31 August, 2011

Crazy Columns and Ice-Polished Rocks: Salt Creek Falls

I'm not going to say a damned word about lineaments. Let's just say that traveling down Route 58 is something of an intrigue: you're crossing the Cascades, but it doesn't feel that way. You're on a long, nearly straight road that doesn't seem to go up much. Mountains rear all round you, and yet here you are, merrily zipping through them. There are some extraordinary things about the Pacific Northwest: these long, straight, bizarre structural features, some of which are barely accepted as real and others as yet only suspected, are among the most perplexing. But they're very nice to take a road trip on.

So there you are, zipping along, unfussed by steep grades or switchbacks, and then, just before you get to Willamette Pass, you've got this little attraction. Well, I say little. It's only the second-highest waterfall in all of Oregon.

Salt Creek Falls

Salt Creek Falls is a marvel of falling water, but it's not quite as interesting as the geology that surrounds it. I mean, yes, tall as Niagara, "most powerful waterfall in southern Oregon," yeah, fine. Whatevs. You know what I was looking at after having gawked at the pretty falling water for two minutes? That's right, the rocks.

There's a story here, and it begins on a tall, bald outcrop that'll draw a geologist's eye faster than any amount of falling water.

30 August, 2011

Accretionary Wedge #37: Now Available! And Sexier than Ever!

There's some superfine geology in this month's Wedge. Go have a look!

Dojo Summer Sessions: The Writer's Rituals

I think most of us who write, no matter how skeptical or non-superstitious we are, have our little rituals to summon the Muse (not that the wretched entity comes when called). Consider this an invitation to regale us with yours.

I'm not picky when it comes to blogging. I've done it in my PJs, but usually sans Cheetos, thus not fully confirming stereotypes. Something arises I wish to pontificate upon, and so pontification occurs. I can blog any time of day or night, in a variety of settings, in various stages of dress or un, with or without prior preparation depending on the subject.

But fiction, that's a different beast. I've successfully written a few times in places outside my home, but that's a rare thing. Generally speaking, in order to summon the storytelling, I have to be ensconced in my comfy chair in my living room, within sight of my Yoshitaka Amano prints of Morpheus. I must be fully dressed. I've never felt comfortable writing fiction in my jammies, although I've managed it a few times when the Muse has rousted me out of bed. I must have music playing, and the music must be agreeable to the characters I'm writing. I've gotten involved with quite a lot of musical genres I had no use for simply because a particular character required them. Strange, perhaps, but there it is.

Some stories require a clean house. Some require sobriety, some a nice mixed drink. It's nice to know these things in advance so that writing can commence.

There must be darkness. I have a terrible time writing in daylight, which is why Seattle winters are such a compliment to my writing and its summers make it nearly impossible. That's fine. A writer needs to get out occasionally, experience life in order to create lifelike worlds, so I just use the summer to accomplish that feat.

I have a special hand soap I use, a very deep floral scent that washes away all traces of the day. I plug in a nice jasmine scented oil. Scent is an important component of emotional states, as science has proved, and those particular scents signal my brain that it's time to shake off the remains of the day and get on with the real work.

Some stories are helped along by particular shows or movies, even if they aren't the same genre or atmosphere as what I'm writing. So I might spend an hour or two watching one, before the real work starts. Then, shot full of adrenaline, I have one final preparatory smoke out on the porch, look at the stars (if the Seattle skies have obliged), and sit me down in the chair to invite further forays into the realm of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

It may sound a bit complicated and unnecessary. To non-writers, it probably smacks of madness. But there you are: without at least a handful of those rituals, I sit staring at a blank screen, and words too often refuse to come. I'm sure neuroscience will one day be able to calmly and dispassionately explain all in great detail. It might even come up with ways to persuade the Muse to work even on nights when the rituals have failed, and the brain remains as stubbornly blank as the screen. Until that day, I just stick with what's worked so far, like a pigeon performing a crazy little dance in the belief that this is what makes the food appear.

Creativity is a weird and wonderful thing, innit it?

29 August, 2011

Los Links 8/23

Whelp, I managed to catch up on all the blog reading I'd missed whilst adventuring. It wasn't easy, as it was interrupted by long periods of unconsciousness. Exercise makes you energetic my arse.

It's been quite the week, what with an earthquake on the East Coast and a hurricane ditto and Nymwars heating up and all. I've added an extra-special Nymwars section, since it's beginning to seem 'nyms are second only to atheists in the hated-by-society department. I think it's because companies think people with pseudonyms don't spend money and some very unobservant people think that folks never do or say anything nasty under their real names. I hope these delusions are only temporary, but in the interests of not killing brain matter by oxygen starvation, I'm not holding my breath.

I've not had time (as per usual) for snappy little descriptions, but I've bolded a few pieces of especial interest for those without time to read everything. Some beautiful, evocative, and thought-stimulating posts came across my stream last week. I hope you all enjoy!

Virginia Earthquake

Paleoseismicity.org: The Wednesday Centerfault (8) – Virginia M5.8 Earthquake.

Washington Post: For central Virginia’s seismic zone, quake is an event of rare magnitude.

Slate: Is Washington as Earthquake-Proof as Los Angeles?

ABC13: Seismologists From Virginia Tech Talk Earthquake.

Buzz Feed: 20 Stunning Photos Of The Damage Caused By The East Coast Earthquake.

Mountain Beltway: The Mineral, VA earthquake of August 23, 2011, Cracking up and Aftershocks.

Bad Astronomy: What’s with all these earthquakes?

Scientific American: A “sixth sense” for earthquake prediction? Give me a break!

