What-If 0101: "Plastic Dinosaurs"

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What-If 0101: "Plastic Dinosaurs"

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Jun 18, 2014 4:48 pm UTC

http://what-if.xkcd.com/101/

As plastic is made from oil and oil is made from dead dinosaurs, how much actual real dinosaur is there in a plastic dinosaur?
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Jun 18, 2014 6:06 pm UTC

Hurray here come the are-birds-dinosaurs argument again.

I'll get it started by stating my position: we're saying it backwards. Birds aren't dinosaurs; dinosaurs are birds, all the birds extant today and all extinct descendants of their common ancestor (the crown group), PLUS all extinct species more closely related to that crown group than to any other extant species (like crocodiles). The dinosaurs are the pan-aves.

Alternately, if we're ok with a little bit of paraphyletic taxonomy, the dinosaurs are the stem-aves; everything more closely related to the crown group birds than any other extant group, minus the crown group itself.

Yeah I know those both include some things not technically within dinosauria like pterosaurs, but pterosaurs fit within the lay definition of "dinosaur" anyway so I'm fine with that. Not all carnivores are within carnivora, so not all dinosuars have to be within dinosauria.
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby origimbo » Wed Jun 18, 2014 6:37 pm UTC

Is there actually an argument these days, beyond a few people with a very now-centric and mammal-centric view of the Universe?

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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby vortighast » Wed Jun 18, 2014 7:12 pm UTC

So since I had a turkey sandwich and a Coke for lunch today, I guess I have quite a bit of dinosaur in me... And I can truthfully tell people I had dinosaur for lunch!

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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby mathmannix » Wed Jun 18, 2014 7:47 pm UTC

origimbo wrote:Is there actually an argument these days, beyond a few people with a very now-centric and mammal-centric view of the Universe?


Yeah... I know this REAALLLY isn't the place for a debate (and I know it would be one-sided!), so I really hope there isn't much flame-warring after this comment, but let me just say that I presume you refer to (Young-Earth) Creationists, and Wikipedia indicates that, among several of the more prominent nations (Brazil, Canada, UK, US), over 20% of the general population does not believe in evolution, at least according to at least one survey per country listed. So yes, there is an argument about dinosaurs = birds, at least from that group. Yes, the numbers drop considerably among scientists, and are higher among "the poor and the least educated." But, definitely more than "a few people".

Again, really not looking to start a war here, just answering origimbo's question.
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Jun 18, 2014 7:53 pm UTC

Well the argument I was anticipating, the one that's happened on these forums, was the one about whether it's linguistically accurate to say "birds are dinosaurs" even GIVEN the evolutionary relationship between dinosaurs and birds, not an argument over whether that relationship exists or not. The argument is usually over whether all taxonomic terms have to be monophyletic or whether "dinosaurs" should be taken as a paraphyletic group excluding birds. My solution is to look at it the other way around: "birds" are all the living birds and everything more closely related to them than to anything else living today, so dinosaurs are stem birds (birds from branches separate than the one that the living birds descend from, but still clearly more in the "bird" branch of the tree of life than any other), rather than birds being a narrow taxon of dinosaurs. So instead of reframing our very old notion of what a bird is, we reframe our much newer notion of what a dinosaur is: dinosaurs aren't extinct giant lizard-things, they're extinct giant bird-things.
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby rmsgrey » Wed Jun 18, 2014 7:59 pm UTC

Is the first footnote an attempt to see if Randall can cause this thread to end up locked too?

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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Jun 18, 2014 8:01 pm UTC

rmsgrey wrote:Is the first footnote an attempt to see if Randall can cause this thread to end up locked too?

Shhh, shhh, we're just not going to mention that and make this thread an argument about dinosaurs instead which is much cooler and less likely to get locked.

(Much cooler like the Earth would be if it weren't for burning all those fossilgaaaaaccck—)
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby mathmannix » Wed Jun 18, 2014 8:04 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:Well the argument I was anticipating, the one that's happened on these forums, was the one about whether it's linguistically accurate to say "birds are dinosaurs" even GIVEN the evolutionary relationship between dinosaurs and birds, not an argument over whether that relationship exists or not. The argument is usually over whether all taxonomic terms have to be monophyletic or whether "dinosaurs" should be taken as a paraphyletic group excluding birds.


