Dominik Schwarz wanted a big world map. A really big one that covered his entire wall in high detail.
You can get great world maps up to around 1,50m (~59 inches) width. However, this size seems to be a tipping point. From here on the bigger the maps get, the less detailed they are. And it makes sense. Such big maps are normally used in classrooms and even the people in the last row should see the large printed city names.
But that's not what I wanted. Not at all. I envisioned a gigantic poster that would show the smallest villages, the most detailed coast lines and the highest level of information density possible.
The fictional diary of a Sioux boy’s experience at the turn of the 19th century
The Ledgerbook of Thomas Blue Eagle by Gay Matthaei (author), Jewel Grutman (author) and Adam Cvijanovic (illustrator)
1994, 80 pages, 7.5 x 11.9 x 0.4 inches
$17 Buy a copy on Amazon
Near the end of the 1800s, Native American children were taken to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania to be educated in the ways of the white settlers. They were forbidden to speak their native languages, their clothes were replaced with uniforms, and the boys’ heads were shaved. As part of their reeducation, the children used pictographic art to tell their life stories. In this beautifully rendered metafiction, the book you hold is the very ledger in which Thomas Blue Eagle wrote and drew his story.
In the first half of the book, Blue Eagle learns the ways of his own people and describes his life as a young Sioux. He cares for his pony, learns to hunt and be brave, and earns his name from a vision. The second half of the book is further coming of age, but this time as a fish out of water as Thomas navigates the Carlisle School. He studies, fights, forms bonds, and chooses his name from a list on a blackboard. Mirrored by commonalities (such as two very different ball games), both halves of the book have wonder, beauty, turmoil, and sadness.
The authors clearly took pains to get the details right, having done extensive research and enlisting the help of a Lakota advisor. And the artist ventured far from his typical style to present art that not only looks beautiful but also perfectly conveys the verisimilitude of a child’s shaky, simple, and colorful drawings. The book itself is made of lush, debossed blue boards bound to look like an actual ledger with time-worn pages. It’s a book for all ages really, though what better way to teach non-Native children the ways of the Indian people than by reading about Native children learning the ways of the non-Native children?
– Aaron Downey
The authors identify two types of simple rules: Those that can help you make decisions and those that can help you do things.
Decision rules set boundaries, prioritize alternatives, and establish stopping points. The disastrous ascent of Mount Everest that resulted in eight deaths in 1996, chronicled in Jon Krakauer’s best-selling book Into Thin Air, was precipitated by the violation of a single rule that had been set by Scott Fischer, an expedition leader: “If you aren’t on the top by 2:00, it’s time to turn around.” (Any later and the risks were exponentially greater because the exhausted climbers would have to make the descent to their camp in the dark.) After unexpected delays, Fischer and most of the party ignored the rule and kept climbing. Fischer himself didn’t summit until 3:45 p.m. Unfortunately, his body is still on the mountain.
Since most dinosaur names consist of long, polysyllabic gargles—Parasaurolophus, Therizinosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus—it is refreshing that the latest addition to the family has the shortest one yet.
It is simply Yi.
In full, it is Yi qi, which comes from the Mandarin for “strange wing” and can be roughly butchered as “ee chee”. The name hints at this pigeon-sized animal’s most remarkable feature. Each of its hands had a long bony rod extending from the wrist. This rod seemed to support a membrane, much like that of a flying squirrel or bat.
Xi was a dinosaur with bat-like wings! What an astonishing find!
The Yi qi fossil. Credit: Zang Hailong/IVPP
Until now, the assumption was that prehistoric reptiles took to the skies in one of two different ways. The dinosaurs did so with feathers. Many species were covered in downy insulating fuzz, and some small predatory species elaborated these into true, flight-capable feathers—long, flat vanes that protruded from their arms (and sometimes their legs). These winged creatures gave rise to the first birds. Meanwhile, the pterosaurs evolved a very different type of wing, by greatly lengthening their fourth fingers to support a membrane of skin and muscle. (Pterosaurs are often lumped with dinosaurs but belonged to a totally separate group.)
These wings were mutually exclusive: dinosaur or pterosaur, feathery or leathery. But Yi went for both options! It had membrane wings with a feathery covering on the leading edge. It shows that at least some dinosaurs had independently evolved the same kind of wings as pterosaurs—an extraordinary example of convergent evolution.
“This is refreshingly weird,” says Daniel Ksepka from the Bruce Museum, who was not involved in the study. “Paleontologists will be thinking about Yi qi for a long time, and we can surely expect some interesting research into the structure and function of the wing.”
There’s only one known fossil of Yi. A farmer in China’s Hebei Province found it around eight years ago., and the Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature bought it shortly after. Xing Xu and Xioating Zheng from Linyi University, who discovered the creature, first laid eyes on it in 2009 and started working on it in 2013. “It looked special to me,” Xu recalls.
As the team exposed and analysed the specimen, they worked out that it was a scansoriopterygid—a group of small, feathered dinosaurs with very long third fingers. These species were reputedly good climbers (their name means “climbing wing”) but there was no evidence that their feathers were good enough for flight.
