How to Get Mistaken for a Geologist

One of the flattering (and alarming) things to have emerged from getting linked by Pharyngula was having a few folks mistake me for a really real geologist.  I’m not a real geologist (but I play one on the intertoobz).  It wasn’t quite the same shock as getting adopted by the geoblogosphere, but ran a close second.  This isn’t the second time I’ve been mistaken for an actual working geologist.  When I start babbling about subduction zones and plate tectonics in real life, people who haven’t met me yet automatically assume I’m a professional.

How does that happen?

This, combined with a friend asking how one goes about self-teaching, led me to pondering.  And then my tongue adhered to my cheek.  What results is the following Sooper Sekrit Manual, in which I explain how you, too, could Get Mistaken For a Geologist.  With minor adjustments, you can apply it to any branch of science.

1.  Read blogs.

Oh, hey, look, you are!  But I mean read blogs by actual geologists, too.  There’s one hell of an education awaiting you on the internet.  It’s like sitting in a field full of geologists, and they’re teaching you what they know.  They’ll show you wonders and introduce you to new concepts and get you conversant in the life and work of a geologist.  They’ll even answer questions!

2.  Read books.

Read deeply and widely, everything from pop sci to textbooks.  Yes, I read textbooks for fun.  I am one of Those People.  It can be rough going at first, but if you read absolutely everything reputable you can get your hands on, you’ll end up absorbing far more than you realize.  Next thing you know, you’ll be pontificating on things like thrust faults and metamorphism, throwing around $100 words like they’re pennies, and observers will believe you have an expensive education.  It’s a lot of fun, especially when you tell them all you’ve got is a GED and a handful of college credits.  Have a camera handy: the look on their faces is priceless.

3.  Read papers

Once those books which in the introduction explain that the average layperson may find it tough going because the author was writing for serious students and professionals no longer daunt you, head over to Google Scholar and seek out the actual scientific literature.  You’d be amazed how much is actually available for free.  You’d be even more amazed at how much of it you can actually comprehend.  It’s the best way to get in-depth information on a particular aspect of geology.  It’s also fascinating to see how science is done.  And then you’ll have a bag full of $1000 words to throw around like confetti.

4.  Learn the lingo

Oh, look, you already have.  Side effect of all that reading you’re doing.  I’m also writing a book on just that subject, so you’ll soon have a handy guide.

5.  Befriend geologists

Or let them befriend you.  They’re a lively, fascinating bunch, more than willing to let layfolk who have an interest and the willingness to learn hang about with them, and they’ll show you things like how to properly use a rock hammer and what a Brunton compass is for.  They will make you look upon this world with wonder and awe and appreciation.  And do they ever know how to party!

6.  Collect rocks

Be one of those people who loves rocks so much they’re willing to schlep ten thousand pounds’ worth out of the wilderness because they wanted just one more hand sample.  And I’m not talking about the really perfect mineral specimens and gemstones and all that other stuff that everybody in the universe likes.  I’m talking about mudstones and basalts and all of those kinds of rocks that are deadly-dull to the average human being. 

7.  Dress in geo gear

Not that there’s a standard uniform, but we’re talking clothes and shoes suitable for long, dirty hikes over outcrops in all sorts of weather.  If you want to be mistaken for a geologist, you can’t wander around in fancy shoes dressed like you’re about to meet with the CEO about a promotion to the corner office.

8.  Carry a rock hammer and hand lens

Not everywhere.  Just out in the field.  When you go on hikes, have a hammer with you specifically made for bashing rocks with.  Geologists know that a rock can look very different when broken open, due to the effects of weathering.  So they don safety goggles, pick up a hammer, and whammo.  Then they whip out a hand lens to study the fresh face exposed.  They may occasionally nibble on the rock in order to determine what it is, but this is optional if all you’re wanting to do is pass.  I don’t think it’s common knowledge among layfolk yet that geologists can discern a lot about a rock by consuming bits of it.

I think we should get jackets made with this logo – who’s with me?

9.  Beer

If you want to be mistaken for a geologist, you must understand beer.  You must be prepared to discuss, drink, and praise beer.  You will notice that beer comes up a lot.  Beer’s importance to geology cannot be emphasized enough.

There you go.  All you need to know in order to be mistaken for a really real geologist.  As for why you’d want to be mistaken for one, well, that is because geologists are teh awesome and geology is one of the most important, most interesting, and most beautiful sciences in existence.

And there’s beer.  Never, ever, forget the beer.

How to Get Mistaken for a Geologist

Cantina Quote o' The Week: Lin Yutang

 ‘I have done my best.’ That is about all the philosophy of living one needs.

Lin Yutang

I first learned of Lin Yutang in the long-ago days of my 20s, when a coworker came in with a photocopy of the section “The Importance of Loafing” from his remarkable book The Importance of Living.  It was so different from American thought that I believed it was satire at first.  Especially when he talked about how Chinese editors would deliberately leave some mistakes for readers to catch.  But something I’ve learned over the years since is that Chinese and Japanese whimsy conceals a lot of very serious thought.  You’ll likely see that for yourself if you ever read The Importance of Living.