Oh, okay then... GIVEN the evolutionary relationship between dinosaurs and birds, there is probably a justified argument for two types of classification systems, one which is monophyletic and more scientific in general, and the other of which is more intuitive. For instance, the intuitive/historic group "algae", which includes selected species from (as I recall being taught, although Wikipedia would not immediately back me up on this) three of the five different kingdoms.

Under this intuitive classification system, birds (1) have wings, (2) have toothless beaks, (3) are bipedal, (4) lay eggs, and (5) have feathers. Most fly, but some do not, so this is not part of the intuitive definition. Of course, this is modern birds only - if we include extinct birds, then (2) goes out the window at least, and the wings can have claws. (And Kiwis might be stretching the definitions for (1) and (5).)

Dinosaurs (1) have four limbs with fingers/claws (they can be bipedal or not), (2) have teeth and no beaks, (3) do not fly (unless we are including pterosaurs), (3) lay eggs, and (4) have been extinct for 65 million years or more. Some had feathers, some did not.

EDIT: oh, okay, I just learned that Kingdoms have changed a lot since I took biology. Still, I tend to equate my "intuitive" classification with the historical five (or six) kingdoms, or maybe only the two or three from 100 years ago. But, that might be just me, remembering things from how they were taught to me once upon a time.
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby mobiusstripsearch » Wed Jun 18, 2014 8:35 pm UTC

I'm not one for conspiracy theories about infinite oil. But it is cool that, by NASA's own admission, there may be more hydrocarbons on the surface of Titan than in our entire planet.

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassi ... 80213.html
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby stoppedcaring » Wed Jun 18, 2014 8:55 pm UTC

On the subject of birds, dinosaurs, and creationism in general, former YEC David MacMillan has an ongoing post series over at Panda's Thumb about creationist misconceptions and the basis of phony creation science.

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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby rmsgrey » Wed Jun 18, 2014 11:29 pm UTC

mobiusstripsearch wrote:I'm not one for conspiracy theories about infinite oil. But it is cool that, by NASA's own admission, there may be more hydrocarbons on the surface of Titan than in our entire planet.

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassi ... 80213.html


Best of all, the technology needed to collect it has a lot of overlap with the technology needed to colonise other chunks of the solar system

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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby Klear » Thu Jun 19, 2014 12:55 am UTC

I really love that conspiracy theory website. Not quite Awful Link of the Day material, but quite hilarious:

In my extensive readings of New Age and occult New World Order authors over the past 20 years, I have noticed that the Illuminati leadership seems to be panicking over the dreadful volume of oil and oil products which our current Industrial Civilization is consuming. If these global leaders truly believed the original theory of oil prior to the NASA discovery in 2005 - and I believe they did believe that - they would also believe that the supply of oil on the Earth is limited. In other words, every barrel of oil consumed today takes away from the supply of oil in the future!

These leaders did not want to finally gain control over the world -- after planning for it since 1773 -- only to discover that only about 100-200 years of supply remained. The largest single motivation behind the NASA space program was to discover another Earth-like planet to which the Illuminati and their families could escape before the Earth ran out of oil and other commodities necessary for life!

Therefore, in the case of oil products, the premise that the Earth is running out of oil no longer holds.


Oh, and spinosaurus was semi-aquatic? Interesting!

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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby steelshooter » Thu Jun 19, 2014 1:33 am UTC

The (mis)information in that site, the bizarre leaps of logic, and the lack of any kind of understanding of chemistry, physics, astronomy, geology, anthropology, evolution or even common reasoning was enough to make my head head hurt so bad that I think my brain is bleeding.

Start with "...since Titan does not have an atmosphere and since there is no evidence that it ever did..." Titan has a rather thick atmosphere and was the first natural satellite discovered to have one.

Add to that the belief that CARBON is made inside the Earth or inside plants. 'Scuse me? Carbon (and all the other naturally occurring elements) are made inside STARS. We can make some isotopes and "non-naturally occurring" elements, but it is NOT a trivial task and it is NOT a chemical process.

The belief that methane on other bodies is somehow a new discovery, and the belief that scientist thought that ONLY biological processes could create it? Significant portions of all of the gas giants are methane. Significant portions of Venus' atmosphere is methane. Methane has also been found on Mars and the Moon, though these might be more recent than this article. So he either thinks scientists have always thought they had proof of life in the solar system, or that scientists only discovered the composition of these planets in the years since 2005.

