I Can Haz Monotype Corsiva!

Thank you thank you THANK YOU to all of you who commented, emailed, and otherwise made sure I could, in fact, have my new computer and my Monotype Corsiva too!  You have made me a very happy writer indeed!

And a special shout-out as well to those of you who commented on last night’s missive about reading the scientific literature.  Gave me a warm glow, that did!  Karen’s advice on how to economize said reading shall come in useful (beginning tonight, in fact!), and it’s good to know my babbling could act as Chris Rowan’s backup. 

This is why I love the intertoobz: we’re an incredible community of people, sharing information, encouragement and wonders in a way that would have seemed like total science fiction not long ago.

Cyberdrinks all round, and when I at last get to meet you IRL, it shall be a round of actual alcohol (or poison o’ choice) for all.  Love you, my darlings!

I Can Haz Monotype Corsiva!

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Scientific Literature

Things have changed rather drastically.  As recently as six months ago, I couldn’t have read a scientific paper to save my life.  Oh, I grant you, I’d tried a few times, but found myself bogged down and stymied by incomprehensible language.  So I usually gave them a miss.

Instead, I read the science blogs, which are for the most part written in layperson-friendly language.  Popular science books, ditto.  Ventured into some heavier stuff written for a non-lay audience and found it heavy going, but waded on through, aside from a few books I had to put aside because I Just Wasn’t Getting It.

Then, a few months ago, I started wanting to read the papers referred to in various and sundry.  Problem being, far too many of them are behind a pay wall, and I am far from rich.  Grumble.  I didn’t really notice my attitude shifting, but it was.

And then, last month, as I developed a sudden need to research ice caves, I turned in desperation to Google Scholar.  Some freely-available .pdfs turned up in my searches, and those, combined with a dearth of suitably-detailed stuff written in regular people language drove me to actually read a couple of scientific papers, and I discovered I liked them.  I enjoyed reading them.  I understood at least the gist of what they said: the language didn’t seem incomprehensible, the big words didn’t frighten me, and I’d absorbed enough of the terms and concepts through other reading that even the denser passages weren’t that difficult to read.  I know I’m still missing at least 50% of what those papers are trying to say, but I’m getting enough of the context that I can understand what they’re getting at.  If a term throws me, a quick Google search resolves the confusion.  The math is still completely beyond my ken, but surprisingly many papers on geology have little to no math featured.  So that’s all right, then.

I’ve been watching my own reading in fascination.  Sometimes, I’ll stop and think, “Holy shit, I’d have had no idea what that meant last year.”  But somewhere along the way, I learned how to read science.  I picked up enough Greek and Latin that I can loosely translate very large, unfamiliar terms with relative ease.  I mean, take this phrase: “cryogenic carbonate precipitates.”  Sounds huge and scary.  But all it really means is carbonate rocks like limestone deposited in a cold environment.  Basically, if you know how things like stalagmites form in caves (deposited by water carrying dissolved calcium carbonate), know that carbonate refers to stuff that contains carbon and oxygen (like limestone), and that cryo means cold, you’ve got it made.  Even “heterothermic” held no terrors.  Hetero – mixed.  Thermic – temperature.  Mixed-temperature.  Easy-peasy!  I’ve got the gist of it justlikethat!  Sure, it’s not 100% precise, but at this point, it doesn’t have to be.

And that ability to translate on the fly didn’t come from studying ancient languages, but simply from reading a lot of books and blogs about science, where the authors carefully defined terms when they couldn’t use plain English, and thus I started seeing patterns in what certain words mean and how they’re used.  I didn’t even know I was learning that sort of thing!  It just happened, and wasn’t obvious until the day I needed it.

You science bloggers and popular science book writers, you may not quite realize what you’re doing.  You’re making it possible for former English-History majors like myself, us college dropouts, us regular old Joes and Janes with an interest in science but absolutely no formal training, to dip into the scientific literature and read it without undue strain.  It’s challenging, absolutely – but thanks to those writing for a popular audience, it’s not an insurmountable challenge anymore.  Give me another year or two hanging about your blogs and reading your books, and it’s quite likely I’ll be a more confident judge of quality, as well – I’ll begin to understand statistical methods better, I’ll have a better sense of what makes the difference between solid and shoddy science, and it’s just possible that even math will hold no terrors.  It’s because you’ve embedded these tough concepts in a matrix of clear prose.  And you’ve thus given me the keys to a whole new kingdom.  I don’t have to rely on translators so much any more.  It’s wondrous is what it is.  So, a thousand times: thank you.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a whole ocean of science papers I’ve yet to dabble my toes in.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Scientific Literature

Christmas Rocks

In more ways than one.  For instance, I’m not at work.  Woot!