Clastic Detritus: Snapshot of Seismic Waves Traveling Across Virginia.

CNN: Why quake rang like a bell.

Eruptions: NYC Earthquakicane Armageddon: Random distibutions and the folly of correlation.


Glacial Till: How a small Oregon town continues to teach me about geology and Meteorite Monday: Sikhote-Alin Meteorite.

Neatoshop: Poorly-Punctuated Equilibrium.

Georneys: Geology Word of the Week: L is for Lepidolite.

The Loom: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Death threats for scientists?

White Coat Underground: Dr. Pal, why do you love Big Pharma so? and When a "scientific study" is neither.

Superbug: Cost of Compassion: Drug Resistance in Military Hospitals.

Speakeasy Science: At the Door of the Loony Gas Building and Of Dead Bodies and Dirty Streets.

The Scientist: An Unlichenly Pair.

Lounge of the Lab Lemming: Mass–independent isotopic fractionation.

Scientific American: Don’t Just See, Observe: What Sherlock Holmes Can Teach Us About Mindful Decisions.

Laelaps: Chain, Chain, Chain… Chain of Food.

Scientific American: Eyewitness Testimony Loses Legal Ground in State Supreme Court.

Culture Lab: When all you can smell is your brain.

Neuron Culture: Reef Madness 10: Darwin’s Earthquake.

History of Geology: Earthquakey Times.

Scientific American: Modern Rivers Shaped By Trees.

Wired Science: Clever Dolphins Use Shells to Catch Fish.

The Last Word on Nothing: Science Metaphors (cont): Resonance.

History of Geology: Cities and Geological Risk.

The Chronicle of Higher Education: Nanotechnologists Are Targets of Unabomber Copycat, Alarming Universities.

ScienceNews: Asteroid sample nails meteorite source.

Reuters: America is losing another generation to science illiteracy.

The Dynamic Earth: Sole-Saving Sed Structure Sunday!

Life, Unbounded: Pitch Black: The (almost) dark truth about hot Jupiters.


The Coffee-Stained Writer: The Land of Misfit Words.

Tobias Buckell: Writers and pellets.

Indie Author: Ebook Madness: Don't Confuse Ebook Conversion With Ebook Formatting!

The Coffee-Stained Writer: The world is your classroom.

Patricia C. Wrede: Deeper still.

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing: What's Wrong With Sex?

Anne R. Allen's Blog: RIP the Author Book Tour—and why you shouldn’t be sad to see it go.

A Brain Scientist's Take on Writing: How to Make Your Reader Cry: Anatomy of a Death Scene.

The Scicurious Brain: High Fructose Corn Syrup: Much Maligned? Or the Devil’s Food Cake?

Women's Issues

The Poke: Best Twitter apology this week.

On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess: Your Home Birth is Not a Feminist Statement and In Reply to Kate Clancy…

Context and Variation: Why do those who advocate home birth feel the way they do?

DrugMonkey: Home Birther Logic. or “Logic” actually.

Thus Spake Zuska: What Function Does Denial Serve?

The Spandrel Shop: Is there a dark side to the breast feeding movement?

Whizbang: Better Late Than Never.

JAYFK: FFS: Ladies, your vagina is just fine.

Adam Serwer: The Nice Guy And The Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Religion and Atheism

Butterflies and Wheels: Can you call your husband ‘Lord’?

Utne Reader: Look God, No Hands.

Paula Kirby: Evolution threatens Christianity.


Anil Dash: What they're "protecting" us from.

Culture of Science: When Facts Don’t Agree With Your Political Bias, Fire The Scientists.

Mike the Mad Biologist: The Left Does "Give a Fig About Science"--For Its Own Sake.

Guardian: The Tea Party moves to ban books.

Almost Diamonds: We Can Have Better.

The Weekly Sift: One Word Turns the Tea Party Around.

The Nation: Michele Bachmann, Wife in Chief?

Grist: Why Michele Bachmann thinks she can get gas under $2 a gallon.


I Speak of Dreams: A Public Servant, Blogging and Tweeting Under His Own Name, Has Been Silenced By His Employers.

The Skeptical Lawyer: Lessons from EpiRen: do public employees have free speech rights?

Respectful Insolence: The consequences of blogging under one's own name.

PulpTech: Google Plus: Too Much Unnecessary Drama.

Gizmodo: Google’s Real Names Policy Is Evil.

On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess: What’s In A Name?

White Coat Underground: The death of pseudonyms? Not so fast...

The Atlantic: All Hail Anonymity.

Society and Culture

Food Safety News: Asian Honey, Banned in Europe, Is Flooding U.S. Grocery Shelves.

Crooks and Liars: It’s Time for a Pro-Quality-of-Life Movement.

Guardian: Vietnam's rice bowl threatened by rising seas.

Not Exactly Rocket Science: Eco-labelled fish may be unsustainably fished, or the wrong species.

Superbug: Food Safety in China, and the Risk to the U.S.

AlterNet: Schools Nationwide Cutting Down to 4 Days a Week, Because Wealthy Refuse to Pay Fair Share.

The Portland Mercury: The $1 Million Twitter Fight.

Almost Diamonds: Why Should I Pay for Your Health Insurance.

Naked Capitalism: How Chase Ruined Lives of People Who Paid Off Their Mortgages.

Los Angeles Times: Take back the liberal arts.

