Ramblings about what I encounter within the realm of the geosciences, as well as the occasional rant about nonsense.

22 January 2013

Up-Goer Five Meme

It's been a while since I posted anything here. What can I say, I've been busy. I like the idea of keeping a blog, but finding the time is the tricky issue. Anyway, I saw AGU posting a couple of geoblog entries from the Up-Goer Five Meme (if I can remember how to link, these should be links to Magma Cum Laude's and Mountain Beltway's entries).

My recent work has been focused on placing shales within a sequence stratigraphic framework on the basis of chemostratigraphy. Which would look something like this in the ten-hundred most common words:
I look at very old rocks from the water. I match them with other very old rocks that are the same age. This is not easy because some very old rocks look the same as other very old rocks but they are different ages, so they do not match. If the rocks look the same, but are different ages, I try to use very very very very tiny pieces of the rocks to find places on the rock where no rock formed. These very very very very tiny pieces of rock can be used to match these places where no rock formed and can help match rocks up and down of these places because they would be closer to the same age.
I was surprised that "mud" (rock) and "ocean" (water) were not usable. I was less surprised about "surface" (places where no rock formed) and "correlate" (match). I wasn't surprised at all about "atoms" and "elements", though this proved a problem to convey (very very very very tiny pieces of the rock).

25 March 2011

I liked his books...

A few days ago, I heard that Simon Winchester (he of "The Map that Changed the World", "Krakatoa", and "Crack in the Edge of the Word" fame) had published an editorial in Newsweek regarding the recent Japan Earthquake. The tweet that brought it to my attention was not the most glowing review of an editorial I have ever seen, so I was curious about what Winchester was saying.

At the end, I was not overly impressed. The primary thesis of Winchester's editorial deals with earthquake clustering. Earthquake clustering is the concept that a large earthquake associated with one tectonic plate will cause other large earthquakes on the same plate (or elsewhere on the planet). However, he provides no data to back up this assertion. He only uses cherry-picked anecdotal evidence (which is not data, it may be the start of a hypothesis, but it isn't data). With nothing else to support his argument, it is just unconvincing.

If that is all the essay said, that would be fine. However, Winchester uses this concept to argue that this means there will be an earthquake along the West Coast of North America in the very near future. This is just sensationalism, and it has been covered thoroughly by several other geoblogs (notably Highly Allocthonous and Geotripper) and CNN. I recommend looking through them, since I won't be going into much analysis about this.

Last night, Winchester responded to his critics. The Daily Beast article is rather weak in my opinion. It just presents more cherry picked anecdotes and then claims it is obvious to everybody except for geophysicists (and I'd assume geologists too). However, this is a foolish argument to make. Science is not necessarily intuitive.

If science was always intuitive, Aristotle and Plato would still be the top dogs as far as understanding the natural world go. Heavy objects will fall proportionally faster than light objects. There would only be four elements (Earth, Wind, Fire, Water) and a fifth "essence" making up the celestial spheres (the origin of the word "quintessential"). The Earth would also be the center of the universe and the continents would not be moving about the planet.

These were all blatantly obvious to the majority of our population, but when people actually started to collect evidence, it was realized that a counter intuitive explanation is what made sense in light of the data collected. This is why scientists go to great lengths to collect data and build massive datasets to demonstrate the validity of a hypothesis.

He also justifies his argument by saying "All that can be said with certainty is that they are more likely to break tomorrow than yesterday". This justification is meaningless as it is true of any natural phenomenon given enough time. With the same confidence as Winchester is displaying with regards to earthquake prediction, I can claim that a giant asteroid is going to collide with Earth. I wish I could take credit for this concept, but it was already advocated by Hsu and his paper "Catastrophic Extinctions and the Inevitability of the Improbable (1989)" (a brilliant, must-read paper).

I will conclude by saying one thing that has bothered me about this from the start. Where is the data to support this? That is an easy one. There are large stores of data available to individuals who wish to study earthquakes. Hell you can follow earthquakes as they happen via twitter (@quakenotices) and practically any mobile device these days. More to the point, it is all aggregated within the USGS and freely available to the public. So why did Winchester not provide any data supporting his point?

We have amassed plenty of data, all of it begging to be analyzed. There is no reason to think that Winchester is wrong advocating earthquake clustering (unless somebody has done the analysis and I just don't know about it). However, without the data to back up his hypothesis, he is not going to convince anybody within the scientific community.

I still like his books, but this is just sloppy thinking. Even worse, it is irresponsible.

Works Cited
Hsu, K. J., 1989, Catastrophic Extinctions and the Inevitability of the Improbable: Journal of the Geological Society, v. 146, no. 5, p. 749-754.

Edit: Even Better, just read this note on Facebook by Dr. Rowe which is the emails sent back and forth between herself and Simon Winchester regarding his articles. It is very good stuff. She also clarified a few things I had questions about myself (most notably, hadn't this already been thought of?). Thanks to Callan and Brian for tweeting this.