By the time you read this, it’ll be Boxing Day, so Happy Boxing Day!  That holiday always confused me as a kid.  I had no idea why there would be a special holiday for beating people up.  Then I found out it was an extra holiday lucky people in Britain and other such countries celebrated that had nothing to do with boxing, and I think this is where my anglophile tendencies began, because who wouldn’t want an extra holiday right after Christmas?  Even if it did have a funny name.

In fact, it seems no one’s quite sure why it’s actually called Boxing Day.  Who cares?  There’s sales on – reason enough to celebrate!

We have rather more luck with Christmas, where the name is obvious and the seasonal celebrations easily traceable.  Hudson Valley Geologist Steve Schimmrich has a good primer up on all that.  And Doctor Science points out that no, in fact, Christ is not the “reason for the season,” as so many fundies like to pretend (h/t).  And it wasn’t a foundational holiday for early Americans, either.  Our own national hero George Washington saw it as a prime time to launch a sneak attack, as the colonists who would become Americans didn’t celebrate Christmas but Germans did.  Isn’t there something in Sun Tzu about taking advantage of enemies’ hangovers?  I’m sure there must be.

Retailers would have us believe it’s all about buying shit, and giving and receiving gifties is awesome, but Doctor Science has some of the other reasons us secular types enjoy a good midwinter celebration:

To have a green tree in the house, filled with light, in the darkest and coldest time of year, as we feel the year turn from old to new — how can that not be numinous? When we decorate with green branches and red berries, this isn’t from Christian iconography —

“I remember hearing,” said Susan distantly, “that the idea of the Hogfather wearing a red and white outfit was invented quite recently.” NO. IT WAS REMEMBERED.

(from Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett). The rising of the sun and the running of the deer, seeing our families and having enough to eat: all of these things are worth celebrating. Such celebrations don’t have to be either secular or religious, in the usual sense: they are pagan in the sense of “rustic, countrified, what the common people do”. Human, in other words. 

Good reasons all.  And I’m not fussed about what our midwinter celebrations are called.  “Christmas” is a decent enough shorthand for all those midwinter celebrations.  But next year, I might start popping off with “Happy Boxing Day!” just to see how many Americans have no idea what I’m talking about.

But all of that’s just a long lead-up to what we’re really here for: the presents!  And thanks to our geobloggers, Christmas this year rocks!

Follow me after the jump for ye delights.

Let’s start with a sing-song, shall we?  Chris Rowan at Highly Allochthonous was kind enough not to actually sing the 12 Geological Days of Christmas, but he’s got the lyrics and we can carry the tune:

The words below are sung to the obvious tune, and (mostly) just about scans – although my festive gift to you is not to post anything resembling audio of me trying to sing it myself.

On the 1st day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

On the 2nd day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
2 concordant zircons
…and an APWP.

Enjoy all twelve!

And here’s another traditional carol, courtesy of Lockwood: “Deck Us All With Boston Charlie:”

Now we’ve got the music going, we can haz gifties!

Silver Fox sends us Xmas Greetings from Nevada:

Many more pretty pitchoors where that came from, o’ course!

Garry Hayes sends us a postcard from the edge!  The Christmas Gift: Storm Passes in the Grand Canyon.

Mmmm, home!  Love the stormlight in Arizona.  Love love love!

Erik Klemetti gave us his gift early.  Dr. Adam Kent answers your questions about Mt. Hood (and more):

Afters months of waiting, I have finally been able to get my act together enough to post the answers to questions you posed to Dr. Adam Kent. If you remember back to the beginning of the fall, Dr. Kent and his colleagues published a paper in Nature Geosciences about the nature of magma mixing and eruptions at Mt. Hood in Oregon. You sent in questions and now you get some answers. Enjoy!

Suvrat Kher has Recommended Holiday Reading:

A passage from Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa, The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883

(And yes, I’m gonna be mean and make you go to the link for your giftie!  Those of you who haven’t read the book yet may want to reconsider after reading it – I had no idea Krakatoa had so much to offer, and I’ve been eyeballing it for years now!  Might be getting meself a little Boxing Day giftie, in fact…)

Finally, we come to the huge package that’s been looming under the tree.  You know, the one that screams ZOMG OPEN MEEE!!! but everybody’s made you save for last because it’s that freakin’ awesome.  Callan Bentley went out and got us a fantastic Serpentite and Melange!