The Express Tribune: Obituary of liberal-secularism — I

28 August, 2011

Dear Famous Scientists: Please STFU About Areas Outside Your Expertise

Erik Klemetti, on Twitter, had steam coming from his ears on Wednesday:
WHY, OH WHY did Bloomsberg talk to instead of a geologist about the VA earthquake? Come on, people!
That's probably because some journalists seem to find it impossible to distinguish between various types of scientist. They also want a big, recognizable name in their headline. So when an event happens and a scientist needs to be consulted, they call the first big name scientist who comes to mind, no matter their discipline. To quote Rocko's Modern Life: "Those guys are idiots."

And perhaps, just perhaps, if we smack them for stupidity often enough, they'll develop an ability to distinguish between different types of scientists, and figure out whom to call for a quote when various events occur.

But I have a beef with the big-name scientists *coughKakucough* who blabber about subjects they have little or no relevant expertise in rather than calmly saying, "Damn it, Jimmy, I'm a physicist, not a geologist. Go phone a geologist. Quote me as saying, 'I have no idea, as I did not study geology.'"

It's that simple. And someone who does science for a living should know enough to know when they don't know, and be intelligent enough and tough enough to be comfortable saying, "I don't know." Observe Professor Rowena Lohman, who teaches geophysics at Cornell. After delivering kick-ass accurate answers to a variety of questions within her area of expertise, is perfectly comfortable telling a CNN reporter that she is not omniscient:

CNN: Is the East Coast ready for an earthquake?

Lohman: That's a question for a different kind of scientist or engineer.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is how it's done. Alas, that does not seem to be how Kaku does it.

I'd love to try an experiment. Next time there's big physics news, I'd love to interview a microbiologist, say, or a seismologist, and write up a big newspaper article using only them as experts, and then stuff it under the nose of Michio Kaku. "See what happens? See how infuriating it is when experts pop off on subjects they know nothing about?" Perhaps that would help him overcome the compulsion to spout on subjects far outside his realm. Perhaps that would convince him that he doesn't need to babble any old response to clueless journalists, but hand out the phone numbers of relevant scientists instead. And perhaps after several instances of that, the clueless journalists will become clued.

Alas, I don't work for a major paper. Anyone who does willing to try said experiment? It would be a kindness to several geologists whose heads are currently feeling a little prone to explosion.

(Shot glass raised to the poor nameless writer at CNN's opinion section who was smart enough to head for an expert in geophysics and tectonics rather than a string theorist when the earth went wobbly. Kudos to you, unknown wise journalist!) 

27 August, 2011

First Rule of Great GeoTrips: Start at OMSI and Build II - Fossil Madness!

One of the beautiful things about OMSI is the Paleontology Lab. This is a place where a mere rope stands between you and delights like this:

Triceratops in jacket - snazzy!
I believe they're freeing a triceratops from its matrix of rock. Again, the distractions of friends kept me from paying as much attention to the details as I might have done (no complaints about that!), but one can absorb quite a bit snapping a few photos and drooling over a few touchable displays.

Here's something I adored:

Okay, so it's not real. It's a resin cast. But it was taken from an actual stegosaurus, and stegosaurus is cool. The fact the tail spikes are called thagomizers because of a Far Side cartoon is fucking awesome. I got to touch a cast of a thagomizer, people. That tickles me right down to me toes.

I've always liked the Steg. Other kids in my grade-school class went in for T-Rex, but I figured a dinosaur with armor plates and freaking tail spikes that could potentially beat a T-Rex to death was way cooler. Besides, we have a special relationship, Steg and I. When I was out sick in kindergarten on the day when we were making clay dinos with cookie cutters, my teacher saved me a stegosaurus. I hung it on my wall and petted it and loved it, although I didn't name it George. You can keep your silly T-Rex, y'all. I have a bloody awesome stegosaurus. My Steg can kick your Rex's arse.

I'm more convinced of that than ever, because that tail spike was at least two feet long, and damned thick. You would not want to be walloped with one. Allosaurus certainly did not want, but got anyway. Yeow.

Here's another bit of yum:

Mesosaurus brasiliensis
Mesosaurus brasiliensis should gladden the hearts of all geologists. This is a Permian freshwater critter, a marine reptile that nommed on fish and swam around in lakes and rivers in what became South America and South Africa. It couldn't cross oceans, and there were no such things as bilges back in the Permian in which stowaways might travel. Turns out this aquatic reptile is excellent evidence that South America and South Africa were once joined - score one for plate tectonics!

There are leaves, too, though I didn't photograph the sign for them, so I haven't the foggiest what they are:

Fossil leaves
The preserved veins are incredible. The leaf margins don't seem to have been preserved well, which is unfortunate, because having preserved leaf margins would tell me whether these are from a temperate or tropical forest. Experts probably don't need no stinkin' leaf margins to figure it out.

Ooo. More triceratops!

This is what fossil preparers deal with. Respect them.
Hard to believe something coherent will emerge from that mess, but the folks who take the tiny little tools and scrape the rocky matrix away a fragment at a time make it happen.

Sometimes, though, all you have to do is split open a slab, and a thing of beauty emerges:

Archaeopteryx replica
How gorgeous is that? Archaeopteryx is a fascinating creature, which I should know much more about. Alas, all I know is that it's a creature with features of both bird and dinosaur, the first feathered dinosaur found, and there's been a recent dust-up over its place in the avian family tree, which Brian Switek dispatched nicely in an ode Archaeopteryx richly deserved. For myself, simply admiring.

Another Triceratops Interlude
You've gotta respect people who can wrap a huge, heavy rock full of delicate bones in plaster and haul the bastard back to the lab. After having hoofed a great many pounds of hand samples back to the car and then up the stairs, my hat, as it were, is off.

