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  • Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: February 2015

    By Mark Carnall, on 27 February 2015

    Welcome one, welcome all to February 2015’s Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month. For the uninitiated, this blog series is an exploration of world of underwhelming fossil fish. Natural history museums are packed with millions of specimens but most aren’t the celebrated, charismatic, blockbusting Hollywood specimens. Most are uncelebratable data points. Broken, ugly and altogether uninteresting. This series, the whole of which you can browse through here (READER DISCRETION ADVISED: reading too many in one sitting may put you in a permanent state of torpor), focuses on the Grant Museum’s fossil fish collection. Month by month we swivel the spotlight onto one of our fossil fish specimens and contemplate the borderline mediocre. Why do we have these specimens? Can we learn something about ourselves by trying to stay awake reading about them? No. No of course we can’t.

    Matchstick props to keep your eyes open recommended for this one, set phasers to underwhelm. For series fans you may be slightly excited to learn it’s a return of the SPOT THE FOSSIL FISH format that nobody has been clamouring for!

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    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: January 2015

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 January 2015

    Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages. The Grant Museum proudly brings to you, the monthly blog series nobody is talking about. The underwhelmingest fossil fish. Occasional photos of the reverse of fossils. The underwhelming fossil fish of the month! This month, as with every month we’ve got exclusive content right here for January 2015. Now, normally I like to keep it low key. A bit hush hush. A bit dress-down. Not too much to get excited over. A little bit, how shall we say, “meh”. However, rifling through the drawers to find this month’s fossil star I was stopped mid-rifle by this specimen. It’s going to be a real challenge to keep this one underwhelming. People of all persuasions and orientations, lock up your partners and significant others because this month we’ve got a real looker of a fossil fish to kick start the year.

    I’m excited. Are you excited? Steel yourself for a swoon, here’s this month’s underwhelming fossil fish.

    (more…)

    Curt Herzstark and a remarkable machine.

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 27 January 2015

    Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet soldiers. To mark this I thought I would discuss an object from UCL’s collections with a pretty remarkable story. This object not only saved the life of its inventor, but also allowed him to save the lives of others at Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

    Curt Herzstark with one of his calculators. Image taken from http://www.vcalc.net/cu.htm.

    Curt Herzstark with one of his calculators.
    Image from http://www.vcalc.net/cu.htm.

    The Curta calculator is a wonderful machine. It’s was the world’s first handheld mechanical calculator and was used extensively from its invention until the digital calculator took over in the 1960s / 70s. Scientific American called it “the most ingenious calculating machine ever to grace an engineer’s hand” (£ link).

    The Curta calculator was invented by Curt Herzstark, born 1904 in Austria, whose family owned a company that made calculating machines and other precision instruments. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: December 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 19 December 2014

    Underwhelming Christmas of the yearGod rest ye merry fossil fish

    You’ll never be displayed

    For the selection criteria of specimens

    Isn’t biased in your way

    To save us all from excitement

    You’re here to save the day

    O drawers of underwhelming fossil fish

    Underwhelming fossil fish

    O drawers o-hof underwhelming fossil fish.

    It’s that time of the year when people of all walks of life come together to celebrate the passing of 12 months of underwhelming fossil fish and look forward to the next 12, hoping the fossils stay quietly unassuming, not too bombastic or boisterous and altogether middling-at-best. This year was particularly unexciting one for fossil fish with many stoically maintaining a state of fossiliferous.

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    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: November 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 26 November 2014

    It’s that time of year, reindeer who are different are being bullied by their peers, Jack Frost is biting noses again, Saturday morning TV is back to back toy adverts with the odd cartoon in between, Sainsbury’s remind us exactly why our ancestors fought and died in the Great War and Z list celebrities are turning lights on in high streets up and down the land. Yes of course, it’s November, a month so average they named it only once. But do you know what’s even less average than the month of November? It’s only UNDERWHELMING FOSSIL FISH OF THE MONTH, our monthly foray into the uninspiring world of forgotten fossil fish whose heyday, if they even had one, is long past. These fossiliferous fish now remain largely unused in museum stores and this blog series is a monthly window into their esoteric and marginal at best world.

    Last months’ fossil fish proved too underwhelming for many leading to a number of network executives to hint that a third series of underwhelming fossil fish may not be forthcoming. To recompense and please the execs, I’m bringing out the big guns. I’ve chosen a pretty exciting fossil fish for November. We will get that third season fanatic fossil fish fans.

