Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Few Random Geologically-Related Things of Note

-The Yellowstone swarm is picking back up? Frequency of quakes have risen in the last couple of days.

-If being a geology (or old-style environmental geosciences) major and religious simultaneously doesn't make you question your beliefs, you're not doing it right. Some friends of mine in this department who have had a religious influence in their lives have had one hell of an ideological struggle between the two at times. And no, you can't compromise with "Creation Geology." That stuff's utter BS. The arguments are compelling for both sides. Some, however, are presented with data acquired using widely accepted techniques by the worldwide scientific community, and others are presented as data, possibly legitimately acquired, possibly not (possibly bad data, which unfortunately also happens now and again in the research community), and wrapped in compelling prose and argument. It's up to the reader to decide. Check out the first link in particular - though proceed with caution. It asks, in some cases, very good questions, but watch out for ones that are based on assumptions taken from the Bible and using it as a preconception in the logic used there.

-On a similar note (and I can't tell if the kid's joking or not), I read through a timeline someone wrote up for today's in-class assignment and he used a Creationist timeline. If I hadn't been reading it on a bus, head would've met desk. Hard.

-If I'm wrong about this whole science thing and the Bible is actually right, I'll be damned. Literally. But I'm okay with being wrong now and again. It's much more interesting.

-I must spend more time bonding with the rock saws - er, cutting cracks out of my aplite samples. Some of them are bad enough that I fear they'll take me the rest of my natural life, but I don't trust anyone else to help me. They're not easy to see and it's easier to blame myself for any mistakes than others. It's immensely satisfying when you hit a fracture just right and it un-cements itself. One can then proceed to taking the fracture surface off without much additional effort.

-I sleep better outside. In a tent, anyway. And yes, that includes in sub-freezing temperatures. Best sleep in recent memory was when the ragtag bunch of field campers I spent a glorious half-summer with headed south to the San Rafael Swell and camped/did geology for a couple of nights. At our second campsite, which looked out over the Little Grand Canyon, the night temperatures were so mild that many of us didn't even bother to put up tents, choosing instead to lay out sleeping bags directly on Nature. I woke up once in the ferociously-early morning hours because the Moon was rising bright.

I woke up to a grand sight:

Then I found my glasses:

(Yes, I really slept that far away from the edge of the canyon. Note I placed my bag carefully perpendicular to the edge in case I was restless at any time during the night, which wasn't the case. These pictures don't do justice. Too bad they don't make filters for point-and-shoots. Watch out PhotoShop!)

-One thing I've noticed of late. The class I'm co-TAing should, in theory, be an unbiased cross section of the University demographic. Everyone has to take an ISP (Integrated Studies in Physical Science; the same with ISBiology and ISSocial [Science] x2) class at my university, as it's a public and non-liberal arts institution. Science majors don't have to take the ISP and ISB classes as long as they take at least basic biology- and physical science-related classes as part of their core.

But I digress.

What I've noticed is that the average layman has absolutely no conception of the inertia of a system as large as what's seen on the Earth. For that matter, they have no conception of the inertia of Earth's internal system (and I, a burgeoning geoscientist/petrologist/whatever) only have an inkling of the internal dynamics of Earth -- as much as everyone else in my field. We can't directly observe, so we have to find other reliable methods by which to measure. Not everyone outside of the mode of thought into which I think I shaped myself many years ago takes that at its word. However, we are all creatures of repetition and are as one susceptible to it, so when a misnomer such as "global warming" is screamed in your ear via the popular media a few hundred thousand times, you take it as fact and go with it. This cross section of the university almost as one think that "global warming" means "a uniform increase in temperatures around the world."

What, as scientists, can we do to change these widespread and flatly WRONG notions? Not to bash the media (because they do what they have to do to sell their product, as does everyone else), but once they get a bone, they go with it. Simplify and deliver to the masses with the least amount of energy, so they can absorb it with the least amount of energy.

Empty calories of the mind.

What do we do to get folks to take five minutes of their time, log onto teh Wiki (should I be pooh-pooing? No. Wikipedia's surprisingly accurate, and if you want to be thorough, follow the citations, people. That's how I find some of my research papers when I get desperate!) and look up some of these terms we hear so much in the modern media.