12 February 2011

Happy Darwin Day!!!

It is that time again. This clip from Dana Carvey crossing "Sherlock Holmes (2009)" with "Creation (2009)" has been floating around the internet for a bit. I found it funny. After showing it to my museum's director, you can now catch us reciting some of the more memorable lines from the clip at each other. Enjoy!!!

Also, there is a resolution in the House of Representatives concerning acknowledging Darwin Day (H.R. 81). The Center for Inquiry has a petition and a form letter you can send to your representative advocating support for the resolution (which you are encouraged to personalize for added significance to your congressional district). And GovTrack.us shows the status of all legislation currently under consideration by congress, including H.R. 81.

12 January 2011

There's an App for That

In keeping with my one post a month schedule for the blog, I decided that what better thing to talk about in January than applications for a geologist's new iPhone or iPad. Assuming you got one over the holiday season.

There have been a couple of pretty nifty applications that have an Earth Science theme to them. Below are some of the ones that I have had an opportunity to play around with myself.

The first is called "iSeismo" (yes the little "i" is becoming disturbingly common these days). iSeismo turns your iPhone, iPod, or iPad into a makeshift seismometer (as the name would imply). Here are some screen shots of the application I took while messing around with the software:

just a couple of wobbles from pressing the buttons to take a screen shot, but if I bump the table it is resting on... well the result is rather predictable:
If you're curious about what the three lines represent, they each measure the acceleration along one of the devices axes. Diagrammed below:
The best part about this application is it is free to download. So go ahead, shake the hell out of your device... for science!

The next application was all the rage at the last GSA meeting in Denver. Several members of the British Geological Survey announced the release of another free geology application called iGeology.

I imagine I would have more fun with this application if I lived in the UK, but I still downloaded it and play with it. What I really like about this application is that it highlights the geology of wherever I happen to be (provided I happen to be in the UK). However, it also lets me do a search for any location I want to look at.

For example I do a basic search for "Siccar Point" and it takes me to the scottish border.

What if you don't know much about the color codes on the map? No worries, just tap on the screen and a little information window pops open. If you want additional information, just tap on the blue arrow.
You can also tap "further detail" to send you to the BGS website where you can order geologic maps or additional information. Like I said, I would use this more if it wasn't only about the UK, but I still like the application. I can't fault the British Geological Survey for focusing on their own turf after all.

But what if I really wanted to look into getting an application that is relevant to the location where I live. We can't all be fortunate enough to have the BGS as our national survey after all. Well you might be interested in learning about an application called "Earth Observatory Observer" (look no "i" at all!).

While it doesn't have the ability to use your present location to display information on the local geology (a feature I really like in iGeology), you can run around the entire planet. Just tap the little blue arrow in the lower right corner.
There is a wide variety of different types of maps you can load on top of the basemap, including arctic and antarctic specific maps. But since I am talking about the Geology, lets load the Worldwide Geology map.
Look at that nice image of sea-floor spreading and subduction. However, you can only view so much geology at a 1:50,000,000 scale map. No worries. You can load up more detailed maps for various regions. Here is a zoom in on the US (left is the world map, middle is the US Age and Formation map, and the rightis the US rock type map).
All in all, it is pretty nifty. It's also free!

However, interactive geologic maps are only one of the things that has been turned into an app. Wouldn't it be nice to have a handy-dandy resource concisely summarizing vast swaths of literature regarding climate change? There is yet another FREE application for that as well. I vaguely remember talking about Skeptical Science at one point, but that was before I could download the application. Fortunately, their website offers a complete list of the arguments and the science.

The setup for this application is a list of common claims made by climate change deniers (they use the term "skeptic" when they mean denier, but that doesn't really detract from the value of this software). You just tap on the claim listed in the application and the application summarizes both the denier's claim, the scientific standing, and a detailed explanation about the science. For example I just tapped the "It's not happening" heading and the "2009-2010 saw record cold spells" claim (below are a series of screen shots that should stitch together):

This is a phenomenal app that is bound to make denialists squirm. And to reiterate, it is free! Plus, unlike the geologic map apps, you don't need access to the internet while using it. It only requires periodic connections to update the database, but other than that, you can browse it wherever you happen to be.

One final application that I have seen out there turns your iPhone or iPad into a Brunton compass. I know what name you are thinking of, but somehow the developers resisted the urge to name it "iBrunton" or "iCompass". There are two versions available. One is called Lambert, the other is called GeolCompass. I can't say much about either at this time, because I haven't downloaded them (though it looks like Lambert lets you make stereonets on your device). Mainly I have put off downloading them because I can't think of a worse thing to do to my iPad than drag it into the field with me (or my iPhone if I had one). Maybe one day, but not right now.