Dr. Lin brought Chinese thought to the American consciousness back around the 1930s.  He also figured out how to design a typewriter that can write in Chinese.  This is no small matter for a language written with thousands of individual characters rather than an alphabet.

The above quote resonates for me, not least because the one true thing I’d like etched into whatever little memorial plaque marks my passing is “Quantum in me fuit,” which roughly translates to “I did the best I could.”  Most of us would like to be able to say that.  The nice thing is, and as you’ll learn if you ever read Liu Yutang’s delightful book, doing our best doesn’t mean we can’t spend an entire afternoon doing absolutely nothing:

If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live. 


Cantina Quote o' The Week: Lin Yutang

Tomes 2011: Really, Honestly, I Haven't Forgotten Tomes!

It’s just that I’ve been arse-kickingly busy and other things keep getting in the way.  I’ve also been reading a lot less than I should.  Someone needs to see about adding a few extra hours to the day without employers catching on and demanding we spend them there rather than in a nice, comfy spot curled up with a tome or two (or, in my case, more).

In spite of all that, I have a handful of delights for you.  Without further delay, then.

Image source

The Verde Valley: A Geological History

Wayne Ranney, who is one of the best writers on Arizona geology you’ll ever encounter, wrote this very short, sweet, to-the-point and richly illustrated guide to the geology of the Verde Valley, which is not all Sedona all the time.  The Verde includes some truly amazing rocks.  You’ll find everything from Precambrian formations near Jerome to the truly remarkable Cenozoic Verde Formation – limestone from a lake! – near Camp Verde, along with some lovely recent volcanic stuff and intriguing gravels.  I know, most people wouldn’t find gravel intriguing, but Wayne turns it into something of a detective story.

This is definitely one of those books you should pack around with you when you go visit the area.  Read it beforehand so you can plan your itinerary accordingly – there is so much geological goodness that it takes careful planning not to miss something essential.  And don’t let the red rocks of Sedona steal all your time.  Some of the greatest places Arizona have to offer are in that wild, wonderful valley.

Image source

Canyon Country

Yes, another book by Wayne Ranney.  Didn’t I mention he’s one of the best sources for Arizona geology?  I meant it.

This one goes beyond Arizona, though.  Canyon Country includes most of the Colorado Plateau.  And here, within these pages, you’ll be taken on a jaw-dropping, eye-popping tour of some of the most rugged places on earth, canyons carved deep into ancient, colorful formations, unobstructed by all that pesky biology.  Wayne shows you Salt River Canyon, Fossil Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Antelope Canyon, Grand Gulch, Bryce Canyon, Canyon de Chelly and Tsegi Canyon, and, of course, the Grand Canyon, in loving yet succinct detail.  It ain’t just biology that has endless forms most beautiful: so does the geology of these canyons.

This is another slim book suitable for packing about with you in your peregrinations.  And I can advise you from experience that having it on your desk excites interest: our department manager came by, flipped through it, lost his breath, and looked at me like I was nuts for living here when I told him I used to live near there.  He might be right, actually.

Image source

Defining the Colorado Plateau: A Geologic Perspective

This.  Oh gods, oh, this.  Wayne Ranney wrote the bulk of it, and at the end we have contributions from Richard Holm, Ivo Lucchitta, G. Kent Colbath, and Ron Blakey, and all of them together created something of beauty and power.  The Colorado Plateau is one of the most remarkable areas in all the world, and I don’t just say that because I’m from there and rather partial.  Read this book to find out what makes it so very, very incredible.

It can be a confusing place to people trying to understand it.  Wayne minimizes the confusion, explains everything that’s currently known clearly, simply, and with economical beauty.  The illustrations ensure you get a proper sense of the place.  Well, when you’re not drooling all over them, that is.

Slip it in to your pack alongside The Verde Valley and Canyon Country, and you’re set.  All three are easily available directly from Wayne, and he might even be kind enough to autograph them for you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to slink off and be desperately homesick for a while…

Image Source

The Colorado Plateau: A Geologic History

Why yes, I am a glutton for punishment, whyever do you ask?  Is it because I’ve made myself homesick and yet still read another book on the geology of my old home country?

If Wayne’s whetted your appetite and you want to read more on the Plateau, this is a very good book for that purpose.  It covers the whole of the area in admirable detail.  Donald Baars has a very clear writing style that’s comprehensible even to an amateur such as myself.  The features, formations, and all of the intriguing yummy bits are explored, and you can even vicariously head down the Grand Canyon in a rubber boat.  That, I have to say, was one of my favorite chapters and very nearly had me booking a raft trip.

After Wayne’s three-course meal, I could’ve done with some more color photos.  Alas, this is all grayscale.  But it’s still got quite enough to give you a sense of what things look like, and there are diagrams to help you puzzle everything out, and all-in-all, it’s worth your time and money.

But I have to stop with the Arizona geology just now, because I’m in terrible danger of moving back, and while the geology is outstanding, the politics of the area aren’t so much.  Not to mention, most of the jobs are in Phoenix, which is, shall we say, not quite so much fun…

Image Source

The Joy of Chemistry

Want fun, need fun, need joy.  I have a book with joy in the title.  And hey, I could use some chemistry in my life.  So I turn to this one.