The same applied to Yi—its feathers, covering its skull, neck and limbs, were stiff filaments that ended in paintbrush-like tips. They were very different to the flight-capable plumes of birds.
Then, the team noticed the weird rod. It stuck out from each of the dinosaur’s wrists and was longer than its forearm. It’s not a finger, but its chemical composition revealed that it is indeed a bone, or perhaps a piece of hardened cartilage. The team had no idea what it was. “When I saw the bone, I was really confused,” says Xu. “There is nothing comparable in any other dinosaur.”
But, as Corwin Sullivan from the Chinese Academy of Sciences realised, there is something comparable in flying squirrels. These rodents glide from tree to tree by expanding a membrane that stretches from their wrists to their ankles. They deploy this membrane by splaying their limbs and extending a long piece of cartilage (called the styliform process) that protrudes from their wrists. Bats have a similar piece of cartilage (the calcar) on their feet, and pterosaurs had a similar bone (the pteroid) on their arms.
All of these structures do the same thing: they support a membrane that keeps their owner in the air. Yi’s wrist rod was almost certainly fulfilling the same role. “As far as i know, this is the only plausible interpretation,” says Xu. He even found several patches of what look like sheet-like membranes, surrounding the rods and fingers of both hands. Again, they’re unlike anything seen in other dinosaurs.
“The ‘bone’ seems to be what they say it is, and they have made appropriate studies to show it isn’t something else,” says Michael Benton from the University of Bristol. “So, yes, it seems real, and, my goodness, what a further broadening of flight capabilities in paravians!” (That’s the group of dinosaurs that includes the scansoriopterygids, celebrities like Velociraptor, and all birds.)
But Yi “is not necessarily as weird as it might first seem, in an evolutionary sense,” says Michael Habib from the University of Southern California. “Living birds actually have membranes around their forelimbs, including a well-developed membrane in front of the elbow called a propatagium. Feathers cover [these] parts of the wing, obscuring the soft tissues.” Yi simply extended these membranous parts with the help of their weird extra bone.
For the moment, the team can’t work out how it held its wrist rods, and so can’t reconstruct the true shape or capabilities of the extended wing. This is crucial. A broad membrane, Habib says, would have kept Yi qi stable in the air, and allowed it to launch and land safely. With a narrower membrane, it would have needed to fly or flap very fast to stay airborne, and to take off at high speeds.
“Yi might have moved through the air with a combination of flapping and gliding flight, though it probably relied more on gliding,” says Xu, who is planning to search for more specimens. “There are many questions remaining to answer about this bizarre dinosaur.”
For now, this discovery reminds us that the evolution of flight among birds and other dinosaurs was not a simple story. In the late Jurassic period, when Yi lived, there were all manner of dinosaurs with varying shapes, sizes, and numbers of wings. It was a world of not-quite-birds and just-about-birds—and now bat-winged dinosaurs, too! “What a grand age of experimentation!“ says Ksepka.
“This may also be evidence that flight evolved multiple times within dinosaurs—perhaps three or more times,” adds Habib.
Reference: Xu, Zheng, Sullivan, Wang, Xing, Wang, Zhang, O’Connor, Zhang & Pan. 2015. A bizarre Jurassic maniraptoran theropod with preserved evidence of membranous wings. Nature http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature14423
PS: Here’s another odd thing about Yi. Its feathers preserve traces of melanosomes—small sacs of coloured pigments. That’s not unusual in itself; several scientists have used melanosomes to reconstruct the colours of fossil feathers. But Yi has some of the largest melanosomes ever seen. “I had to double-check to make sure I did not misread the measurements,” says Ksepka.
So, I worked for a local delivery company that had both car courier and local package delivery divisions, and I was working for them when they decided that the best business decision they could make for themselves was to stop having any drivers that were employees and push them all to become independent contractors.
The first thing that happened was that about 1/4 of the trained workers bailed. They didn't want to be ICs, period. Between the paperwork and record keeping required to be an effective 1099-filing contractor and the added liability and the loss of benefits, a lot of the more capable people just bailed in the month between the announcement was made and and "employees" were terminated and IC contracts were signed.
Once that top 25% of workers had walked away, the second thing that happened was that the company entirely divested itself of its fleet of cars and vans used for delivery. They had to do this, because every driver working for them was driving a vehicle owned by the company, and if the company wanted to continue operations with any of the workforce it still had in place, they required vehicles to fulfill their new contracts. Most of these vehicles had been ridden hard and put away wet for years; they were all high mileage and had been used mostly for city driving, with all the wear-and-tear you can assume went along with that. Most of the people who were signing contracts were also buying vehicles from the company, and so they entered their contracts already in debt, because payments for the previously-company-owned vehicles that they had been driving already were written into the contracts and were deducted from their bi-weekly payout.