That is an AMAZING thing to see — tectonically-rounded blocks of serpentinite, surrounded by a sheared-out, foliated paste of crushed serpentinite. That is a serpentinite mélange. Look at the way the foliation wraps around these lone survivors, like native prairie grasses swishing around the last two bison in South Dakota:

There are so many drop-dead gorgeous photos in there, so much astounding geology, I didn’t even know what to filch.  Twas the bison simile that did it!  ZOMG, Callan, thankyouthankyouTHANKYOU!

And thank all of you: my wonderful geobloggers, my science and political and melange bloggers, my Tweeps, my friends, family, and cat, and you, my dear, my cherished, my raison d’etre readers!  I love you all to pieces.  Happy hollydaze to you!

Christmas Rocks

A Shout-Out to My Readers, Established and New

You people are amazing.

When I wrote up my college field trip experience for the Accretionary Wedge, I spent most of my time doubting whether I should do it.  “Ogod, I I I me me me– I’m sick of I, and so is everyone else!”  Seriously debated whether that wretched thing should be published.  Did it anyway because, well, what the hell.  At least you guys could look at the pretty pictures and skip the text.

Then Chris Rowan tweeted it, and so did Brian Romans (twice!) and Silver FoxAndrew Alden blogged it.  Callan Bentley, David Orr (who does dinos, too!), Lockwood, Coconino, and Suzanne all said incredibly kind things.  And I suspect the sudden influx of followers on Twitter is somehow related.

I had no idea that babbling would strike such a chord.  I shall now promptly give the credit for that post to Jim Bennett, because without him, never would’ve happened.  Credit also goes to you, my dear readers, because without you, there’s no reason to spend time babbling on this blog.  You truly make this all worthwhile. 

So, my dear Silver Fox, yes, I will become your ghost writer, and pay need not be discussed.  Compliments (and field trips!) are coinage enough.  Same goes for all of you.  Only problem is, you lot don’t need a ghostwriter – I’ve read your work, and believe me when I say that a ghostwriter would only get in the way of already perfect prose.  You inspire, entertain, inform and enlighten just fine on your own.  All I’d be there for is cleaning up the occasional typo.  Which, I’ll have you know, is perfectly satisfactory if it means I get to spend more time with you!

Each day, I carry you with me.  When I’m out on adventures, I’m thinking of you.  Every time I snap a photo these days, it’s with the thought of what might delight you.  You make these excursions far more meaningful than they would be otherwise.  Every time there’s a new post from you, my world expands.  You’re everything I’ve ever wanted or needed.  Figured you should know that, and refer back to that truth in case you’re ever feeling like no one appreciates you.

I do.  And I know I’m not alone.

A Shout-Out to My Readers, Established and New

A Shout-Out to Evergreen and Union-Negotiated Health Insurance

Wednesday was fun.  About half an hour into my shift, the mild discomfort I’d been feeling announced itself as a full-blown kidney stone.  I’m prone to the bastards, and apparently the one that had announced its existence a few months ago didn’t so much pass as await a better opportunity.  Anyone who’s had these before knows it’s an exquisite form of agony.  Sometimes, it’s only moderate torture, and you can ride it out with the proper swear words.  But since I can’t scream profanities at work, I decided a trip to the ER for some nice happy drugs was in order.

Now, I’ve been to a lot of hospitals for these stupid things.  I’ve had to wait in the waiting room for hours before getting a doctor, and been put through the excitement of having to register before being seen.  The last thing you want to do while your kidney feels like it’s simultaneously imploding and exploding after being blowtorched is answer questions about your insurance.  I wasn’t looking forward to it.

But when I got to Evergreen Hospital‘s ER, a gentleman zipped out to meet me, whisked me back for a blood pressure and temp check, slapped the plastic bracelet on, and said they’d call me right back.  I don’t think the whole thing took more than five minutes.  I had time to call my intrepid companion and alert him to the fact I’d need a ride home, and then they were ushering me right to an exam room.  I’d barely gotten the gown on before a nurse was there – with bad news.  They had to check for blood in ye olde urine before they’d start the good drugs.  This, I thought, would take ages.  But no – about fifteen minutes after producing a sample, she was back with the great good news that I did, indeed, have a stone, and it was time for the blessed relief.  Wasn’t her fault that just as she was putting the IV in, the damned thing passed.  All that drama for naught.