I believe, though I do not know, foolishly not having photographed the accompanying informative sign, that these are fossil brachiopods. They look quite a lot like clams and so forth, but there are differences between bivalves and brachiopods which explain why bivalves are now common as muck and living brachiopods are much rarer, although brachiopods were far more common in the past. Those wanting more information are encouraged to consult this handy .pdf.

I love this stuff. I love a rock that is, basically, all shells and can make cannonballs bounce. So when I had a chance to get my hands on some coquina for the first time ever, you can bet I fondled it. It's harder than you'd expect for something famously soft enough to absorb enormous balls of metal hurtling toward them at speeds meant to destroy. It feels quite solid. And very, very shelly.

Baleen whale fossils
Here we have vertebrae and ribs from a 20 million year old baleen whale, found in the Astoria Formation. Yes, some cool shit can be found in the Astoria Formation. Makes me want to go and play in it. I mean, bloody hell, this was found by a beach comber. Somebody bring me an extra-large comb, and let's go comb some beaches!

After all that fossil madness, it was time to rejoin the others down in the non-earth science area, and enjoy a photo op with Glacial Till, one of the best geotweeps I've ever had.

When we met up with Michael Klaas of Uncovered Earth later that evening, we got so busy chatting we forgot the photo op. We won't be so remiss again! Meeting the two of them was high on the list of highlights of this trip, and I can't wait to drag them out into the field.

Then it was off to Park Lane Suites, which has some very nice gneiss in its lobby, and together with the fact it's convenient and comfy, is among the reasons I recommend it for your Portland lodging needs.

26 August, 2011

Earth Erotica

My non-geo friends don't get dry mouths and pounding hearts when passing road cuts. Sometimes, I think they're blind to beauty. Unclothed rocks are some of the most beautiful sights on earth.

Behold this road cut near Kingman, Arizona that had me screaming for the camera:

Road cut on I40, Kingman, AZ

That's a beauty that loves even elderly digital cameras. She has faults - that makes her even more alluring. She makes me want to take risks, find a place to pull off the interstate, run my hands along her, explore every nuance of her appearance, know her every detail. Unfortunately, we had a schedule, and we only got that one tantalizing glance across the freeway, and then she was gone. The nice thing about the earth, though, is that she doesn't vanish into the night. She'll be there when I go back, lovely as ever.

There are surfaces, and we only sometimes get to see beneath them. The earth's beauty is far more than skin deep, but it's so often only the skin we see, and that cloaked with water, draped with plants, capped with buildings. But I grew up in canyon country, where the continent likes off-the-shoulder fashions and takes a minimalist approach to coverings. She's adventurous, daring, not afraid to show off. You don't even need a nice road cut to see her layers - go anywhere, find a place where running water's done some daring design, and you'll be struck speechless.

Box Canyon, Wupatki National Monument
This gorgeous little canyon, cut into the Kaibab limestone, was so wonderful I had to steal my intrepid companion's camera for a decent shot - my old beast wouldn't do it justice. The near-sunset light, breaking through clouds, turned the stone creamy white and rich honey gold by turns as it shifted. This is old stone in an aging landscape, dusted with young volcanics, and the combination of youth and maturity brings out the best in both. You want to talk about a pounding heart: this sight had me literally off my feet, lying on a smooth expanse of bare stone in an attempt to catch her best angle.

Box Canyon, Mt. Rainier
In Arizona, there's not much hiding the earth from view. In the Pacific Northwest, she often goes bundled up, and so those places where you can get a look beneath all the biology becomes even more intriguing. Here, the Cowlitz River, just starting out, has cut a box canyon through Mt. Rainier's skin, polished it to a brilliant jet-black luster, and then set it against white water. There's now jewelry made by human hands that enhances natural beauty quite so well as that.

Road cut near Hurricane Ridge, Olympic Mountains
In the mountains, the roads wind along her and she dances, sometimes in brilliant colors, the sea floor raised up on land and cut away, showing off what deep water usually hides. Basalt is beautiful where it wraps round the Olympics, a crescent cloak that in these places looks like a veil whipped around a spinning belly dancer. This road is one of those that will reduce anyone with the slightest sensitivity to geology to incoherent outbursts of appreciative sounds.

Road cut at Ross Dam, Cascades
Sometimes, to get somewhere and make something we consider useful, we cut down through massive mountain shoulders, and find that the rock we thought rather featureless and dull is endlessly intriguing. Orthogneiss glimmers and sparkles up close, threaded with white veins, riddled with faults that, like a dinner companion with a fascinating life story and a flair for the dramatic, keeps us entranced for hours. Other people might spend their time with the lovely blue lake and the snow-capped peaks - we're likely to have our noses up against bare stone, listening, admiring, and always wanting more.

Road cut on Highway 97, Oregon
I've seen people take variously-colored sands and make art of them, but the earth does it effortlessly. Streams and lakes layer sediments in a cacophony of colors, then dry up and vanish, leaving puzzles behind. We stop the car. We walk alongside, we explore, we tease out those stories. These are the things that send my heart racing, leave my skin tingling, make me feel like I can fly. Beneath most surfaces, there's fascination. And the more I know this great and glorious Gaia, the more I love her.

For AW #37, with love.

25 August, 2011

Poor, Pathetic Paraceratherium: Who Killed the Kitsch?