The next thing that happened was that the in-house mechanic lost his job. Because he had been hired to work in-house on a company-owned fleet. There was a short period of time between the drivers being converted from employees to ICs that he was still working there, with the company the drivers were contracted with trying to keep track of highly skilled and rapid on-demand work this mechanic was doing to keep the abused fleet on the road and bill the contractors accordingly for this service. It proved to be unfeasible and so the mechanic was let go. There were trickle-down effects from this that affected the smooth operation of business, like drivers having to make appointments for vehicle repairs, second vehicles (either owned or rented) being required to be available to drivers who have contracts to fulfill, drivers having contracts cancelled if they had a major breakdown and were unable to afford repairs and/or supply a backup car to fulfill their contracts...
The chain of events continued. ICs are, according to law (not sure if it's state or federal), entirely NOT allowed to be treated like employees. In any way. So, in order to try to find some legal cover, a locking door with a passthrough window was installed between the warehouse where all the contractors staged their routes for delivery and the rest of the building that was for employees. The break room (with tables and chairs to sit at, and a fridge and sink and microwave and coffeemaker), and the restrooms further inside the building, and the copy machine and the fax machine and the telephones, these were all entirely locked off from access by the contractors, because allowing them to use any of these facilities in the building which they were required to come to in order to fulfill their contracts was giving them amenities similar to or equivalent to those given employees, and any semblance of employee status was an opening that contractors could use to sue (under many of the same legal concepts being used by the lawyer in the article from the FPP) to declare they were, in fact, not contractors at all, but were employees deserving of all the back pay and compensation due to them.
I could go on and on with all the ripples that this transition from employees to ICs had on the company. Courier routes and package delivery routes that had previously been run according to company schedule started sliding and slipping as contractors took on new contracts (as they should be welcome to do, being as they are separate companies who are only doing work for this one company as one client amongst many). Drivers demanded and got a change in the contract payout from being a flat rate per day to being paid by the stop or by the piece being delivered. (This required an entirely new layer of record keeping within the company so they could verify the submitted invoices from the contractors against the records the company itself had about what deliveries had been made.) As vehicles in the aging, previously uniform in appearance, now sold-off company fleet began to die, contractors were buying whatever vehicle they could afford in order to keep their contract fulfilled and keep getting paid. This led to would be politely called "a downgrade in public presence and branding" for the company who held all the contracts, because the replacement IC vehicles were just tools used to get work done.
At first the company was still requiring that the ICs wear company-branded shirts as a work uniform. That fell away quickly when it became obvious that requiring that certain clothing be worn was something that was easy with employee status, but not so much if you're just handing work off to contractors. When the break room and restrooms were locked off from the contractors, another wave of contractors quit (broke their contracts, several of them with lawyers attached to the process), which left the company struggling to fulfill their agreements with their clients. Because if you have ICs doing all the work, you can't have even one single in-house employee doing duplicate work (i.e. covering a broken contract) even for a limited amount of time, because the legal ramifications could open a door to having all the ICs sue to be regarded as employees again.
I left the company for reasons unreleated to the employee-to-IC conversion about 2 years after it happened. By the time I left, there was an employee devoted full-time to interfacing with the contractors about petty issues that had never been an issue and to tracking the work invoiced by the ICs. This was a position that had never existed in the company before, a full level of small business bureaucracy (even when all the drivers were employees, the size of the business was under 50 employees) that required a devoted person.
At this point, approaching a decade after this whole thing, the company has moved away from having contractors to having employees. Having someone on the clock that you can tell what to do during the time they are on the clock without them saying "well, that's going to cost you $X if you want it done" is much less of a headache than having to negotiate every small thing. The lack of uniformity amongst the delivery fleet and the drivers' appearances was beginning to cause clients to lose trust with the company. The lack of reliability that routes would be run according to the timetable desired by the company (which they have no right to dictate if they are hiring contractors) was losing them client contracts.
But mostly, from what I have learned from former and current contacts within this company that I still maintain, it was the sheer headache. If you are truly following IC law, there is nothing about the experience downstream that you are legally allowed to dictate. If you want your business to exist as a middleman (B), connecting those with work that wants to be done (A) with those willing to do the work (C), and you want to establish a set of rules that says what the experience between client A and A's customer D is, the exact way NOT to do that is to try to set yourself up as company B who then contracts with C and makes a list of rules about how C may operate their business in order to keep B happy with A because they never get complaints from D.
This was my experience of being in a company that went from employees to ICs from the management side. It was a giant headache, was full of pitfalls, was continually involved with stripping away basic human amenities (restrooms?) from the humans that were being paid to do the work, and it created a layer of record keeping that had previously not been a part of the company. In the end, the company realized that having employees was better for the company in the long term, and so they went back.
This was for what is commonly considered a "small business" in modern legal parlance. I have no idea how these things work if they get scaled up toward Truly Big Business. My suspicions are, regardless of the size of the business involved, ICs end up getting screwed. I wish this lawyer and her clients (I believe I first heard about her and her legal actions on the excellent podcast Life Of The Law) all the best in their battles.