Ask questions. Train yourself to ignore social, cultural preconceptions (okay, the latter is not as easy as it sounds) when addressing such popular topics and look past the term. Look at where it came from, what it evolved into.

There's always so much more we never knew behind these topics.

-Is this why I can't sleep?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

WTF of the Day

From NPR's Talk of the Nation, 1/15/09.

I'm probably going to open a can of worms with this one . . .

I tuned into the show somewhere into its first hour, and a lively discussion on religion and atheism was ensuing. Being NPR and rational as the whole organization is, there was no preaching or condemnations during the part of the show I was listening to, which is nice. That happens FAR too often when someone touches on religion. I honestly don't know if it will ever become anything less than a touchy subject.

At one point, the hosts were discussing condemnations commonly placed upon the Atheists. Christians purportedly perceive Atheists as "rampantly materialistic," which I find disturbing. Consider the following without any precepts. The vast majority of this nation is Christian. Atheists are the smallest minority belief system in the United States, and by far the most hated. Without implying that Christians are actually the rampantly materialistic types (because it's definitely not the case in many situations), isn't it a common human reaction to project one's flaws upon someone whom one doesn't like?

Just asking.

I didn't hear what some of the other common negative stereotypes/perceptions surrounding Atheists were - I was far too distracted by the materialism comment. While I think it's a little extreme that some Atheists are offended by public references to God to the point where they censor the name, I can see their point. I do agree with the viewpoint that references to an obviously Christian deity within the realm of the State are wrong. I knew it was wrong from a young age, because despite the foibles of my (rather conservative, earnest, and occasionally misguided) public school system, we did have it driven into our heads at a young age in school that there must always be a "separation of Church and State." Exactly correct. I'm not sure where some citizens get the impression that they're crusading to bring religion back into the State "the way the Founding Fathers intended."

I've also, however, had the distinct advantage of growing up in a family of very intelligent, unique, aware individuals. I often think that makes all the difference in someone. If I'd grown up in a less advantaged situation, I wouldn't be where I am today - probably not panicking about getting into grad school or not, probably not a musician, probably not even in the sciences. Who knows where I'd be.

When I was 9 years old, I was in 5th grade and out of some conversation at my table, the question of belief in God came up. It went around the table, with everyone being singled out and asked if they believed in God. I answered honestly. No, I didn't then, and though I consider myself Agnostic, I really don't even now. I was the only one at the table to make such an admission (likely the entire classroom), and the reaction from my peers was immediate and pronounced. I was promptly informed that I was going to Hell, upon which I tried to reverse my statement in order to get them to leave me alone. They kept it up nonetheless, and it persisted throughout the year. It's another story, but that year was the first year I was truly, publicly singled out as being "different" from everyone else in the class, and received an appalling amount of grief, teasing, and some degree of ostracism in addition to my religious views.

The reason I choose to bring that up in a public forum is because that actually came up during the Atheism segment of the show - it seems that many others who were not solidified in their beliefs at a young age and made that public were also condemned to Hell at a young age.

It hurt then, because I didn't know then it wasn't "alright" to believe in what I wanted to. It hurt a lot, especially when my peers decided to make a joke of everything that defined me, to manipulate my honesty with them. I'm not sure what my response was at the time. I don't think I knew how to respond to that. It helped, though, having friends who refused to participate in the teasing.

I suppose now, a little older and significantly wiser, my response is more along the lines of, "I'll burn in Hell, sure. I'll burn brightly." Better to be the one unwittingly the whipping boy than the ones doing the whipping. I doubt most of these folks, now adults, most of them probably graduated from college, working, engaged, married, maybe even with families, remember what they said.

Ahh the joys of childhood.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mom: What're you eating?
Me (mouth full): Gllrm.
Mom: Tomato?
Me (mouth still full): Yrrr!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Upheaval Dome

MSU Geology Club visited Upheaval Dome during Spring Break last year (first week of March). It's interesting because it's one of the rare naturally-forming circular surface structures seen around the world, and debate has raged for years over what formed it. Two popular explanations prevail.

One hypothesis suggests that it is the remnants of and uplifting salt dome, eroded away presumably during the uplift of the Colorado Plateau, which the dome and surrounding Canyonlands are a part of.