Hell, I wouldn't even drag my old decrepit laptop into the field, and it was held together by duct tape and good intentions. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind technology in the field (My digital camera is a regular piece of equipment that I bring and I use a GPS device more regularly these days).

I just don't want to spend ~$400 on a device that might not work properly if I drop it in the field (or it gets dust into its case, or it gets wet), especially when other options are available that work just as well. That said, a decent Brunton Transit will run a couple hundred bucks as well, but you can drop it, get it wet, etc, and it will still work. Same for the durability of my field book and pencil.

Technological preferences aside, I highly recommend every geologist with a device that works with the apple app store download the free software:


-iGeology (even if you aren't in the UK. It might encourage other surveys to follow suit)

-Earth Observatory

-Skeptical Science

They are all phenomenal.

21 December 2010

Something Ate the Moon

Last night North America had the king seats for a total lunar eclipse. These astronomical phenomena hold a special place in the history of science as a whole. In ancient Greece, Aristarchus was observing a lunar eclipse when he realized that as the shadow crept across the face of the moon, it was in the shape of an arc, not a straight line. He then posited that this meant that the Earth itself was curved (since the Earth is what must be casting the shadow). Furthermore, this observation helped Aristarchus come to the realization that the Earth is not the center of our solar system, but rather the Earth must orbit the Sun. All this was discovered centuries before Copernicus and Galileo. The ancient Greeks were even able to estimate for the relative sizes and distances of the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun. While we are much more precise with our modern techniques, Aristarchus was on the right path.

With that said, last night I went out and took some pictures of the lunar eclipse. These aren't the greatest of pictures since my SLR and telescope are packed away right now and all I had available was my camera I use for basic photography in the field. However, you will clearly be able to see the curvature of the Earth as the shadow moves over the surface of the moon. [note: I just realized that you cannot enlarge the photos by clicking on them. I will see if I can remedy this. Apparently, Blogger shrunk them all down to 400x300. I will probably just have to break down and subscribe to a photo hosting site to fix this]

Below is a shot of the eclipse just as it was starting.

Below it has progressed a little bit further.

And below shows it further still

Around about this time, I wasn't getting the eclipsed portion of the moon very clearly so I toyed around with the shutter speed and got the image below. Both the image above and below are at about the same point during the eclipse. The lower picture shows the eclipsed poritions of the moon and washes out the little sliver yet to be eclipsed.

Below shows the eclipse in near totality.

And here was the last decent shot I got of the event last night.

08 December 2010

Back From Hiatus

I have been away for a while… a good LONG while. However, I am still going to try and keep this blog running. Truth is, I like this blog. I find it is a good way for me to express my ideas about various topics that interest me and get feedback on those selfsame topics. I also find it good practice to keep writing about technical concepts in a less than technical manner. Or, to paraphrase Albert Einstein (who was paraphrasing Ernest Rutherford), you don't truly understand your [sed/strat] unless you can explain it to your [friends in a bar].

That said, sometimes the real world just gets too busy for me to make regular updates to ITV, let alone pay attention to it at all. I had some grand plans for when I finished my thesis such as: move over to Wordpress, start semi-weekly updates, break down the infernal tome of archaic knowledge over a series of posts, etc. What I didn't expect was how complex my schedule could become. I had to move, find work (of a sort), research PhD programs, attend conferences (which included helping prepare presentations for conferences), write applications to graduate programs, retake the GRE (prior scores expired. Good news, both scores went up [still waiting on the essay score]), and work on condensing my Masters into a journal article for submission (got a rough draft done, but it isn't ready for "showtime" yet)…. And my schedule doesn't look like it will be easing up anytime soon with campus visits, grant writing, helping to get a lecture series organized and developing a "training manual" about local sed/strat for docents at the museum I am currently working with. I have developed a greater respect for all the geobloggers out there who have been able to balance the real world and blogging.

    So, with that in mind, I have decided to set more realistic expectations of what I hope to accomplish regarding ITV. I will no longer be moving from blogger (it's got problems, but I can endure them for the time being). Semi-weekly updates might be a bit optimistic. I will try and post monthly updates at the very least. I am also scrapping the idea of talking about my thesis, since I am trying to get it into a journal. Once it's in a journal, I probably will just let someone else in the geoblogosphere eviscerate it.

    With that said, I am currently working on December's update. Watch this space.

28 July 2010

Our Achilles Heel Has Been Exposed

I was just perusing Facebook, and one of my friends posted this story. Apparently insurgents have figured out the quickest way to get a geologist to ingest poison is to place it in the guise of beer. Truly, a more fiendish plot has never been devised.

However, love of beer (and knowledge of geology) also happened to save the targeted geologist:
The Corona bottle sat on his counter for the next two weeks Yeager [the targeted geologist] says, because Corona is one of his least favorite beers. He finally opened it during a going away party as the other drinks began to run low.