The ER doc, who is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, decided we’d best ensure the little bugger wasn’t just playing possum, so we waited a bit.  He sent me home a little over an hour later with a prescription for the good stuff and an apology for taking so long with the discharge papers – they were horribly busy.

You never would have guessed it from the speed with which they handled my case, start to finish.  That place is amazing.  I wish every hospital could have an ER that functioned so smoothly.  And it’s one of the only hospitals I know of that sends someone in to get you registered only after you’re no longer in agony.

In fact, they left me feeling so good (even without drugs, hee hee) that I went back to work for the rest of the evening.

They did a fantastic job, they’ve got a wonderful hospital with an exceptional staff, and they deserve recognition for the tremendous work they do.  So, my dear Evergreen: thank you from the bottom of my heart (and my kidney)!

And there’s another reason I’m telling you about my ridiculous little medical woes: it points up the value of good health insurance.  Everyone in this country should be able to have the experience I had.  When the pain hit, I didn’t have to suffer.  My union-negotiated health care’s got me covered (theoretically, anyway).  So well, in fact, that when I checked out, there wasn’t even a copay. 

Now, single-payer would be a fuck of a lot better – I wouldn’t have had to do that frantic little do-I-or-don’t-I-have-my-insurance-card-on-me check.  But having good insurance is certainly the next-best thing.  We’re on our way to that with the Affordable Care Act.  No, it’s not going to be perfect at first.  Yes, insurers will kick up a fuss and try to wriggle out of their obligations and in general make this as miserable as possible.  Cons will try to tear the law down rather than building it up, and too many “moderate” Dems will be more than happy to help them with the wrecking ball.  But if we, the sick and those who could get sick without prior notice, keep the pressure for a better health care system on, it won’t just be the union members and other suck lucky folk who have good coverage.  We can take this Act and build on it.

So, thanks to my union for ensuring I’m well-insured.  And thanks to those who had the courage to vote for the first steps to ensuring the whole country’s well-insured.  That’s the first skirmish won – keep fighting for more!

Finally, huge thanks to my intrepid companion, who stood by ready to drive my loopy self home if they’d had to pump me full of painkillers, and who even cleaned out his car, and let me ruin his afternoon plans, just so he could be told his services weren’t necessary.  Friends like that are solid gold.  I can’t ever express in words how much he means to me, and I suck at performance art, so a simple “Thanks, man” will just have to symbolize the whole.

A Shout-Out to Evergreen and Union-Negotiated Health Insurance

Thank You All

Those of you who recommended books have earned a free drink when next you’re in Seattle.  Not that I wasn’t going to buy you one anyway, but you’ll have an extra on the table.

My order has been placed.  It is, in fact, sitting in the office right now, and at the moment I’m debating whether to stay up until 9am to collect, or try to sleep for a while first.  It’s worse than Christmas as a kid, I swear. 

My bank account’s sulking, and gave a little scream when it noticed I’d put extra stuff on the wishlist for later, but it can go get stuffed (not with money, o’ course, cuz I spent that).  I’ll trade moolah for knowledge any day.  Someday, it shall come to terms with that fact.

Thank you again, and thank all of you for being a part of this cantina.  You make my day every day!

Thank You All

I Probably Require Medical Attention

Far too many years ago, I was in a Mexican cantina (continuing my) drinking after my first Circus Mexicus.  Stevie, then the Peacemakers’ lead guitarist, was sitting a few tables away.  We were not yet drunk enough to approach him and engage in appropriate worship.  And then our chance seemed to have passed, as he got up to leave.  But on his way out, he stopped by the table, thanked us for coming to the show, and shook our hands.

Necessary hygiene forced me to actually wash that hand the following day, but it was a close-run thing.

Fast forward a couple of years, many Peacemakers shows later, and picture me staggering toward the exit of a Flagstaff bar after yet another tequila-drenched show.  Stevie emerged from a side door, saw me, exclaimed, “Hey – you were in Mexico!” and gave me a full-body hug.

Necessary hygiene forced me to bathe within the next few days, but it was a close-run thing.

Fast forward to a May in Mexico.  A few months before, having shed my early aversion to tattoos, I had gotten myself inked with the Peacemakers logo, and now no shit, here I was in JJ’s Cantina, meeting Roger Clyne in person and learning that he did, in fact, approve of my choice in art.  I believe it was the alcohol that allowed me to remain conscious.  Otherwise, I should probably have required an ambulance crew to remove me from the premises after having swooned.  The coda to this is that when I saw him over a year later at the CD release party for No More Beautiful World, he studied my face for a moment, started mumbling about cantinas and tattoos, and then remembered my name.  What prevented me from needing paramedics at that time, I’m not sure, but I do remember the room blurring a bit round the edges.