Whilst I await Brian Switek's Archaeopteryx post in order to round out our visit to OMSI, I figured I'd do you up an unexpected roadside attraction. If you drive Highway 97 from Klamath Falls to Crater Lake, you'll stumble across this decaying beast near Chemult:

Ginormous Mystery Beastie
A few questions come to mind, all beginning with WTF: WTF is it? WTF is it doing here in front of a truck accessories store? And WTF is a truck accessories store doing in the middle of nowhere with a prehistoric beastie in its front yard?

We had some serious geology to do, but the impulse proved irresistible. We stopped for a photo op.

I'm afraid this IS his good side
As near as we can tell, this crumbling behemoth is a Paraceratherium. These ancient, hulking land mammals - so large they dwarfed mammoths - lived back in the Eocene and Oligocene. I haven't found anything to tell me whether any roamed Oregon. They seem to have been mostly a Eurasian and Asian denizen. But Oregon had a healthy population of rhino relatives, so I suppose he's not all that out of place.

Don't get on his bad side
He looks imposing, I know, but he was a strict herbivore. At eighteen feet tall, thirty long, and in the mid-size sauropod weight class, I imagine that if vegetation could talk, it would whisper terrorized tales of the thunderous approach of the mighty masticator. Trees and shrubs would tell tales of the Paraceratherium who would come after misbehaving saplings and chomp them all up with its great big teeth. This thing was seriously hungry and huge - more than enough to inspire horror stories.

Verily, I am dwarfed by the might of the masticator

But it would seem to have nothing to do with truck accessory shops. A little Google-fu, however, and ye olde mystery is solved. We begin here, where a search for Paraceratherium and Oregon returns a question, answered in comments: what is this dude doing here? Turns out he was part of a roadside attraction called Thunderbeast Park, which closed back in the 90s. The truck shop people let the attractions go to seed, and apparently get very cross whenever people ask them about it. Bad business sense, if you ask me - not everyone driving by needs shiny new rims, but if they ran the theme park on the side, they could make a tidy sum on the side charging them a few bucks a pop to ogle old Oligocene oddities. Alas, they have chosen the way of guard dogs and grumpiness instead. But the Paraceratherium in the parking lot can be enjoyed quickly enough that irritated employees don't have time to chase you off.

Brian Switek snagged photos of one of the missing beasts from readers who were there before the park closed - if anyone has more, send 'em his way.

A little further searching reveals the genius behind the giant - Ernie Nelson, who also created Oregon's apparently extant Prehistoric Gardens. It seems Thunderbeast Park was star-crossed from its inception, but the Prehistoric Gardens, cared for by Ernie himself, thrived. Gotta go see that place next!

One last shot
I hope someone, somehow, rescues this poor pathetic Paraceratherium before he's completely dead, restores him to his former glory, and sticks him in a friendlier roadside spot where kids can marvel and adults can amuse themselves. This grand old beast deserves better than he's got.

24 August, 2011

First Rule of Great GeoTrips: Start at OMSI and Build

When you have a gajillion friends in Portland and an intrepid companion who isn't all that interested in geology but willing to suffer through a bunch of rock pounding so he can see some scenery, and you can get an extra day off work, it's not a bad idea to start your geo adventures at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Especially when two of your friends have two rambunctious grandkids. OMSI is a scientific wonderland for kids - plenty of activities, interactive exhibits, and things to keep them entertained while the adults do boring stuff like... play with all the exhibits.

And I'm all for a museum that posts signs like this one on its perimeter fence:

Sign outside OMSI, Willamette River side
There's tons of stuff to play with. There's an earthquake house, which we all had immense fun with. The Van de Graff generator - a big hollow metal ball with a crank - intrigued pretty much everybody. Anything that can make pie tins fly, people's hair stand on end, and create big blue sparks is a surefire win. The exhibit showing the development of a fetus from blastocyst to full-term baby is a must-see for those who can stomach it - we're not talking replicas here, but actual human fetuses preserved by Gunther von Hagens, he of Body Worlds fame. All of the embryos and fetuses in the display didn't survive due to natural causes or accidents. They're fascinating, but disturbing, so steel yourself before taking a look.

There's far more - machines and such, which my intrepid companion will likely blog about in a bit. Glacial Till and I, being geo-nerds, hightailed it to the Earth Science Hall. We were pressed for time and too busy meeting in meatspace for the first time to get really in-depth, but we saw some wonderful stuff.

23 August, 2011

Dojo Summer Sessions: Connie Willis on Comedy, Tragedy, and Getting Married via LOTR

Comatose from traveling, I'm afraid. However, I have Connie Willis here to delight, surprise, and teach you. She's one of the best SF authors in existence. Also, funny and surprising. Watch!

Don't miss this next one for sheer geeky hilarity. Lord of the Rings has changed a lot of people's lives, but I don't think any of us knew quite how powerful it truly is.

22 August, 2011

Los Links 8/19

I've spent the better part of a week traveling, seeing incredible things, and fighting hotel wi-fi. Now Aunty Flow's here, I'm virtually comatose, and the cat wants all the cuddles she missed. That's why your links are late. They still contain some damned awesome stuff, so as long as you're not engaged in a week o' mad travel, check 'em out.


Open Mind: Learning from Bastardi’s Mistakes.

Outside the Interzone: The Imperative of Questions.

Updates from the Paleontology Lab: George Washington, canals, and geology.

Science Daily: Unusual Fault Pattern Surfaces in Earthquake Study.

Tetrapod Zoology: Prediction confirmed: plesiosaurs were viviparous.

Psi-Vid: A few notes about SCIENTISTS for those attending ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’…

Galactic Interactions: In Which I Compare the Slashdot Commentariat to the 17th-Century Catholic Church.

The Upturned Microscope: Lab Tour 2.