“I pulled it out and when I popped it there was no fizz and the cap was loose,” says Yeager. “Because this one didn’t have fizz you wonder if it went rancid or not, and I just kind of sniffed it and I went ‘Oh, that doesn’t smell like beer.’ ”

Yeager, a geochemist familiar with acids, realized it smelled like sulfuric acid – otherwise known as battery acid. He called a friend over who had the same reaction to the smell. Yeager poured the “beer” into the toilet and it foamed and fizzed, leaving “no question” in his mind it was sulfuric acid.
Geology saving lives once again.

19 June 2010

Of Boycotts and Impact Factors

Well it has been a while since I visited this corner of the internet. I am also WAYYYY behind in my blog reading (so, by now, this may be old news to people). I suppose that is what happens when the real world imposes itself. So to get back into the swing of things, here is a quick summation of a relatively minor story with potentially significant implications.

The Nature Publishing Group (NPG) is planning to raise the cost of subscription for the University of California Library System (UCL). NPG's argument is that UCL's subscription is currently being subsidized by other universities. So NPG wants to raise UCL's subscription fee to be more in line with what other universities are paying (though as Larry Moran notes, NPG has yet to mention that they will lower the subscription costs for these other universities).

More to the point, this change will effectively raise UCL's subscription fee 400%. Simply put, with the financial woes of the UC system, UCL might be unable to fit this into the budget. In response, UC professors have proposed a boycott of NPG. Not only will they stop the subscription (which may be unavoidable in any situation), they will no longer serve as peer-review, and they will no longer submit articles.

This is potentially a large problem, not just for NPG but for any research publication that is for-profit. Primarily because the consumers of research journals also supply the content of research journals. To put this in perspective, people talk about the power that the Baseball Players Union has when negotiating with the team owners. Imagine how much power the Baseball Players Union would have if they not only supplied the product (i.e. played the game), but were also the predominant consumers (i.e. they were the largest, or only, group purchasing tickets and attending/watching games). This analogous to the situation with researchers and research publications. That is the amount of leverage researchers have when dealing with scientific journals. It should be interesting to see how this situation develops in the coming weeks.

While this is an interesting story in its own right, the principle organizer of this boycott made an interesting statement justifying the lack of article submission (via Sandwalk):
In many ways it doesn't matter where the work's published, because scientists will be able to find it
If this is indeed the case (which given inter-library loan and the predominance of digital copies of papers, it is), this should have an interesting effect on the concept of evaluating the impact factor of journals. I have no idea whether this will make the concept of an impact factor obsolete, or whether it just grants journals that have cheaper (or free) access to online papers higher impact factors.

14 May 2010

I don't know what to do now

*Phew*. You may have noticed it's been rather quiet here on In Terra Veritas recently. Only a few quick posts linking to TED talks that I liked. There's good reason for this. I've just willed into existence another Damnable Tome of Archaic Knowledge.

I've turned in the final version of my Masters Thesis to all parties that require an electronic copy, filled out all the paper work, cleared out my office, and now.... I have no clue what to do next. It's a good feeling though.

21 April 2010

"Amazing" TED Talk

I saw this through the JREF page on Facebook. James “The Amazing” Randi talks about psychics and homeopathy. It is a quick introduction to why psychics are frauds and homeopathy is a waste of money.

I like what Randi is saying, but I wish he would be more clear in his presentation. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fine talk, but it felt rather scattered. I highly recommend people visit his website to learn more about what the JREF is all about.

14 April 2010

Fear of Science will Kill Us

Just a quick post. This has been going around on Facebook, probably on the blogosphere as well, but I wanted to add it to this blog as well.

Last year Michael Specter wrote a very good book about the growing trend of denialism in this country. I don't know when the paperback version is due to be released (or if it already has), but I recommend reading it. Recently, Michael gave a TED talk on the same subject (available through CNN). The video, and an accompanying article, is also available here.

07 April 2010

Two Steps Closer Toward Becoming a Misnomer

Just a quick post since I am working on my final revisions. I logged onto my reader today to try and clear out some of the stories. It is a losing battle. I can't seem to read all the stories I would like to these days. But this Headline caught my attention:

This was the most depressing quote in this brief article:
Warmer temperatures have reduced the number of named glaciers in the northwestern Montana park to 25, said Dan Fagre, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. He warned the rest of the glaciers may be gone by the end of the decade.
I would suggest making plans to visit the park sooner rather than later. I also have some posts from when I visited the park a couple summers ago.


All the Latin on this page is from my vague recollections from High School. There are mistakes in the text. I just was trying to get the point across

Between Los Alamos,NM and White Rock, NM

Between Los Alamos,NM and White Rock, NM
The photo of the travertine spring was taken in the small opening in the center of the image.

Lectio Liber