So yes, I have met actual rock stars, and been recognized by them, and so I know precisely how it feels to actually be recognized as a distinct entity rather than an amorphous blob fitting the description of “yet another fan.”  This necessary context should help you understand why I was revisited by this feeling just this evening, when I perused the comments on this thread.  And this on top of PZ responding to my pathetic pleas on Twitter and then linking to ye olde humble blog.  To me, PZ Myers and Ophelia Benson are rock stars, all right?  They are the Stevie and Roger of the blogging world.

There are only three responses appropriate to the occasion.  One is to pass right out, but it seems I come from a line of females not prone to fainting no matter the provocation.  The second is to give a somewhat-restrained “SQUEE!” and say, “Thank you!”

The third is to place your tongue firmly in your cheek, and enact the relevant scene from Wayne’s World:

I know I’m not the only admirer of the above celebrities who’s been treated as more than an interchangeable unit by them.  So there’s just a few things to say: Thank you for recognizing us as more than amorphous blobs.  Thank you for inspiring us.  And thank you for providing Wayne’s World-worthy moments.

I Probably Require Medical Attention

The Lives They've Saved

A glass of the premium stuff is tipped heartily in the direction of the ATF this morning:

Federal agents have broken up a plot to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and shoot or decapitate 102 black people in a Tennessee murder spree, the ATF said Monday.

In court records unsealed Monday, federal agents said they disrupted plans to rob a gun store and target a predominantly African-American high school by two neo-Nazi skinheads. Agents said the skinheads did not identify the school by name.

Jim Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the Nashville field office for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the two men planned to shoot 88 black people and decapitate another 14. The numbers 88 and 14 are symbolic in the white supremacist community.

The men also sought to go on a national killing spree, with Obama as its final target, Cavanaugh told The Associated Press.

It can be easy, when police departments are used to crush peaceful demonstrators, when the entire Justice Department is rotting away from the inside due to partisan plants, and when the FBI is haring off after ACORN, among other stupid law enforcement tricks, to forget that these men and women perform a ridiculously hard job. It’s easy to forget the good they do on a daily basis.

The ATF just prevented two fuckheads from murdering a great many people. They’re out there keeping these violent hate groups from making bloody statements. With the frenzy that’s been whipped up lately, and the Republicons pulling resources away so they can go chase voter fraud chimeras, the pressure on agencies like the ATF has got to be insane.

So I want to extend my sincere appreciation to them, and to the Secret Service: all of the officers who work to ensure that Obama doesn’t end up a Kennedy, who bust their asses keeping our abundant supply of domestic terrorists from succeeding in their plots to murder and maim our citizens, and who walk that fine line between democracy and repression with due caution. Muchos gracias, mis amigos.


The Lives They've Saved

Pour That Man the Best Drink in the Cantina

Richard from the Panda’s Thumb earned my undying affection long ago. He works his ass off keeping us up on the antics of the anti-science crowd, and he did me the great honor of agreeing to be one of my Wise Readers in the event I actually get away from political bullshit long enough to actually write a story. (Which will happen just as soon as Obama and the Dems sink this rim shot, I swear it.)

Now, he’s earned himself a lifetime of free drinks:

A Way With Words

Apropos of practically nothing normally on PT, I really like Dana Hunter’s way with words


Muchos gracias, mi amigo.

This goes for all of you, my darlings: I will never be able to express all of you mean to me. You’re my light in dark places. And you do outstanding work making this world a better place. You’re very much appreciated.

Never forget that.

Pour That Man the Best Drink in the Cantina

Wow. Just…. Wow.

Sitemeter led me to a new delight tonight: PTET.

Leads DaveScot around by the nose.

Unleashes the Smack-o-Matic until Denyse O’Leary blubbers.

Has the same soft spot for Buddhism I do (once the religious crap’s stripped away and the philosophy’s left to shine).

I likes this blog!

Oh, and, you know, there was that really nice compliment that melted me into a soppy little puddle:

While I’m in a blog-rolling mood, props to En Tequila Es Verdad for being without question the best blog in the world today…

Wow. I mean… really… wow. That’s overwhelming, is what that is. Gracias.

But you know what? This blog wouldn’t be anything without my readers. I scribble it, but you, my darlings, are the ones who inspire it. So that compliment, there: that belongs to you.

Salud, mi amigos.

Wow. Just…. Wow.