Los Angeles Times: Dear Parents: Why vaccines are vital.

Deep-Sea News: Scaring the $#!& Out of Lampreys.

The Economist: Silence is Golden.

APS Observer: The Psychology and Power of False Confessions.

Georneys: Geology Word of the Week: K is for Krakatau.

Anthropology in Practice: Scent of a Woman.

Geotripper: Vagabonding across the 39th Parallel: Mono Lake, the Barren, Worthless Wasteland.

Scientific American: Biologist Spending Way Too Much Time Thinking about Discovery He Made on Jon Stewart’s Body.

Speaking of Research: Project Nim – The Untold Story.

Eruptions: Volcanic or not volcanic: The "steaming hills" of Santa Barbara are not volcanic.

Superbug: How a US Court Case Explains Problems Eradicating Polio.

Science Sushi: In the immortal words of Tom Petty: “I won’t back down”.

Science-Based Medicine: Oh yeah? Thalidomide! Where’s your science now? and Homeopathic Thuggery.

The Loom: Fatal Attraction: Sex, Death, Parasites, and Cats.

Cocktail Party Physics: Crosstown Traffic.

Dinosaur Tracking: Dinosaurs for Experts, or for Everyone?

White Coat Underground: Dear Patient.

The Scicurious Brain: City Living and your Mental Health: Is city living driving you crazy?

Mountain Beltway: Hiking to the Burgess Shale and Swift Dam.

Atheism and Religion

Guardian: Christian teen camps are wicked, innit.

Furious Purpose: On theology.

Friendly Atheist: No, *This* Is How We Get More Black People Involved in the Atheist Movement.

Mother Jones: Horror Stories From Tough-Love Teen Homes.


Slate: Bloggers, Not Parasites.

A Brain Scientist's Take on Writing: Yes, Reading About Edward Cullen Will Make You Sparkle.

EurekAlert: Women's quest for romance conflicts with scientific pursuits, study finds.

The Intern: too many agents, not enough gin: the truth about multiple offer situations.

The Passive Voice: PG is Hanging Out His Shingle.

Writer Beware Blogs: Taking Famous Names in Vain.

WriteOnCon: I DON’T CARE THAT HE’S HOT: Building Believable Romance.

Patricial C. Wrede: Depth.

Women's Issues

Butterflies and Wheels: This has always been our battles.

(A)Theologies: Does Atheism Have a Misogyny Problem?

Dr. Jen Gunther: Cosmo’s sex position of the day proves they know nothing about good sex or women.


TPM: Anti-Gay Marriage State Rep. Accused Of Offering Young Male Money 'For A Really Good Time'.

The Digital Cuttlefish: Hinkle, Hinkle…

Center for American Progress: What You Need When You’re Poor.

Mike the Mad Biologist: So Is Standard & Poor's Still Rating Cows?

Firedoglake: The Enlightenment in the US Faces Slow Demise.

Pandagon: The illusion of control.

New York Times: Stop Coddling the Super-Rich.

Stupid Evil Bastard: There’s finally a group that’s hated more than Atheists: The Tea Party.

ThinkProgress: Texas Climate Scientist Katharine Hayhoe Responds To Rick Perry.

Balloon Juice: You Know Who Else Was a Socialist? Andrew Carnegie, That’s Who!

The Daily Beast: A Christian Plot for Domination?

New York Times: The Texas Unmiracle.

Society and Culture

Boston.com: A sober lesson that seems to stick.

Plugged In: Rail-to-Trail Revitalization.

Badass of the Week: Rukhsana Kauser.

KGW.com: $1M Columbia Gorge house replaced with trail.

Colorlines: Arizona Border Fence Causes Flood and Self-Destructs—as Predicted.

ABC: Berlin Wall Turns 50 -- and Some Want to Rebuild It, Barbed Wire and All.

Gobbledygook: Personal names around the world.

Millard Fillmore's Bathtub: History and economics of energy use and conservation – a more accurate version.

io9: Real-world policy experts weigh in on rebuilding a post-Voldemort society and When did magic become elitist?

Gas 2.0: Thorium-Powered Car Could Drive a Million Miles Before Refueling.

Decrepit Old Fool: Nothing to Undo.

Courthouse News Service: School District Blocks Gay-Friendly Websites But Not Gay-Bashing Sites, Groups Claim.

Techdirt: Police Say They Can Detain Photographers If Their Photographs Have 'No Apparent Esthetic Value'.

Gawker: Bridal Shop Refuses to Sell a Lesbian a Wedding Gown.

DrugMonkey: Pseudonymous blogging at Science Blogs is over.

20 August, 2011


Out of pre-loaded posts for ye. Also out of energy. But here's a few outtakes to tide ye over 'til I can coherently write something about our adventures. Which may not be for several days - I expect to be comatose upon arriving home.

Additionally, I'm not certain the cat will allow me to live after abandoning her for so long.

Mah first experience with Mt. Mazama ash:

Near Crescent Cutoff on Hwy. 58. The stuff's full of little pieces of pumice. Little, that is, until you consider how far they were hurled by the mountain, which was probably 20-30 miles away as the crow flies. Pumice shouldn't fly that far. The fact that it did should tell you something that'll keep you awake at night.

And Mt. Mazama its own self.

There was an in-joke at the bookstore I worked at. We had an inordinate number of customers come in and describe what they were looking for thusly: "I need this book, I don't remember the title or the author or what it's about, but it's this big and it's blue." That's about what it's like looking down on Crater Lake for the first time. For just a moment, you forget the context of what you're looking at. All you can think is, "Holy shit, it's this big and it's blue!" I have to go to Home Depot when I get back and get those little paint sample cards, so I can match up the color of the lake. It's so blue that I've seen cobalt blue paint that didn't look quite so intense. The color shifts with every change in light and perspective, but it never stops being an overwhelming, brilliant blue.