"'If the scientists have ruled out that biological processes created methane on Titan, why do petro-geologists still argue that natural gas on Earth is of biological origin?' Corsi asked." (Ibid)" - Does he really believe scientist thought methane on Titan was biologically produced? Does he really think that non-biological processes on Titan means that biological processes on Earth no longer exist?

That is just the first couple of paragraphs. Ouch. My brain hurts again. :(

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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby Diadem » Thu Jun 19, 2014 7:44 am UTC

Ah, this debate again.

Pfhorrest wrote:Well the argument I was anticipating, the one that's happened on these forums, was the one about whether it's linguistically accurate to say "birds are dinosaurs" even GIVEN the evolutionary relationship between dinosaurs and birds, not an argument over whether that relationship exists or not. The argument is usually over whether all taxonomic terms have to be monophyletic or whether "dinosaurs" should be taken as a paraphyletic group excluding birds.

Actually you're already begging the question here. Why does 'dinosaur' need to be a taxonomic term? There's more to biology than taxonomy. Heck, I'd even question whether 'dinosaur' is a purely scientific term. Perhaps it makes sense to only use monophyletic groups within taxonomy. Perhaps. But paraphyletic groups clearly make a lot of sense in the rest of biology, or indeed, the rest of the world. So they are used. And dinosaur is clearly one of them.

Words don't mean what you want them to mean, or even what you think they logically should mean. A word means what the majority of users of that word thinks it means. This can differ depending on context. There are many words that have slightly different meanings in different fields. The question "are birds dinosaurs" is like the question "are humans apes". It depends on your context. And context is not just 'scientific use' versus 'general use'. Both in general use and in scientific use the term 'ape' can include or exclude humans. The term dinosaur is much the same, though I'd argue that using it to include birds, outside taxonomic circles, is both much less common and much less useful than in the ape/human case.

So generally, without a highly specific context, no, birds aren't dinosaurs. But it's possible they will be, in the future.
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby PayasYouDraw » Thu Jun 19, 2014 8:04 am UTC

I was expecting the question to be more like, "Will we ever manufacture more plastic dinosaurs than there were real ones?"
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby eviloatmeal » Thu Jun 19, 2014 10:13 am UTC

PayasYouDraw wrote:I was expecting the question to be more like, "Will we ever manufacture more plastic dinosaurs than there were real ones?"

Wouldn't that be a fairly simple "probably not"? We've been making plastic dinosaurs for (using one of those order-of-magnitude approximations that Randall seems fond of) a million years, give or take a million. Dinosaurs lived for considerably longer than that, about 1-200 million years, right? So if every child had a set of plastic dinosaurs... and every child that is born gets a set... hang on, this might not be quite that simple.

So there are about 11 000 children born per day. According to the United States of North America.

The total number of dinosaurs ever is on the order of, perhaps, multiple quadrillions? This speculation suggest about 16 of them.

So if we gave every child born from now on a set of five plastic dinosaurs, we would be producing about 55000 plastic dinosaurs per day. At this rate it would take us about 50 million years to produce a quadrillion plastic dinosaurs (and kids), which WolframAlpha suggests is 3623 radians per second, which is quite a fast rate of rotation. I mean, in comparison, the Earth only rotates at like 0.00007272205rad/s.

But I digress.

No matter the numbers (and feel free to do some research and come up with some less ballparky ones), I think plastic dinosaurs might go out of fashion before we manage to produce the correct order of magnitude of them to rival the number that have ever existed.

I mean, heck, if for no other reason than the fact that there isn't enough plastic[citation needed], and we'll end up making toy dinosaurs out of something else eventually.

I for one am looking forward to buying a nice set of liquid wood dinosaurs in the near future!
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby cellocgw » Thu Jun 19, 2014 11:23 am UTC

Dunno 'bout you, but the first illustration appears to me to be neither a tarpit nor a lava pit, but rather the horrible mudpuddle monster that killed Tasha Yar.
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby peregrine_crow » Thu Jun 19, 2014 12:40 pm UTC

eviloatmeal wrote:Wouldn't that be a fairly simple "probably not"?


Before seeing your analysis I would have thought it to be a fairly simple "probably". I guess I hadn't completely grasped just how many dinosaurs there where. Wait, does the 16 quadrillion number include birds as dinosaurs? Because in that case we the ratio of real dinosaurs/toy dinosaurs might actually be increasing rather than decreasing (we'd have to count toy birds too, I guess, but that number is probably fairly negligiable).