Another hypothesis suggests the structure is an impact crater. Evidence for this (in my opinion) is particularly sparse. Obviously the shape and structure make it a prime candidate for impact crater consideration. Shocked quartz was recently found in the crater, though according to teh Wiki (noncited statement as far as I could tell), there may not have been more than a few grains found, and they were located off-center, which is interpreted by pro-impact types as evidence of an oblique impact. Shatter cones have also been found within the crater, which provide strong evidence for an impact. However, when the club was there, we spent an extensive amount of time debating the issue.

Points of Contention:
1. Uplift/deformation. The very definition of "dome." I don't know much about uplift of rock layers with impact structures in general, but it seems a bit too regular for an impact, especially an oblique impact as suggested by the impact proponents.
2. Lack of fracturing. Impact bodies general travel at speeds in the neighborhood of 10-15 km/s. To put it lightly, at that speed, an impact will not cause rock to bend - rock will fracture. Violently. Some upward "bending" might be possible on the impact rebound around the sides of the crater. Hard to say. I'm running impact models in my head, and as much as I like to pretend I'm a computer, I'm not. There would definitely be fragmentation, fracturing, and other forms of violent deformation on a large scale. Naked eye observation from a height doesn't really reveal that.
3. Shocked quartz (As opposed to normal quartz). Shocked quartz is formed only by high-impact events. In fact, the only types of events known to produce shocked quartz are asteroid/comet impacts and nuclear bomb detonations. I need to look up more reports about the volume of shocked quartz found at the site. Discovery News reported its discovery in Upheaval Dome right about the time the Geology Club spent our break on the Colorado Plateau and visited the Dome. The only source that gives a mention of the volume found is the Wiki article on Upheaval Dome, which claims that "only a few grains" of shocked quartz have been found. The Websites cited in that article are indeterminate with regard to volume of shocked quartz present. If there's significant shocked quartz, then sure, I'll go with the impact hypothesis. If not, we just can't know.
4. Shatter cones. These structures are often form beneath impact sites and radiate outward. They provide decent evidence for impact as well, but in some cases are tough to distinguish from slickensides.

Based on the current evidence, We have no effing clue what this circular structure is. I'm leaning toward salt dome for now. Read up on it and make your own decision.

Grad Apps WTF

I'm applying to six graduate schools plus MSU as a backup. Seeing that many schools don't need copies of your transcript if you've already attended, I was assuming (stupid thing to do with this applications, evidently) that I wouldn't need to send my transcripts to MSU, seeing as, you know, I'm a student here and all.

Got an e-mail from Jackie, the graduate secretary in my department, this morning stating that I still needed a couple of letters of rec (should be on their way or as such soon) and . . . transcripts.

The moral of the story: Don't ever make assumptions, and MSU - please get with the times.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Football and Huh?

So I have the BCS Nat'l Championship game on in the back room here, and it cut to commercial after an interception. I look up at this commercial and see . . .

an African savannah upon which a herd of desk chairs are running from a safari vehicle.

The phrase "Do Not Attempt" appears at the bottom of the screen.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Does anyone else think that Mecc/The Learning Company could make a KILLING if they re-released a bunch of their old games for Mac and PC? Maybe as a classic set or something.

It would have to include:
Oregon Trail I and II
Amazon Trail
Gizmos and Gadgets
The Math Blaster games (these are actually owned by the Davidson company)
The Odell games (Odell Down Under, Odell Lake)
Number Munchers
Storybook Weaver
Logic Quest 3D

Oh my gosh, if someone released those in a gamepack, I'd never have to buy another game. Except maybe MarioKart.

Watch this page. It's been interesting since 12-27-08.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Back. Maybe.

Been busy (if busy means "insane"). Last week of break. Back from Florida, officially retired from SMB, trying to get some graduate applications in, and generally getting more sleep and regular meals (HAH) these last few weeks. Except for band.

Too lazy/distracted to post pictures right now. I'll put up squad senior pictures from the bowl game, maybe. Texas just beat OSU in the Fiesta Bowl, damn. 1-6 in Big Ten bowl games this year, *sigh*. Good game, though -- fight right up till the bitter end. Nern's curled up in the fleece blanket on the other end of the couch, being a content ball of brindle.

Maybe I'll go heat up some pasta and get an application turned in tonight. That sounds like a reasonable goal.