And, finally, moi at Fort Rock:

Here's what you need to know about it, and what we'll go in to in more detail later on: this is a bloody volcano that erupted under a Pleistocene lake. Under the lake. That's why it's hollow.

If that isn't weird geology, there's no such thing as weird geology.

Tomorrow, it's off to Newberry and McKenzie Pass, and then back to Corvallis. If I'm lucky, we'll make it home to Seattle that night, because as incredible as all the geology's been, I miss mah kitteh. And I'll need about ten years to sort through all the photos.

You're in for treats, my darlings. Stay tuned...

GeoKitteh Contemplates Hand Samples

All of my lovely rocks from our El Norte adventure are still on a towel in the living room, awaiting their final home. This is normally where teh kitteh's paper and cardboard are. I thought she might be angry, but she found Mommy washing rocks to be fascinating. Then she decided they'd been placed there for her own entertainment.

Looks like a queen with her court, doesn't she just?

She's been busy inspecting the bounty.

And then she thinks about them for a moment.

If she makes some sort of profound discovery no one's ever made before with your basic subduction zone rocks, I hope she learns English and shares her wisdom.

19 August, 2011

The Bee's Knees and Other Stories

My relationship with insects has fundamentally changed since I acquired a camera with excellent macro abilities. Creepy-crawlies just creeped me out. I had an intellectual understanding that critters had important functions in food chains and other sorts o' things, but as for admiring them... yeah, not so much.

There was a time when I'd look on a crane fly with disgust rather than pleasure. But then I bought this camera, and turned it on an insect because it was a convenient thing to test the macro function on, and suddenly, the unregarded arthropods and suchlike were revealed as gorgeous lifeforms deserving of admiration.

There's your common crane fly. It came to live with us briefly this summer, flying in through the door my cat insists stay open. It landed on the wall above the stove, and sat there with its transparent wings all iridescent in the light. Yes, it's a turf pest, and lawn owners everywhere probably aren't fond of them. But they cause no harm to humans (other than messing up their pristine lawns) and they're actually quite lovely.

Even lowly flies become rather more attractive prospects when you've got the proper camera and they've chosen the right background:

I've caught myself looking at them closely, admiring their little bodies with their various colors and their odd hairs. I look into their eyes and marvel at the compound complexities. Mind you, I whip out the Windex of Doom when too many of them sneak into the house and take up positions on my bathroom mirror, but I don't mind one or two zipping about the place. I'd better not. My cat doesn't understand the concept of closing the door, and insects don't understand the concept of indoors mine-outside yours.

According to Savage Chickens, there's an excellent way to deal with both arachnophobia and spiders in the house. I'll have to try it. Not arachnophobic, anymore, but it would still be nice if the poor little beggars wouldn't come in here just to starve to death, or meet my Great Northern Tissue of Doom if they insist on living somewhere like my bed.

Before I got this camera, I would've watched from a vaguely interested distance whilst the millipede I'd disturbed dug its way back into the ground. As the lighting conditions were teh suck, I decided to place this one on a more contrasty background before letting it go its merry way:

It started out curled up, but quickly uncurled and got to exploring, with tiny little feet tickling my palm. And it didn't feel creepy or gross - it felt adorable. I let it walk off my hand and find its happy place again. For a moment, there, I forgot all about the soil I was investigating, and just enjoyed an unexpected encounter with one of the denizens of said soil.

But what's really changed is my relationship with bees.

I used to be terrified of bees (despite not having an allergy that would justify said terror). I used to flee from every bee, certain the little bastards wanted nothing more than to sting me. Then I got this camera. Suddenly, my fear of bees completely vanished. I adore them now. If they're occupied with noms, I can get up quite close, and they don't mind me a bit. They're not out to get me, they're just making a living. As long as I don't trap them or threaten their hive, they seem perfectly content to let me snap away while they get on with the living. But I shall put my beautiful bees below the fold, because I know some of you aren't so admiring, and often for good reason.

18 August, 2011

Hook 'em While They're Young

I need to hang around more young children. Most non-geologically inclined adults look upon my hand samples as a personal quirk, one of those odd things about Dana that's of a piece with her LOTR decor in the bedroom, and not quite as interesting as that. They like the pretty samples with the nice crystals and a lot of sparkles, but they lose interest by the time I whip out the mudstone.

But kids, now, they're a different matter entirely.

Old friends of mine have just moved to the Northwest, and they came by for a visit with their grandkids in tow. Once the two boys had finished exhausting themselves on the playground outside, they came in and started staring at the rocks. They said what all the adults do: "Wow, you've got a lot of rocks." That's true. I have so many rocks now it turns me pale when I contemplate moving.

I thought I shouldn't bore them, but I whipped out a few samples anyway, and started talking about how they were formed. I didn't shy away from words like "subduction zone" and "metamorphose." I gave them the hand lens and set them loose. And we ended up going through very nearly every rock in the house, even the little brown boring ones.

By the end of it, I'd enlisted the elder brother to pack samples out of the field, and he was talking about the need to start a collection of his own. The youngest begged two pieces of magnetized hematite off me. Then, when I walked them to the car, the elder picked up a pebble, asked me if it was granite (it was) and pocketed it with evident delight.