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    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: October 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 31 October 2014

    October has been a bumper month for not-so-underwhelming-fossil-fish with show off species Microbrachius dicki making headlines early this month for inventing penetrative sex (although of course you and I know that this hyberbolic reporting conflates the ever so slight nudging of oldest evidence of internal fertilisation in our branch of the tree of life with the invention of sex but, hey, at least it got reported). However, it does mean that in order to keep the fossil fish hype-ometer at a steady level we’re going to have to go really underwhelming in this month’s exploration of underwhelming fossil fish to even it out.

    I think I’ve done it though. Be prepared for the dullest underwhelming fossil fish of the month ever. It’s less exciting than this image of the reverse of 2013’s Loganellia scotica. Yes, it’s duller than the fossil most notable for its similarity to a pavement slab. I’d recommend painting a wall and watching the paint dry after reading this because you’ll need something to get your heart racing again.

    (more…)

    A Medical (School) Mystery

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 24 September 2014

    For most of the last two weeks of September I was working on a collections project aimed at auditing, repacking and photographing the UCL Physiology Collection. Although the collection itself consists of only 82 objects (for now), it shares its store room with a large number of additional objects, papers, books and other ‘misc’ material. It was quite a job, and took 5 of us the best part of two weeks to complete.

    Among the objects and papers we saw during the work were two 20th century dog respirators, half a door, papers relating to experiments on Everest and lots of framed portraits and photos.

    Included in this last lot was a particularly perplexing object, which caused us all to scratch our heads for a while.

    Medical Faculty 1957, with troll (middle back).

    A traoll (?) standing behind the class, holding an umbrella and tin helmet.

    A troll (?) standing behind the class,
    holding an umbrella and tin helmet.

    (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: August 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 29 August 2014

    Welcome welcome to this month’s Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month. The mission of this blog series is to temporarily shine the spotlight on underwhelming fossil fish specimens from the Grant Museum collection. It’s not that the Grant Museum collection is particularly underwhelming, most fossil collections are made up of huge archives of fragmentary, broken and not-particularly-impressive material that have had their heyday in scientific research and are now just taking up space. This month, I’m taking a leaf out of singer-songwriter, actor, record producer, businessman, and philanthropist, Justin Timberlake’s book and I’m bringing SexyBack with this month’s fossil fish. Combing the drawers for suitable specimens this one stopped me in my tracks and got me blushing.

    This specimen is bringing sexy back. The other underwhelming fossil fish of the months don’t know how to act. Warning, this month may not be suitable for those who are of a nervous disposition.

    Take ‘em to the bridge.

    (more…)

    Re-packing UCL´s Magic Lantern Slides

    By Margaux Bricteux, on 29 July 2014

    As my time working with UCL’s lantern slides draws to a close, I thought I’d reflect on some of the things I’ve discovered over the past few weeks. (To learn what lantern slides are, and why UCL has accumulated thousands of them, click here).

    Scan of slide EE703, showing a diagram of a Vreeland oscillator

    Slide EE703 – A Vreeland oscillator, 
    or just another electric circuit
    to the unaccustomed eye.

    The majority of  the slides in the UCL Science and Engineering collection are, unsurprisingly enough, about Engineering. Electrical Engineering to be precise. I must say that, having not had a single Physics lesson in the past six years, the prospect of cataloguing slide after slide of what looked like identical electric circuits was not exactly my cup of academic tea. But I soon learnt that there is a lot more to ElecEng (as it is apparently abbreviated) than alternators, resonators, oscillators and commutators. In particular, I became interested in UCL’s very own Sir John  Ambrose Fleming, founder of England’s first University Department of Electrical Technology, inventor of the thermionic valve and Pender Professor at UCL for three decades.

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    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: July 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 25 July 2014

    I’ll be honest with you reader, I’m totally phoning in this month’s underwhelming fossil fish of the month. When I pulled last month’s underwhelming fossil fish out of the drawer it looked to me like a small but slender mandible which I lazily attributed to the fish Saurichthys. I then wrote what I can only describe as the greatest underwhelming fossil fish of the month blog post in the world. Confidently, I scheduled it to be published and then actually looked at the specimen and re identified it as the now infamous caudal  fulcrum of Chondrosteus. In a fit of shame, the dark side of science we don’t often talk about, I printed out the blog post, then shredded it and then burnt the shreds. I sent the ashes to the four corners of Earth and then deleted the original blog and rewrote one for Chondrosteus. So this month I am writing about Saurichthys but, as is always the case, the rewrite was nowhere near as interesting, engaging or downright life changing as the original lost version. Suffice to say, this is not the greatest underwhelming fossil fish of the month blog post in the world. This is just a tribute.

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