I mean, seriously, wow.  You have to understand, the last time chemistry and I had more than a brief flirtation was back in high school.  I’m so not-versed in chemistry it’s pathetic.  This book took me from abject ignorance to near-competence in just a few hours.  And it’s a hell of a fun read.  The authors intended to get across the joy of chemistry, and they did.

It’s even got experiments.

Since reading this book, I’ve found it leaping back up into my consciousness in just about everything else I’ve read, from blog posts to – well, mostly blog posts, because I haven’t read many more books.  But I’m in the middle of one that would have defeated me completely if I hadn’t read this first.  There’s so much more I understand because it was covered in the Joy.  If you need an introduction to chemistry, or a simple reminder of why chemistry is a lovable science, this is your book.  Go and buy it forthwith.

Image Source

The God Delusion

This is a re-read, actually, as I read this a few years ago but got the sudden hankering to read it again.

A lot of ink and pixels have been spilled over this book, so I shall just say this about it: it’s a damned good book.  You may despise it if you’re religious – it does not leave religion standing.  Religion is the emperor without clothes, and Dawkins is one of those people along the parade route going, “Well, that guy’s nekkid.”  Not that he puts it like that.  Dawkins is a gorgeous writer, just simply wonderful.  Every sentence is elegant, even the very simplest ones, even the most uncompromising ones.

I wish all of my religious friends would read this book.  It’s not so strident as some terrified theologians would have you believe.  It’s just that it’s true, and religion and truth don’t mix.  So I can imagine it is a painful read for those who believe, but religion causes too much harm to leave it to blind faith.  If you read this, and understand there’s a compelling argument for the fact that religion hasn’t got any clothes, and that it’s dangerous in very many ways, and has caused a great deal of harm, and does society no favors, and is something humanity can do without, yet you still choose to believe, that’s your choice.  But at least you’ll know where I’m coming from, because reading this book the first and second time showed me that I wasn’t at all alone in thinking the way I do.

Also, a lot of myths about atheists are debunked.  That’s a necessary thing: people, in this country especially, have got very little idea what atheists are really like, and how they can get along without a god.  The God Delusion goes a long way toward explaining that.

For me, and for quite a few atheists, I think, this book is a sheer pleasure to read.  Richard Dawkins is a fabulous writer, and it’s one of those you can settle in with and savor the language as much as the ideas.  Wonderful.  I can’t wait to read it again.

Tomes 2011: Really, Honestly, I Haven't Forgotten Tomes!

The Photo Not Taken


This month’s Accretionary Wedge is a tough one.  When I go out to a geological locality these days, I tend to come away with about everything I could possibly ever need or want – until later, when during some research I find out there was more to the place than I suspected, and it’s an immediate “D’oh!”

Happens to us all.

I’ll tell you what my regrets are, though.

I regret not appreciating Arizona’s geology until I moved up here.  There are entire swaths of the state I used to roam freely, but I didn’t take pictures of the sights I saw or the rocks I befriended.  I have very few good photos of my beloved Peaks, or of Page’s amazing sandstones.  I don’t have pictures of the desert light pouring like honey over the landscapes.  I thought it would be enough to take those things away with me in my mind’s eye, but then I found you, my darlings, and until someone comes up with an app for that, there’s no way for me to take a snapshot of memory and show you rather than tell you about it.

I regret not having got a better camera years ago.  The old camera I had couldn’t do those landscapes justice.

And I regret not having a recording device.  Because I’ve visited a lot of incredible localities with very knowledgeable people, and I have so few of their words left in my memory.  I have a horrid memory.  And I wish I could replay lectures and conversations, I wish I had video and audio of those experiences, so I could absorb them in their entirety.  All I have is an impressionistic image, a hint of a voice and a snippet of knowledge, and it’s not enough.

So the next time I go out, yes, I’ll have the camera and the collecting bags and a digital voice recorder, and while my box of regrets won’t be empty when I return, at least it will be a little less full.

The Photo Not Taken

River Walking Parte the Third: Wild Water

When last we left the Skykomish River, it was chillin’ in the basin.  You could zip up it in a speedboat, and the rocks were wee little things, most of them no bigger than the size of a fist.  Unless you visited at flood stage, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a tame, sweet thing.

Those rocks should give you pause, however.  They’re far-traveled, and they’ve been tumbled and polished and rounded.  That’s our first clue the Skykomish isn’t always placid.

Our second clue comes when we head up the highway, past the small towns of Sultan and Gold Bar.  The gently rolling basin lands give way to mountains.  And these are serious mountains, people, mountains that rise from the earth like they mean it, mountains that don’t shrug off their snow until summer’s well under way.  Go just a few miles outside of Gold Bar, and the mountains fold around you, shutting out the rest of the world.  There’s a bridge over the Skykomish River, and just beyond it a parking area with river access.  Walk down to the river, and you’ll think you’ve come to a different river entirely.

View Larger Map

There’s where we are now, between the highway and the railway bridge.  A few miles further up the road, the Skykomish splits into its North and South forks, vanishing into the mountains where it’s born.

These are wild waters.  You get the first hint when you reach the river from the parking area, and notice you’re having to thread your way through quite a few rather large boulders.  Looking downstream, the river vanishes into an aspiring canyon.

