News Update 1

It's been a third of a year since we switched to Drupal as a CMS/database frontend for NodakPaleo.org and I'm finally getting around to setting up the front page! When you start such a large project, you know how it goes: first you want to make sure everything works, and then you want to fill your database up, and then you realize there are some more problems, and finally you're looking down the barrel of a long session of data entry and someone else wants to see the website.

Keeping up on news of progress is going to be an important task for whoever ends up doing the majority of the heavy lifting after I've graduated from UND. Without news of what is going on, nobody will know exactly how much work as been done, and although up to this point this may have been a blessing (you can often obfuscate "lack of progress" through "lack of progress reports" but people may not like you for it), the time has come to lobby for additional funding to keep the project going, which means showing off what we have.

"What we have" in this sense is a building (Leonard Hall) packed with fossils and no plan for the future that can be made real without additional funding for space and (at minimum) a room full of compactor cabinets. "What we have" is a collection comprising an estimated 500,000 to 750,000 specimens (many of those collected by Joseph Hartman and part of the continental mollusk collection), many of which have never been published on. "What we have," finally, is a collection that is inaccessible to science because science (discounting present and past UND graduate students and paleontology faculty) doesn't know it exists and can't search through it without driving to Grand Forks.

The problem at hand is to make "What we have" = "What we can see on NodakPaleo.org." Through efforts over the past year, we are poised to reach a tipping point of easy data entry sometime in 2011, leading to more and more specimen data available online as time goes on. Due to differences in database architecture (from the past attempts) and the fact that I want to make this as useful a database as I can, there is still a great deal of manual data entry ahead, especially in order to provide a photograph of each and every specimen under our care. I have no doubt that the project will not be "complete" (an idea yet to be defined in this case) during my time here and that it will be up to future students to complete. The best hope for this is continued funding, which can only be secured through the demonstration that we have specimens and associated data that are important to science.

I'd better get back to work.
-Matt

Image from kimjew at deviantArt.

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