This made me wonder how long it will take before all humans that ever lived outnumber all non-avian dinosaurs that have ever existed.
A quick google search suggest 108 billion as the number of people that have ever lived. The future growth of the world population is more difficult, so I'm going to be lazy and pull some numbers out of thin air.

I once heard that we can sustain 11 billion people on earth with modern day technology, let's be generous and say that future improvements give us an order of magnitude more breathing room. And let's further assume that we reach that population cap of 100 billion in the next generation. If we after that fully replace our numbers every 20 years it'd still take us over 31 centuries to catch up to the dinosaurs.

A lot can happen in 3100 years[citation needed], but if we haven't left earth for greener pastures by then I'm giving up on humanity, so I guess the dinosaurs will probably always beat us in terms of number of individuals that have roamed the planet.
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby origimbo » Thu Jun 19, 2014 12:43 pm UTC

Diadem wrote:Words don't mean what you want them to mean, or even what you think they logically should mean. A word means what the majority of users of that word thinks it means. This can differ depending on context. There are many words that have slightly different meanings in different fields. The question "are birds dinosaurs" is like the question "are humans apes". It depends on your context. And context is not just 'scientific use' versus 'general use'. Both in general use and in scientific use the term 'ape' can include or exclude humans. The term dinosaur is much the same, though I'd argue that using it to include birds, outside taxonomic circles, is both much less common and much less useful than in the ape/human case.


Ditto for use of the word 'animal', which I find really weird. Especially since in a non-scientific context 'animal' almost always excludes humans, to the level of "no animals allowed, except guide dogs" signs and that just breaks my brain.

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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby Whizbang » Thu Jun 19, 2014 1:00 pm UTC

peregrine_crow wrote:
eviloatmeal wrote:Wouldn't that be a fairly simple "probably not"?


{Stuff about humans competing in numbers against dinosaurs.}


To be fair to us humans, we're only one species. Dinosaurs had a ton of different species. Maybe we should compete against T-Rex numbers, or velociraptor, or stegosaurus or something.

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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby peregrine_crow » Thu Jun 19, 2014 1:14 pm UTC

Whizbang wrote:
peregrine_crow wrote:
eviloatmeal wrote:Wouldn't that be a fairly simple "probably not"?


{Stuff about humans competing in numbers against dinosaurs.}


To be fair to us humans, we're only one species. Dinosaurs had a ton of different species. Maybe we should compete against T-Rex numbers, or velociraptor, or stegosaurus or something.


That is a good point, but comparing against a single dinosaur species also doesn't seem really fair as we are spread out over the entire planet while most dinosaur species were limited to maybe a continent or so. Maybe if we compared mammals to dinosaurs?
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby PayasYouDraw » Thu Jun 19, 2014 1:18 pm UTC

peregrine_crow wrote:
eviloatmeal wrote:Wouldn't that be a fairly simple "probably not"?


Before seeing your analysis I would have thought it to be a fairly simple "probably". I guess I hadn't completely grasped just how many dinosaurs there where. Wait, does the 16 quadrillion number include birds as dinosaurs? Because in that case we the ratio of real dinosaurs/toy dinosaurs might actually be increasing rather than decreasing (we'd have to count toy birds too, I guess, but that number is probably fairly negligiable).

This made me wonder how long it will take before all humans that ever lived outnumber all non-avian dinosaurs that have ever existed.
A quick google search suggest 108 billion as the number of people that have ever lived. The future growth of the world population is more difficult, so I'm going to be lazy and pull some numbers out of thin air.

I once heard that we can sustain 11 billion people on earth with modern day technology, let's be generous and say that future improvements give us an order of magnitude more breathing room. And let's further assume that we reach that population cap of 100 billion in the next generation. If we after that fully replace our numbers every 20 years it'd still take us over 31 centuries to catch up to the dinosaurs.

A lot can happen in 3100 years[citation needed], but if we haven't left earth for greener pastures by then I'm giving up on humanity, so I guess the dinosaurs will probably always beat us in terms of number of individuals that have roamed the planet.


Maybe for the purposes of the calculation we can limit it to the species typically portrayed in toy form, maybe including their contemporaries?
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby squall_line » Thu Jun 19, 2014 1:36 pm UTC

WRT the final title text, two observations:

A) I don't recall seeing #1211-Birds and Dinosaurs before, which bothers me a little bit, because I thought I kept up over the years.

