Back when Air Mail Pilot was young, finding a feather or a quarter or a banana slug on the sidewalk was a big deal, believe it or not. Today’s kids are far more discerning when it comes to randomly discovering cool things just lying around on the ground. Take Lily Wilder, a four-year-old who lives in Cardiff, Wales.
Last January, Lily, her father, Richard, and their Jack Russell terrier, Biddy, were walking along a rocky beach at Bendricks Bay, on the southern coast of Wales, when Lily said, “Daddy, look!”
Richard Wilder figured his daughter had found a pretty shell, or maybe a crab, but what she had spotted was a fossilized dinosaur footprint—one so detailed and perfectly preserved he thought it was probably fake, something someone had carved into a rock and discarded. (Why someone would have done that, Air Mail Pilot does not know.)
But Richard took pictures of it and Lily’s mom, Sally, posted them on Facebook. Paleontologists—people who get to study dinosaurs for a living, like Ross on Friends—saw the pictures and got in touch with the family right away. What Lily had spotted turned out to be a very big deal: one of the best fossils of its kind ever discovered.
“This is the most stunning footprint we have ever seen and it was found by a four-year-old,” Cindy Howells, the paleontology curator at the National Museum Cardiff, told The Times of London. She added, probably only half jokingly, “Why can’t we find these things?” (In response, Lily’s gracious mom pointed out that four-year-olds are lower to the ground than the average paleontologist.)
Last week the fossil went on display at the museum as the centerpiece of a new exhibit called “Lily’s Fossil Footprint.” The print itself is actually pretty small—about four inches long. It shows three toes and a faint impression of a kind of thumb-like fourth that the dinosaur lifted as it ran. In this case it was likely running through dry-ish mud, which, along with a lot of luck, is why the footprint was so detailed and well preserved.
No one yet knows exactly what species of dinosaur left the print, but whatever it was lived some 220 million years ago, in the Triassic period, the earliest dinosaur era. Cindy Howells at the museum described it as probably a “basic” sort of velociraptor and estimated it was knee-high. It likely ate even smaller dinosaurs and prehistoric bugs.
For her part, Lily is more a fan of T. rexes, the jumbo-sauruses that stomped around millions of years after “her” dinosaur did, during the Late Cretaceous period. (Not the Jurassic period, despite what you might have seen at the movies.)
“She is dinosaur mad, even more than before,” her mom told The Times. “It’s dinosaur everything now. She is very proud, I think, and has been telling all her friends. Actually, anyone she meets she blurts it out.”
If any four-year-old has earned that right, it’s Lily. Keep an eye trained on the ground and you, too, may find something to blurt about. —Bruce Handy
Back when AIR MAIL Pilot was a little younger—okay, a lot younger, probably younger even than you—the world seemed to be divided between Tonka and Matchbox. That special time of day would at last arrive when you could sit on the floor of your room and start moving those toy vehicles around to the accompaniment of a vroom-vroom sound effect you didn’t even know you had in you.
But which toy did you prefer? Was it the large, shiny, American-made Tonka, or the miniature, detailed, British-made Matchbox?
Those of us in the Matchbox camp were interested to hear that a lorry the company had made in 1961 and sold for two shillings and three pence—about 13 cents today—just went for nearly $8,000 after a bidding war at Vectis toy auctions in England. The price was seven times what had been estimated.
The gray, 2.75-inch-long collectible is a replica of a 1916 Osram Lamps truck and, according to the Daily Mail, is considered rare because it has plastic instead of metal wheels. (Only a few were made with plastic wheels; one with metal wheels might bring $28.) Also, this particular model was in excellent condition. So take care of those things!
The seller was a Matchbox collector who’d bought it in 2012. The buyer’s identity was not disclosed. Well, you can’t be too careful—next thing you know, miniature jumper cables are being produced and your hot-wired Osram Lamps Matchbox truck is disappearing down a tiny motorway, never to be seen again, unless of course Interpol decides to get involved.
“In the future younger collectors will be more interested in Marvel action figures than Matchbox,” the toy expert Julian Royse told the Daily Mail. “If you own a rare, high value model, this is the right time to sell as the market is so strong and the prices are astronomical.”
That sound you hear is AIR MAIL Pilot making a bee-line for the storage bin. Vroom-vroom. —George Kalogerakis
Cat owners have never needed a reason to take more pictures of their fluffy companions, but now they have a good excuse. Sylvester.ai, an animal health tech company based in Alberta, Canada, has developed a new app called Tably, which applies artificial intelligence to photos taken on users’ phones in order to analyze what their pet cats are feeling.
Looking at ear and head position, eye-narrowing, muzzle tension, ear rotation, and whisker movement, the app “helps human cat owners know if their cat is in pain or not,” Miche Priest, a developer at Sylvester, told Reuters.
It’s a method that has scientific backing, too—a 2019 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports found that the so-called “feline grimace scale” is a valid and reliable tool to assess acute pain in cats.
Cats have a reputation for being elusive and at times impenetrable, and this extends to how they exhibit pain—often only giving very subtle cues. According to the Sylvester Web site, Tably aims to help owners better understand their pets and get ahead of any problems or health concerns.
And unlike some apps, the methodology isn’t overly complex. Tably works by categorizing various places on the cat’s face and mapping them against the feline-grimace scale. Next, the app delivers either a happy or unhappy rating, along with a percentage score illustrating the app’s level of confidence in the outcome.
The team behind Sylvester say its accuracy is as high as 97 percent, as long as the app has access to a high-quality, front-on image of the cat’s entire face.
Dog owners, don’t despair: the company’s developers are now looking into applying the technology to other animals. —Bridget Arsenault