Skykomish River, looking downstream

Look upstream, and you get a sense of just how powerful the river is here.  None of these namby-pamby low banks, nossir.  No, here, it’s carved out something a bit more respectable:

Skykomish River, looking upstream

And you notice how it’s plastered its banks with boulders.  People go through a lot of effort to pile stuff like this along some of its lower banks in an effort to reduce erosion.  Here, the river does its own rip-rap, and does it in style.  We’ll see more of that later, and get intimate with them in a forthcoming post.  Let’s just say if I had a large yard and a forklift, the banks would be rather a bit less rocky.

Let’s turn our attention to that opposite bank, though.  Here’s a panorama of it:

Nice, isn’t that?  Look at all those lovely layers!  I think an argument can be made that rivers are natural-born geologists.  They like to collect pretty rocks, and they sometimes like to cut down through a sequence so that all the nice depositional layers are on display.  We shall have a closer look:

Look above the debris fans, and you’ll see some lovely horizontal deposits.  Those look like river deposits, don’t they just?  And while I can’t swear to it, they might be fine examples of the fining upward sequences Karen talked about when we first went river-walking.  I need to read up on rivers before I can speak with any sort of intelligence here, but Karen did us the favor of a short description:

Here’s a phrase you can add to your geologic lexicon (if you haven’t already): “fining upward sequences”. As you pointed out, there’s a flood strong enough to carry cobbles, and then pebbles come down, and the sediment in the exposure fines upward into sand and mud… and then the whole thing repeats. Flows of various geologic sorts produce fining upward sequences in sediment; it’s a good phrase to know. 

It’s about this time when I wish they’d hurry up with the implants that will allow me to download things directly into my brain.  But I digress.

One of the things I wanted to show you was the power of this river.  It can and has carried boulders.  It’s dropped boulders off when it’s done with them, and now amuses itself flowing over them.

 And if you’re like me, you could sit on a boulder and watch the river play for absolute hours.

No still photograph can capture the power of it.  So I shot some video.  First, we’ll pan up and down the river:

That gives you a general overview and some sense of how fast those waters flow.  And in this one, I give you a close-up of some particularly interesting rapids.  Pay especial attention to the fact there’s a person talking for a bit there.  That’s my intrepid companion, and you can’t hear a word he says.  Neither could I. The river drowned out everything except for itself.

And even that doesn’t really capture the magnitude of it.  The deep roar of rushing water is something you feel as much as hear.  It’s on the same order as standing right beside a freight train.

Right.  So here we are, further up the river, and we can turn to look downstream back the way we came.  Hard to believe we navigated all of those boulders:

Not easy walking, I can assure you.  I’ve heard of gravel bars, and cobbles, but I think this has to be dubbed a “boulder bar.”

Looking upstream, we now have a better view of the mountains:

Okay, well, aside from the clouds trying to eat them, but this is the Pacific Northwest, people.  We’re lucky we can see the mountains at all.

If you look closely at the center-left of the bank, you’ll notice a gap in the trees, and a house that’s about to have a whole new definition of riverfront property.  It might have had a back yard once, but the river ate it.

The clouds weren’t feeling particularly cooperative, but I did get a couple of close-up shots of the mountains.  Here’s one where you can see just how precarious slopes can be:

And this:

If we’d got deeper into the Cascades, you would have seen quite a lot more snow, and possibly some glaciers, but this will do.  Cliffs and crags with a bit of sunlight on are nice.

In our next segment, I’ll be introducing you to some of the rocks that didn’t come home with me, and you will see some lovely examples of what being stuffed into a subduction zone can do to stone.

River Walking Parte the Third: Wild Water

Dojo Summer Sessions: Freedom to Explore

Some of you in the audience are probably quite a bit like me: mildly OCD.  We build up habits and concepts that are terribly difficult to change.

Here’s how bad I am: I cannot use any other program than Microsoft Works to write books.  I know there are people out there who use and love Word, or use it and hate it but use it because it’s the program everybody uses.  But I got my start with Works, and nearly had a breakdown when I got my new computer and had a horrible moment thinking that my old copy of Works, the one without the bells and whistles that made it look like that horrible icky Word, would not install properly.

It’s not that Works is a fantastic program.  It’s not bad, but it’s no great shakes.  It’s just that it’s what was on my first computer.  We’ve spent a lot of years together.  I’ve got it organized just so.  I know its foibles and how to deal with them.  I’m not distracted by the way it looks or acts.  It allows me to sit down and simply write.  Everything else I looked at didn’t have enough advantages to outweigh the fact that it looks weird compared to Works.  Because of all that, I’ve been extremely reluctant to try anything else.

Same thing with ebook publishing.  Fine for them as wants it, I told myself, but my magnum opuses and I are going the tried-and-true route.  We’re gonna write the book (eventually), then we’re gonna find an agent, and someday a publisher, and it’ll be just like we’ve always dreamed.  Unless, of course, something breaks down along the way, i.e., every agent and/or publisher hates it.

