sounds like turning a weakness into strength to me. Digesting bone marrow? Why wouldn’t the T-Rex try to get the most bang for his buck? Does Horner mention the T-Rex had binocular vision that looked straight ahead, as a good predator should? Or that other dinosaurs have been found with wounds from a Tyrannosaurus bite before death? No. He doesn’t want to look at both sides like a reasonable person.

Myself, I’m a reasonable person. I’m willing to concede (though with heartache) that the T-Rex wasn’t perfect. It had a big brain for its time, yes, but it would be outsmarted by today’s house cat. I was even able to hold myself together when they discovered bigger carnivorous dinosaurs like the Spinosaurus and the Giganotosaurus (though, with a name like that, it sounds like Giganotosaurus had a bigger ego as well). But, these are points I’m willing to recognize.

Let’s take science out of the equation and focus on some of the deeper, more meaningful ideas presented here. By making the Tyrannosaur a scavenger, we are taking the coolest dinosaur that ever lived and making him a lowly carrion feeder. We are taking a king and making it a pauper. This isn’t like arguing for the roundness of the planet, where people become afraid to travel because they think they’ll fall off the flat world. No, this is taking something great and trying to bring it down to our level. Why? Was the idea of the Tyrannosaurus Rex too freighting for the world, and Horner? Did we have to make him a scavenger to stop him from haunting our dreams? It seems selfish that, in order for us to sleep better, we make these comments and theories about a predator that’s been dead for years and can’t defend its own appropriately given name!

I know this slaps Jack Horner in the face to read, but I feel no remorse. My face is still red from his backhanded attack of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. No, Jack Horner, the T-Rex was not a scavenger. You are. You scavenge the world for dreams and truths and try to tear them apart. There was no victory to be had in proving the Tyrannosaurus as a scavenger. The only thing you gained was destroying my childhood. As a young boy, I grew up idolizing the Rex, wishing to see it in all its glory. He was my celebrity, my hero. The T-Rex was the master of all he surveyed and you shattered that image like broken glass. As I try to pick up the pieces, you, Mr. Horner, stand over and laugh, knowing that my childhood is among those shards, unable to ever be repaired. Perhaps, one day, the world will see you as a fraud and traitor to your own field. Perhaps, you will be knocked down as you did to my favorite dinosaur, having your colleagues looking at you as nothing more than an intern who got lucky in the 1970s (when you stumbled upon the Maiasaura nest). The books will not read you as a hero, but as little Jack Horner, who sat in his corner, eating his undeserved pie, who looked in my heart, tore it apart, and filled the world with his lies.

Horner, Jack R. "Steak knives, beady eyes, and tiny little arms (a portrait of Tyrannosaurus as a scavenger)". The Paleontological Society Special Publication 7 (1994) 157–164. Print.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Customer

Customers are strange creatures. Like a suicide bomber, they seem self-destructive and always looking for a target to take out in their last moments. I could discuss customers in many fashions; retail, service, entertainment, the list can go as long as we can come up with new things people will want. However, from my own experience, I find it best to discuss the customers of the food industry, mainly the wonderful world of pizza (with sandwiches thrown in for good measure).

The idea of the customer to the food industry is a little fearful, because you are taking the already unstable mind of the consumer and adding hunger to the mix. ‘Wants’ can make a normal person go a little off the edge, but throw in a very basic ‘need’ such as food, and you have a person who wants what he wants, and needs it now.

Though you, the employee, are there to help the customer achieve this goal, all they see you as is an obstacle they need to get through in order to reach their desire. We must accept the fact that all customers to the food industry are already angry, and you are the enemy. You might wonder if there is a way to avoid this situation, but there is none. Until we event a vending machine that can handle already cooked pizza, there is no faster means of receiving it. So, we come to understand the customer is angry.

This is not the only thing that angers customers, though. Choices become a fire under their powder keg rage. Why? For starters, the lack of choices attacks on their right to be able to choose from any food at any time. After all, they are entitled to have what they want, how they want. Take this entitlement and limit it and you offend not only their creative intellects for coming up with such choices, but their God-given right of options. In the world of pizza, all topping should be able to be chosen, be it the simple pepperoni or the rare Russian sturgeon. A customer is not going to be satisfied with only one type of cheese, especially having been to ‘real’ Italian restaurants that sell ‘real’ Italian pizza. When selling pizza by the slice, you must always have options; pepperoni for those who like meat but not a lot, meat pizzas for those who want meat but not the taste, vegetable for those who hate meat in general, and cheese slices for those who hate everything.

But, these are only the basic options you can allow because many customers will come in with their own types of ideas of what makes a good pizza slice. There is no real winning solution here, as your best hope is to have many plain slices around that you can add to as the customer roars for options. However, a hungry shopper, while desiring many choices, can quickly become paralyzed with too many options. You will quickly notice these types by the ones that rush in the store, salivating for food, yet stop dead in their tracks when they see the mass amount of choices before them. They will stare at the food, as if they are seeing it for the first time. They will look at you, as if pleading for help. In the end, they will purchase a pepperoni slice, not wanting to get too fancy but still avoiding the normality of plain cheese.

I will assume that most of you will be able to get the customer past the moments of making a decision, as hard as this can be. After all, options are not without prices. We live in a world of coupons and weekly deals, where the customer must be bargained to buy what you are selling at all times. How many pizzas can they get for free will always be the main question, as most shoppers will be hoping to spend as little as to no money as they can. Here we come again to offending these people. For you to even gather the gall to assume they would want your product enough to pay for it is purely an illusion of grandeur. Most of the time, you must assume, the customer doesn’t want anything you have. So, you must reason them to you. You can’t give them a pizza for free, but you can give them toppings for free, as well as drinks or second pizzas. They will always be happy for free items, even when they see that, at the end, you are still asking for money. I cannot tell you of how many times I have made it all the way to the end of the transaction and had the customer leave in a fiery rage because money was required.

These are but parts of the customer experience you, the employee, will have to deal with personally. But do not think that these are the limits to the trial. For instance, while most customers like to arrive for food with time to spare, there are those that are so busy doing important jobs that the only time they have for pizza is three minutes before you close. They, though late, are still customers and deserve food as they demand it, even after you’ve cleaned and closed most of your kitchen. It’s not their fault you took unwarranted initiative; they are far busier than you can ever believe and you have no other purpose then to provide them with food.

Customers. I have seen them come in and wipe out a store of the entire product you have to offer and leave behind more trash than is physically manageable. I have seen them storm through, wave their arms and demand all of heaven’s treasure upon them and then leave in fury when you only gave them half. They are irrational, determined, and they are how we are paid. Without them, business dies and we leave poor. Good luck to you, employee.