I've never had a more rapt audience, with more questions and understanding. They didn't blink at the hard words (probably helped that I'd throw in a simple definition whenever those words came up). They soaked the knowledge in without glazing over after ten minutes. And it was one of the greatest times I've ever had. There's nothing quite like giving kids the tools to understand a little more of the world around them.

It's a good thing their grandparents love this stuff, too, and won't mind that their charges are now going to be a bit rock-obsessed on hikes. Extra bonus: they'll tire themselves out more hauling all those extra pounds. This is not a small consideration when you've got two energetic kids to contend with. Anything that works off that energy is a boon for adults.

So, we've got a pair of kids who will now be able to identify granite, gneiss and schist in the field, who'll have a good chance at spotting turbidites, and know something of how a subduction zone works. They're already good with their volcanics and limestones, having been exposed to quite a lot of those before they moved up here. They make me wish I knew more, because it doesn't seem like there's any end to their curiosity.

That's the beautiful thing about kids. They're starving. They want to know everything, they're curious and adventurous, and all it takes is putting examples in their hands and talking to them about science to make them excited about it. Also, having grandparents with a "Got Science?" bumpersticker helps. We're hooking them on science young, and even if they don't go on to become scientists, they'll have an appreciation for it that follows them throughout their lives. They'll understand their world to a degree that many people never do.

Dumbing down science, or keeping it away from kids for religious reasons, is a travesty. So is the way we so often teach it, out of a book, with too little opportunity to get their hands on it. And don't get me started on "chemical-free" chemistry sets.

So here's what I've learned from that brief foray into informal teaching: kids are interested in the dull-looking stuff just as much as shiny, because they haven't told themselves there's nothing interesting about the dull-looking stuff. You can lob big words and concepts at them, and they'll catch them well enough, probably better than many adults. Then you turn them loose to use what they've just learned. Well, that and leave them to watch X-Men while the adults finally have that conversation they haven't been able to enjoy IRL for far too many years.

And I love this stuff. I've never wanted kids of my own, and still don't, but I'm going to have to borrow some more friends' kids more often. Showing them things about the world they've never seen is great good fun, and will hopefully help them get through the endless dull school days wherein it seems the only point is to quench the thirst for knowledge.

17 August, 2011

Geological Words that Sound Vaguely Naughty: Nuée Ardente

I'm sorry, I really am, but a nuée ardente isn't some amazingly sensual French dance along the same lines of the tango. If it's any comfort, though, it is hot. Really hot. Like, almost 2,000 degrees F.

The thing about French is it makes everything sound beautiful and elegant. Like this: nuée ardente. Glowing cloud. Doesn't that sound lovely? We like glowing clouds. They're pretty. And it almost sounds like some metaphor for a sexual delight, along the lines of le petite mort, which is such wonderful euphemism for an orgasm. Just remember, though, the French are the same people who can call you a shithead and make it sound sophisticated. So when they speak of glowing clouds, you might want to suspect they're not talking about something altogether pleasant.

It's really not.

Mount Pelée's nuée ardente
I found this out as a tender young age, whilst reading a book entitled Ripley's Believe it or Not: Great Disasters. This is the perfect book for children. It's got blood and gore and destruction aplenty. And it had an essay on the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée, in which the term nuée ardente was used. I remember the accompanying illustration was of Louis-Auguste Cyparis staring out at the flattened city of Saint-Pierre from the bars of his prison cell. Who says crime doesn't pay? Saved his life, because if he hadn't been in that protected space, he would've been fried. As it was, he merely got baked.

So what was this nuée ardente that sounds so lovely, and yet is so deadly? The modern scientific term for it is pyroclastic flow. That's good Greek, that, very evocative: fire broken in pieces. The "fire" is superheated gasses, which can attain temperatures of nearly 2,000 degrees F. The "broken in pieces" are chunks of pumice and rocks (sometimes even boulders), combined with ash. Mix it all up, and you have a recipe for painful death if you're in its path, and pure horrifying awesome if you're not. This is one of the most dramatic, dangerous things a volcano does.

View of Ridge at Spirit Lake. Note baldness. Photo by Moi.

I remember watching a television program on volcanoes back in the 90s, in which they showed the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. There were farmers in a field, and this pyroclastic flow came rushing down the mountain with its roiling, boiling gray clouds of doom, and the poor buggers were trying to run away. I'm sorry, but unless you run for a ridge or try to get into some protected spot like, oh, say, an underground dungeon, you're out of luck: those flows travel at speeds of around 60-150 miles per hour. Some sources claim they can go even faster, but that's irrelevant when you're considering whether you can outrun one. And even if you somehow manage to see the thing coming and get to the other side of a ridge before it reaches you, you may still be royally screwed. If it's a pyroclastic surge rather than flow, it might see the ridge as more of an inconvenience than a barrier. You're really better off staying out of range of any possible pyroclastic anythings to begin with.

Pyroclastic Flow at Night, Soufrière Hills. See link for more.

Here we see the reason why the French went with the term "glowing cloud" rather than "fire broken in pieces." This is a pyroclastic flow at night. It looks rather like a cloud that glows. Hell of an amazing light show, for those who can watch from a safe distance. Geology can be beautiful and terrible all at once. The Earth is so remarkably powerful, and few things illustrate that power so well as a pyroclastic flow.

They make for some amazing rocks, too, but we'll wait to discuss those until I have some drool-worthy photos from the field. For now, just savor the term nuée ardente for a bit, and maybe work up a suitably gorgeous yet dangerous-looking dance to go with it.

Tip o' the shot glass to Elli Goeke, who mentioned that lovely phrase and got me thinking about it.