But this year’s different.  This year, I’m doing something I’ve never done before: writing a non-fiction book.  And I decided, seeing as how I’ve never written a non-fiction book before, I might as well branch out a bit.  It’s new enough I can use it to play around with other ways of doing things.  For a start, I don’t plan to shop it out to any agents or publishers.  No, we’re going to try this new-fangled self-published ebook thingy.  Because, frankly, I think it might suit me.  However, I refuse to use my magnum opus to beta test this crazy idea, because it’s too precious to me to potentially fuck up.  My lovely Lingua Lithica is also important, but we haven’t spent the last ten or twenty years with each other.  If something goes horribly awry, it’s okay.  The situation can be rescued without seeing my entire writing life burnt to ashes.

That’s a very freeing thing.  That makes my writerly OCD slink off and sulk in a corner.

And then my coblogger Steamforged told me that Scrivener’s now available in a beta version for Windows.  I’d heard of it through Ed Yong and other professional writers who sing its praises to the highest heavens, and I’d wanted to try it, but there was no way I was going to drop a few thousand dollars on a Mac just to give it a spin.  But a beta version for Windows?  Sign me up!  I’ve never beta tested anything in my life, and I’d never ever ever put my magnum opus into a beta version of a program, but Lingua Lithica won’t mind the risks.  So I’ve downloaded Scrivener, and aside from not knowing what the hell I’m doing and its distressing tendency to crash every few minutes when I’m editing a line of Japanese text, I love it.  So what if it’s got some weird foibles and it’s completely unfamiliar?  It’s beta.  So is Lingua Lithica.  By the end of this little experiment, the full version will be out, writing Lingua Lithica in it will have given me the confidence to dump my magnum opus in and continue on with a far superior writing program, and things should be all unicorns and rainbows, with a possibility of champagne and roses.  Unless it’s not, in which case we’ll have an amicable divorce.

The point is this: a project completely outside your usual fare is not only a good way to build up your writing muscles, but an excellent way to give yourself some freedom to explore.  You go into the thing knowing it’s an experiment and knowing it might fail, and so the stress level is quite low.  It gives you the chance to try all those things you’ve wanted to try but couldn’t because you are, when it comes to your precious baby of a writing project, too risk-averse to so much as step a toe outside of your well-worn rut.

You may never want to, and that’s okay.  As my coblogger told me when I shame-facedly admitted to still using Works, “Also, it’s not silly to use old stuff if it’s what you know and what works.  Even when upgrading to a ‘better’ program, it takes time to adjust to the new workflow and design of it, and that’s time spent not writing!”  Well, exactly.  So not experimenting with an established project is perfectly valid, and like she said, it’s not silly to use your old stuff.  But when you’ve got a brand-new type of project that’s an experiment to begin with, and you’re going to be adjusting to a new workflow anyway, you’ll never have a better opportunity to say, “Oh, what the hell,” and download something potentially better.

Dojo Summer Sessions: Freedom to Explore

A Very Hygenic Heron, Plus Baby Duckies!

So I meant to do lots of stuff today.  Really did.  I was going to complete my drumlin research, and play around in Scrivener, and clean the house, and email people, and maybe get to some other things that have been clamoring for attention. 

But fucking Mr. Sunshine just had to peek out between the clouds, and it just had to be exactly the right temperature for a solitary ramble up by the creek.  I hate summer.  I hate it because I love it.  I hate it because it makes me stuff my to-do list under the couch cushions and go outside.

The walk up the creek takes about two and a half hours.  It’s about an hour transit time round trip, half an hour spent taking pictures of flowers, and an hour waiting for the birds to do something interesting.

Up by the buildings where I work, there’s a bridge, and a wide area in the wetlands, and a tree I shall henceforth dub the Big Boring Bird Tree.  It’s the same tree in which a bald eagle sat, doing absolutely nothing, for the duration of my visit, after having altered me to his presence by flying majestically across the road.  And the exact same thing happened this time, only here it was a heron.  The thing was bloody enormous, and fast: by the time it had flown to its new perch, I’d only just got the camera out.

And then he proceeded to just sit there.

Lovely, I grant you.  And it was interesting seeing a heron in a high perch – I’m used to them being down near the water.  But an hour of watching a heron groom itself palls.  Even when it has no head:

I had to amuse myself somehow.  Most exciting thing that happened was when it got an itch:

And then the sun broke through the clouds, and lit it up a bit:

And then it decided to look majestic again for a split-second:

I’ll spare you the rest of the five billion pictures I have of a heron getting really thoroughly clean.  After a while, I decided I had enough for a full treatise on heron hygiene, and left.

A little ways down, I saw something that looked like it might have been an eagle:

It was certainly some sort of raptor.  Flew off with a golden-brown wingspan of breathtaking proportions, and at exactly the time I didn’t have the camera aimed in the right direction.  Bastards.

Got a nice picture of a crow, though:

Wonderful, isn’t that?

Don’t let the sky in these pictures fool you.  There were quite a few breaks in the clouds, and I was sweating to death by the time I’d reached the civilized stretch of the creek again.  All I had on my mind was a nice sub from the Quiznos on the way back, and something to drink, and letting the kitteh out to absorb some rays, and then ZOMG BABY DUCKIES!!!1!!11!!

Lots of dem!!!

Mama wasn’t too terribly pleased with a hoomin hanging about shooting pictures, but she allowed me to do it, and even posed with her family:

And look, one is yawning!

So precious!  They’re all so cute and fluffy!

