31 March 2013

PhyloPic Launch: API, Responsive Design, etc.

On Good Friday I took PhyloPic down. On Holy Saturday, I wrestled with errors caused by incongruities between the server and dev environments. And, lo, now, on Easter Sunday I announce that PhyloPic is back! (Actually, I already announced in on Twitter, but whatever.)

How smartphone users should see PhyloPic, more or less.

Major New Features:

  • A Developer API (using JSON). Now other people can build applications using PhyloPic data and images. (Yes, I am dogfooding it, so most of it should be pretty well-tested.)
  • Responsive design (using the ever-more-ubiquitous Bootstrap the site is now much more useable on mobile devices.
  • A Links Page, showing off work that uses PhyloPic or features it in some way.
  • Speedier load times (in theory, anyway).
  • Ranks for Contributors — if you submit one image, you're a "Specialist". Two, and you're a "General". Six, and you're a "Familiar". See where this is going?
  • Fewer requirements — most notably, Flash is no longer required to submit images.
  • Handy little icons on most taxon links — now you can tell if you're clicking on Gastonia the dicotyledonous plant or Gastonia the dinosaur. (Still rolling this out to all taxa.)

19 March 2013

Preview Screenshots

A little glimpse of what I've been working on:

10 March 2013

"Year of Macrauchenia": Third and Final "All Your Yesterdays" Entry

I made a last-minute entry for the All Your Yesterdays contest:

Year of Macrauchenia
Macrauchenia was the greatest and last of the litopterns, a clade of stem-euungulates. This bizarre Pleistocene South American herbivore is often described as having the body of a llama and the head of a tapir. However, the body is only superficially llama-like (but with gigantic elbows) and the head is not at all tapir-like. (If any part of it resembles tapirs, it's the feet.) In fact, the skull isn't like that of any living terrestrial mammal. It has extremely dorsal nares, like trunked animals and cetaceans, but it lacks any place for trunk muscles to attach.
But there is a possible analogue  another group of terrestrial herbivores with extremely dorsal nares  and they even had long necks, too! I refer, of course, to sauropod dinosaurs. Unfortunately, none are extant for comparison, but recent work has shown that, despite the dorsal placement of the nares in the skull, the external nostrils were still placed rostrally, close to the mouth, thanks to fleshy tubes. I've restored Macrauchenia similarly.
This mandala depicts the life of Macrauchenia across the seasons. At bottom, a lone Macrauchenia wanders the frozen highlands in relative comfort, having grown a shaggy winter coat. Its fleshy nostril tubes serve to warm the air before it enters the body. At right, spring is in effect  a bull courts a cow by inflating his nostril tubes, similar to a hooded seal. At top, a young calf frolics under his mother's watchful eye  his green color comes from the algae living in his fur (similar to the camouflage of those other South American indigenes, the sloths). This extra measure of color accuracy is necessary because, unlike today's ungulates, Macrauchenia must contend with predators that have excellent color vision: phorusrhacids. At left, a wary bull faces off against a Smilodon, an invading predator from the north. (It is restored after linsangs, the extant sister group to felids, instead of the felids themselves, since it is, properly, a stem-felid, not a true felid.) Macrauchenia will survive this great faunal interchange, but not for long — another invader from the north, a large primate, will be the end of it, and hence all litopterns.