2) Comic #1121-Identity (which I accidentally typed in while looking up #1211) has a title text that also refers to birds and dinosaurs. Creepy...

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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby mathmannix » Thu Jun 19, 2014 2:08 pm UTC

squall_line wrote:WRT the final title text, two observations:

A) I don't recall seeing #1211-Birds and Dinosaurs before, which bothers me a little bit, because I thought I kept up over the years.

2) Comic #1121-Identity (which I accidentally typed in while looking up #1211) has a title text that also refers to birds and dinosaurs. Creepy...


Well, since the whole point of that title text is that Randall brings up "birds are dinosaurs!" quite frequently, it's probably less creepy coincidental than you think.
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby eran_rathan » Thu Jun 19, 2014 2:23 pm UTC

cellocgw wrote:Dunno 'bout you, but the first illustration appears to me to be neither a tarpit nor a lava pit, but rather the horrible mudpuddle monster that killed Tasha Yar.



Well, I'm glad I wasn't the only one who thought that.
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby Someguy945 » Thu Jun 19, 2014 3:22 pm UTC

Does anyone have a link to that comic where...

EDIT: FOUND IT

http://poorlydrawndinosaurs.com/?p=126

Spoiler:
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby mobiusstripsearch » Thu Jun 19, 2014 4:14 pm UTC

It would be much easier to outnumber dinosaurs/birds if we colonized Titan, to extract the hydrocarbons to build more toy dinosaurs.
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Thu Jun 19, 2014 5:22 pm UTC

peregrine_crow wrote:...most dinosaur species were limited to maybe a continent or so.
Your actual point was probably valid, but at the time "spread across a continent" was virtually the same as "spread across all land"
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby Someguy945 » Thu Jun 19, 2014 5:48 pm UTC

Quizatzhaderac wrote:
peregrine_crow wrote:...most dinosaur species were limited to maybe a continent or so.
Your actual pint was probably valid, but at the time "spread across a continent" was virtually the same as "spread across all land"


Matching dinosaur fossils on the west coast of Africa and the east coast of South America was one of the clues that helped us determine that all continents were once merged into Pangaea.

Cosmos talked about it a bit, apparently it was once believed by many that there must have been prehistoric land bridges spanning the Atlantic ocean. For many, that seemed more plausible than continental drift until additional evidence was available.

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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby mathmannix » Thu Jun 19, 2014 6:04 pm UTC

mobiusstripsearch wrote:It would be much easier to outnumber dinosaurs/birds if we colonized Titan, to extract the hydrocarbons to build more toy dinosaurs.


Wait, there were dinosaurs on Titan? I didn't know that.
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby PhilHibbs » Fri Jun 20, 2014 8:13 am UTC

Klear wrote:I really love that conspiracy theory website. Not quite Awful Link of the Day material, but quite hilarious:

Yeah:
wingnut website wrote:Now that we know oil is non-biological and that the Earth is continuously replenishing the stock, we can jettison the 4.5 billion years required to produce oil.

So, apparently we know it's non-biological. Proven. Beyond doubt. OK, that's good enough for me!

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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby rhialto » Fri Jun 20, 2014 12:26 pm UTC

It depends on where they lived, how they died, where their bodies ended up, and what kinds of temperature and pressure they experienced.

No! They didn't experience anything! They were dead!

I hate the ubiquitous misuse of the word "experience".

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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Jun 20, 2014 12:29 pm UTC

It's not a misuse, it's an extension of use a little beyond what you're accustomed to.
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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby Klear » Fri Jun 20, 2014 1:11 pm UTC

eran_rathan wrote:
cellocgw wrote:Dunno 'bout you, but the first illustration appears to me to be neither a tarpit nor a lava pit, but rather the horrible mudpuddle monster that killed Tasha Yar.


Well, I'm glad I wasn't the only one who thought that.


Wait, she wasn't killed by a puddle of lava?

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Re: What-If 0101: Plastic Dinosaurs

Postby eran_rathan » Fri Jun 20, 2014 3:05 pm UTC

Klear wrote:
eran_rathan wrote:
cellocgw wrote:Dunno 'bout you, but the first illustration appears to me to be neither a tarpit nor a lava pit, but rather the horrible mudpuddle monster that killed Tasha Yar.


Well, I'm glad I wasn't the only one who thought that.


Wait, she wasn't killed by a puddle of lava?



Nope, nasty tar-like creature.

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