So yes, I walked away from that with my heart full of cute fluffy things, and got my sandwich, and went home to a cute fluffy thing who thinks my only purpose in life is to let her out on the porch and keep her food and water dishes full, and I climbed into the lounge chair in the sunshine with Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants, and all of the things I was supposed to be doing can bite me, because baby duckies!

A Very Hygenic Heron, Plus Baby Duckies!

Los Links 7/8

As far as clever intros this time, all I can say is “Meh.”  Sure, we had the Scandal o’ the Week, but I’ve already expounded on that here.   The other big event that I paid attention to was, of course, the Fourth of July, and that was only because I wanted to go out and watch things esplode.

But PalMD had a little something for us:

White Coat Underground: In Congress, July 4th, 1776.  Says all that needs to be said.

Right, then.  We shall carry on:


Richard Wiseman: Paranormality launches in the USA….and the Friday Puzzle! Okay, so here’s a book I’m pretty chuffed about.  Might even have to bump one of the twelve billion other books lined up waiting…

Tuff Guy: Reconstructing a catastrophe: The Minoan eruption of Santorini.  You see how this is in bold?  It’s because it’s the best damned thing I’ve read on Santorini’s geology.  So go read it, and then let me know when you’re free for a trip out there.

Eruptions: Dissecting the Nabro lava flow from space.  Oh, yeah.  Volcanoes from space.  You know you wanna.

Skulls in the Stars: My day as a shark biologist!  Awww, cute sharks and science! 

The Undercover Economist: No, statistics are not silly, but their users . . .  This is funny, and you really should go read it.

Geotripper: A Convergence of Wonders: Journeys in the Pacific Northwest, Day One.  Garry’s blog is always a delight, but especially so when he stomps through my stomping grounds.

Uncovered Earth: Sunday Science Photos, June 27–July 1.  Delicious as always!

Highly Allochthonous: Flooding around the world (3 July edition).  So much for the control of nature.

New York Times: Practicing Medicine Can Be Grimm Work.  How a book of fairy tales contains lessons for young doctors.  Literature matters!

New York Post: One small step.  Okay, yes, it’s the New York Post, but Phil Plait wrote it, and it’s got sensible things to say about where our space program should go next.

PopSci: Are We Ignoring the Small but Brilliant Innovations That Could Bridge the Energy Gap?  Yes, but we shouldn’t.  Those small innovations can have a huge impact.

Mountain Beltway: Varves from Yellowstone Lake.  So nice of the caldera to display them so well!

Wired Science: Young Darwin’s Marginalia Shows Evolution of His Theory.  If you’re a history of science buff, you’ll need a bucket handy to catch the drool.

Observations of a Nerd: Aloha, Science Blogs.  In which Christie Wilcox leaves with a language lesson.  Aloha says a lot more than goodbye.

Not Exactly Rocket Science: Updated: The disease trackers – full text now available.  Seriously awesome stuff, people, and I hope you all read it.  Also, see Beauty is in the brain of the beholder.

New Scientist: Specs that see right through you.  You know how you always wanted x-ray glasses as a kid?  These aren’t them, but cooler.

Scientific American: Scientists Discover That Antimicrobial Wipes and Soaps May Be Making You (and Society) Sick.  After I stopped going ewww, I checked my soaps.  Nary an antimicrobial brand in the lot.  So hopefully that means mutated bacteria won’t be climbing out of the sink and killing me in my sleep tonight….

Superbug: How Much Is a Drug-Resistance Death Worth? Less Than $600.  One wonders how many people have to die hideous deaths before we start taking this seriously.

History of Geology: Thougths on a Pebble.  This is a very nice new beginning for David Bressan.  I love the stories he weaves in with science.

The Loom: Last year: Arsenic life. This year: Chlorine life?  Only this time, it may be for realz!

Maniraptora: Tastes Like Chicken: American crows: the ultimate angry birds?  I thought of @UncoveredEarth when I read this one.

Science Daily: New Force Driving Earth’s Tectonic Plates.  Mantle plumes might do more than just create islands like Hawaii.  Fascinating. Geology: Who Put the Salt in Basalt?  How a typo became the official name for GDB.

Looking for Detachment: Update from the Lake: Early Blooms.  There.  Now you can’t say Silver Fox never gave you flowers, either.

NPR: Thinking Thoughts No One Has Thunk.  A beautiful post on science, breakthroughs, and seeing the world from odd angles.

Degrees of Freedom: Under a Blood Red Sky.  Well, actually, it would be more orange, but still: the universe we don’t see with our eyes, beautifully explained.

PKids: Virus Slams Unvaccinated.  There’s nothing childish about the resurgence of measles.

Quest: Geological Outings Around the Bay: T
he Great Slickenside of Corona Heights
.  Oh.  Drool.

Cosmic Variance: Why We Need the James Webb Space Telescope.  The fact we even need to have this discussion depresses me.  America seems content to let its laurels get all raggedy and old, shoot science in the face, and pretend its being sensible when in reality it’s being so stupid it makes IDiots look smart.

Lounge of the Universe Cafe: Perception of Science: in popular culture vs. actual science.  After that, we need a good giggle.  This is perfect.

Pop Sci: Stem-Cell Therapy Works Wonders for Race Horses; Are Human Treatments Next?  I sincerely hope so.  My wrists will need it one day.

The Mail: Beauty in every grain: For the first time remarkable photographs reveal hidden charms of ordinary SAND.  Gorgeous, wonderful stuff.  And finally, a practical use for acupuncture needles!  Sand will never look the same again.  But then again, we had Michael Welland for that.


For Bloggers, By Bloggers: Good Thief-Bad Thief: What I Learned When Someone Stole My Blog.  Something all of us bloggers can benefit from here, complete with tools to help you track down bad thieves.

Smashwords: Agents Entering E-Publishing Services Arena.  Some sensible advice that will help you decide if you want to DIY or allow an agent to handle the bidness for you.

Courtney Milan: Stages of Production.  There’s more to editing than you think.  This one might make you break out in an uncomfortable sweat, but you still need to read it.  Also, Unpacking assumptions about percentages.

Blood Writes: Interior Book Design for the Dirt Poor and Graphically Challenged.  Loving this series.  If you can’t afford people, this will still help your self-published book look professional.

Books & Such: How an Agent Can Kill Your Career: Involuntary Manslaughter, Part 1 and Part 2.  Useful things to watch out for so you don’t get derailed (via The Passive Voice).

Everywhereist: Happy Birthday,  This author’s happy birthday message to her blog celebrates everything wonderful about blogging.  Glorious!

The Business Rusch: Slush Pile Truths.  In which a thorough spanking is delivered to those who whine about how without gatekeepers, we’ll be overrun by icky barbarian amateur writers.

Co. Design: BERG Designs Comic Where Subtexts Shine Under UV Light.  This was a wonderfully clever idea.  Plus, Warren Fucking Ellis. WIN!

Decoding the Heavens: How to write about science.  Storytelling is key, people.  Even if you don’t bother to read the post, take that lesson to heart.  Now go see how it’s done.

Glittering Scrivener: American Gods, All Sorts, Plus Me, Comparing Revising to Inept Teenage Sex. Yep.  In which I am called a writer by a published author, and which contains some damned good analogies.

Women’s Issues

The Guardian: Italian firm’s women-only job cull inflames gender controversy.  Patriarchy in action, ladies and gentlemen.  Cuz, y’know, teh wimminz should be at home makin teh noms anyway.

Huffington Post: How to Talk to Little Girls.  This article is good enough to link to even though it’s on that wretched hive of scum and quackery. 

Center for American Progress: Abortion Is Slowly Becoming Legal in Name Only.  We’re going to need a new Roe vs. Wade, methinks – or forced pregnancy will become the American way.

The White Coat Underground: Wednesday wackiness.  Add PalMD to the list of men who Get It.

Decrepit Old Fool: Cleaning it off is a lifetime’s work.  And our own George W., but we knew that already.

This View of Life: My Privileged World.  This is exactly how it is.

The Gleaming Retort: The Inhuman Response to Rebecca Watson.  We learn that staring at strangers is not the Done Thing. Why’s it so hard to absorb the Elevator Man Lesson?

The Daily Beast: Why the DSK Maid Lied.  Our blame-the-victim culture strikes again.

Religion and Atheism

Washington Post: Atheists fed up? Believe it!  Why yes, yes, we are.  While you’re at it, read Why do Americans still dislike atheists? Both of these articles were awesome.

The Globe and Mail: Imam decries Islamophobia while Pride battles homophobia. I know, right?

CNN: Why U.S. is not a Christian nation.  Okay, No. 1: 100% true.  No. 2: I love that a major news organization ran this rather than chickening out.

New Humanist: No doubt.  Towards a better definition of atheist.

Against Religious Freedo
m: A Debate:&nbs
p; Against Religious Freedom.  This brings together some things I’ve been thinking for years – it shouldn’t be just religious folk who get special freedoms.  And before you freak out, no, it’s not an argument against religious freedom, but an argument for more sensible protections for the religious and secular alike.

Choice in Dying: The Truth About Islam.   No, we’re not Islamophobes if we subject Islam to the same scrutiny and criticism we subject any other religion to.  Deal.

What Would JT Do? Love the sinners to death…  In which JT opens several cans of deserved whoopass on the idiot who thinks being bullied to death is good for LGBTQ folk.


The Plum Line: MSNBC’s suspension of Mark Halperin is way over the top.  Especially considering he was suspended for tone, not content.  Crimes against the public discourse are okay, but not crimes against tone trolls, apparently.

Driftglass: Voting Them Off The Island.  This, my darlings, is the perfect solution to our current woes.  I fully endorse it.

Chicago Tribune: U.S. could drop screening for deadly strain of E. coli.  Because our politicians are raging fucktards and don’t care if you die.

Society and Culture

Mother Jones: The Spam Factory’s Dirty Secret.  You know what, I don’t eat Spam anyway, but I’m seriously never going to touch it the entire rest of my life after reading this.  It’s like the modern version of Sinclair’s The Jungle.  Horrible.

The Guardian: Lee Hall: ‘I will fight this.’  In which we learn that homophobia is alive and well.

The Gleaming Retort: Swimming Pool Safety: On Very Public Drownings.  Don’t rely on lifeguards to save you and yours.  Also, if the water is too cloudy to see the body at the bottom, you might want to find another pool.

Mother Jones: What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Jobs.  Some of the truths revealed herein will make your heart break, if you’ve got one.

Slate: The World’s Greatest Light Bulb.  Okay, when this comes on the market, I’m totally buying it.  Save the planet in style, baby, yeah!

AlterNet: Religious right leader weeps because gay community gains equality.  Wow, that same-sex marriage is teh powerful evul.  It destroys straight marriages and makes frothing fundies blubber like babies just by existing!

The Uncredible Hallq: Philosophy is dysfunctional.  I knew it!

Ad Week: Will The Guardian bring down Rupert Murdoch?  And wouldn’t it be lovely if it did?  Go, Guardian!

AlterNet: 14 Propaganda Techniques Fox ‘News’ Uses to Brainwash Americans.  Forewarned is forearmed.  Also, you could just not watch Faux News.  Side benefit: your IQ will go up by at least 30 points in the first week of freedom from Faux.


Unapologetically Neurotic: Among the Things You Just Do Not Say.  A handy guide for those trying to speak to the grieving.

Open Topography: Remembering Kurt Frankel.  People, please, please be more careful of folks on bicycles.  A careless driver cost us a young geology star.  It didn’t have to happen.

Los Links 7/8

River Walking Parte the Second: What I Have Against the Skykomish

Every time we go out on a new adventure, I tell myself very sternly, “Dana, you have already got rocks.  You have got lots of rocks.  Rocks are, in fact, threatening to outnumber the books.  You will have to move someday.  It will cost you roughly $4,000,000,000 dollars to move the books and the rocks you already have.  So stop picking up rocks.  Okay, maybe just one rock, but only one.”

And when we went to Al Borlin Park, I thought, “Oh, good.  It’s the lowland part of the river.  Should be mostly mud and sand.  No chance of rocks there.”


The number I ended up with has a one in it.  Unfortunately, the one is followed by an eight.  And it’s only in the teens because a) I asserted some self-control and b) because some of them would have required a forklift.  I didn’t have a forklift with me.

The Skykomish River drains the Cascades, which are a wonderful mish-mash of metamorphic and igneous goodness.  It is a powerful river, which you’ll see in our next installment.  And its drainage area and power combine to bring down crazy cobbles of the most delightful kinds, many of which I’m at a loss to identify, but this does not stop me from coveting them.  Loaded with geologic treasures, the river then hits that nice lowland, loses the energy to carry anything larger than sediment and pebbles, and dumps the lot in its bed and along the banks and in enormous gravel bars full of cobbles.  During their journey, the rocks have become nicely tumbled, and when they’re wet all their colors and textures really pop, and all of this combines to weaken far stronger wills than mine.

Below the fold, I present to you pretty rocks.  I cannot with confidence identify 90% of them, so I’m just going to emphasize pretty rocks!!  If you see one and say, “Ooo, I know that one!” please do enlighten me in comments. 

And remember: in science, three of the most important words are, “I don’t know.”  Three of the most exciting are, “Let’s find out!”

I actually left some rocks behind.  This is one.  But I really liked the texture of it and that big black blotch.

This one would seem to be a member of the granite family.  I didn’t bring it home, either – I’ve got a ton of granite – but I loved the texture of its crystals.  All sort of sugary and large and sparkly.  Something had whacked it, exposing the unweathered interior.  Just lovely.

This one did come home with me.  Obviously metamorphic, lovely swirls and folds, and check out its other side:

Somebody was all like, “I will not be compressed, nossiree!”  I like its defiance.

I suspect this of being another member of the granite family, but might also be something subjected to a desultory bit of metamorphism.  I suppose breaking it in half and studying a fresh face might have been more informative, but I didn’t bring the rockhammer on account of believing there wouldn’t be enough rocks to pound on.  And I honestly don’t know if I could’ve brought myself to whack it.  I’d make a terrible professional geologist: “But it’s too pretty to break!”

Speaking of too pretty, just look at that beauty!  Another one where I can’t even hazard a guess beyond “something metamorphic,” but the colors and textures of it are just mesmerizing.  And yes, it followed me home, and I am keeping it.

This is green.  I mean, really green – the photo couldn’t quite capture its greeny goodness.  No idea what it is, but it’s quite hard and extremely friendly.  In fact, it’s sitting beside my chair in a very friendly manner as we speak.

This one isn’t.  I probably should have brought it home, because it’s sort of red, and I could have put it out with the green one at Christmas and been all holiday-spirit.  Ah, well.  I’m sure I shall find lots of red rocks this summer.

I think you can see the hazards of this stretch of the river for a geology buff.  And this is merely a small sampling of all the temptations set before me.  It would have gone very badly for me indeed if I’d been able to wade out to the gravel bars.

Just you wait until we get out by Gold Bar, where the river has left ginormous chunks of the most astonishing rocks, some of which I can even identify.  In our next installment or two, we’ll be discussing where all this metamorphic stuff comes from and what sorts you can find.  I’m also going to show you the power of a mountain river.  Prepare for whitewater and very wild geology, people.

River Walking Parte the Second: What I Have Against the Skykomish