Faraday Cages: They Work!

I’m in the middle of writing another post, but had to blog this first. It’s just too cool to pass up. Ever wondered what it’s like to be in a car that’s hit by lightning? It happened to Judy Lew, who sent her story and photos to UW meteorologist Cliff Mass. Cliff posted it on his blog, mostly as Lew wrote it. It’s a testament to how effective a car’s chassis is at shielding its contents from electrical current. It’s also a testament to the extent to which modern cars depend on electronics.

Cliff Mass Weather Blog: An Amazing Lightning Story.

Definitely a missed opportunity at GSA in Portland

Just found this by accident on the Internets: a club called holocene, which would probably have been an appropriate place for the Portland GSA geobloggers meetup last month. Which makes me wonder what other geo-themed booze is there out there? Syncline makes a wine called Subduction Red. Wineries EOS and PEPI share names with geophysics publications. Dogfish Head makes Pangaea,  a beer that they claim contains “ingredients from each and every continent” (how do they get the water from Antarctica, I wonder?). Does anyone out there know of others?

Happy Mineraloween!

I’ve been swamped with post-GSA catching up, but I do have a few posts in the works. Until then, enjoy the geekiest Halloween costumes EVER, courtesy of the College of Wooster’s mineralogy class.

Wooster Geologists » Blog Archive » It was a dark and stormy night…Halloween in Mineralogy.

It Ain’t What You Do (But The Way That You Do It)

Chairing a session at a scientific meeting has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the major disadvantages is that you miss out on a half day’s worth of talks (at least, you do at GSA, where the sessions last a half day; they’re shorter at AGU). Although I got to see some cool stuff this morning, I can’t help but feeling as if the meeting’s passing me by and I’m stuck where I am.

Being a chair (or co-chair in my case) has its advantages, too. I get to digest a lot of information on one topic, presented from diverse points of view. For example, in our session yesterday, we had representatives from the USGS, the San Diego Supercomputer Center and the British Geological Survey alongside staff from nonprofits doing outreach, people teaching high school and middle school kids, folks teaching online in Second Life, and lone geologists in geography departments. The projects were all exciting, there were some great visuals, and a whole bunch of new ideas.

In fact, it seemed like everything was new, just finished before the conference. Only two talks showed much in the way of statistics to illustrate how effective their projects were (at disseminating information, in those cases). I’m hoping that by the time the virtual globes session at AGU rolls around this year, there will be more testing and validation, and less of a need to impress the audience. Sure, it’s great to be wowed by new technologies. But do they work? Do they, for example, improve spatial cognition in undergrad geoscience majors the same way that field work does? Are they effective at reaching a broader segment of the population? How do we measure this?

Here’s my challenge to people who presented in our Digital Innovations sessions (myself included): start measuring. I think we’ve convinced people that what we’re doing has potential, and that we can do all kinds of great things with virtual globes, the web, blogs, etc. But like the song says: it ain’t what you do, but the way that you do it – that’s what gets results. I think we ought to take some cues from geoscience (and physics) education, in that our way forward now probably should have some evidence of results.

In Portland

Writing this from my room at the fabulous McMenamin’s Kennedy School (the only hotel I’ve ever stayed in with chalkboards in the rooms, four bars, and a movie theater…) after a rather successful Pardee session at the 2009 GSA. Among the highlights:

  1. There seems to be a growing push for a sort of crowdsourcing in geology – harnessing the potential benefit of “many mappers” (Declan De Paor‘s term). Kyle House alluded to this idea in terms of collaborations and the Nevada Digital Dirt project, Declan and Steve Whitmeyer will be testing it out in a field course, and Ian Jackson is trying to coordinate it on a global scale with OneGeology (link to the OneGeology portal – where all the cool stuff is going on – here). One of the coolest aspects of this is in disaster relief: Lee Allison mentioned the use of tweets, texts, and other rapid responses in evacuating people affected by typhoon flooding in the Philippines (see MapAction). I’m not sure where I stand on this – for some aspects of geology, complete crowdsourcing might be a catastrophe. Do I want the folks from the Creation Museum commenting on my 2.7-billion-year-old field site in Montana? But as far as crowdsourcing from geologists, it might be fun, unless it devolves into petty fights (as geology sometimes does – read Simon Winchester’s The Map that Changed the World). AGU’s Open Review seems a litle like this, only for publications, not maps.
  2. Mentoring via Twitter: Declan and Steve, always at the forefront of technology, are also trying to get geoscience faculty members to mentor field camp students via Twitter. As far as I could tell, the proposal was for students to tweet from the field, and for profs to comment. Which professors? Any professors. Is anyone here going to be up in the middle of the night when students are doing their field work in Ireland? I’m curious to see if he gets buy-in on this from faculty. The idea seems a bit idealistic: I don’t see much in the way of compensation for the faculty involved. On the other hand, it would definitely help to get comments in the field, in real time, from people who knew more then me. I’d have learned a whole lot more (and with less pain) in field camp if that had been an option. And I’d love to be able to tell the YBRA students visiting the Stillwater a bit about all those awesome igneous textures…
  3. Declan, again: “reading a map [without seeing the geology in front of you] is like reading sheet music without hearing the orchestra.”
  4. Ron Schott‘s MegaGigaExtravaganza – I think that and “The Ron Show” were what we were calling his presentation when we were planning the session – had plenty of oohs and aahs despite technical glitches. Some amazing GigaPan photos of Mount Rainier, lahar sirens in Orting, and other local features. But the most astounding thing, to me, was how well the geology of Mount Rainier showed up when draped over the topography. It’s really rather simple (Kyle described draping as “freeing part of your mind up to think about the geology”), but I was totally bowled over by how well the difference between the lavas and the Tatoosh pluton stood out. You could immediately visualize how the volcanic edifice was built on top of a (mainly) plutonic foundation. This immediate intellectual payoff is an excellent reason why virtual globes – as opposed to full GIS – should be something we show our students!
  5. I was in pretty much the same room all day. There was an environmental magnetics session in the ballroom in the morning, which was attended by the presenters and about five other people. I’m just starting to get back into the field after several years of non-research work, and it made me sad to come back to a discipline that didn’t look as energetic as it did while I was in grad school. This was through no fault of the chairs or the presenters: there were some totally fascinating talks, including some by up-and-coming students, that might really have piqued the interest of folks from outside the rock/paleo/geomag community. And I think I may have found one or two new collaborations because of the session. But, as far as I could tell, there was pretty much no one outside of our little mag-”club” in the room. Of course, it could be that it was Sunday morning, the first morning of the conference. But I couldn’t help feeling a little marginalized.

Anyway: join us for more of the Web-2.0 fun tomorrow at 1:30-5:00 PM in rooms B117/118/119 for the next installment of Technical Session T160: From Virtual Globes to Geoblogs: Digital Innovations in Geoscience Research, Education, and Outreach. And then 8PM at the Tugboat for beer with the geobloggers! (You might have to pull me out of Powell’s first…)

Pre-GSA Week

It’s the week before the Geological Society of America annual meeting. AAAAGGGH!!!!

Here’s a preview of what I’m working on:

Google Earth image with 1940 aerial image overlay (and grid) showing Puyallup River valley between Puyallup and Tacoma. Image from Puget Sound River History Project.
Google Earth image with 1940 aerial image overlay (and grid) showing Puyallup River valley between Puyallup and Tacoma. Image from Puget Sound River History Project.

As environmental science instructors, we like to hope we can get our students to see local environmental issues in the same context we do. This is often difficult to do. Google Earth, however, has a few tools that make it easier to put local issues in a broader context. I’m going to use an exercise I’ve been developing as an example of how to do this. Along the way, I’ll be sharing the tools that allowed me to construct this exercise, so that the idea can be adapted to other locations and other environmental issues. The tools include both features within Google Earth (e.g. historical imagery) and outside (e.g  GDAL/OGR). This is what I’ll be presenting as a poster in session T160 on Tuesday (see also: T160 talks on Monday) and answering questions about in session P6 on Sunday.

I haven’t yet figured out the rest of my schedule. I know I’ll be going to the session on environmental magnetism on Sunday AM (it just happens to be in the same room as ours is later in the day…) and Josh F.’s talk on obsidian. I hope to catch up on some of the near surface/applied geophysics goings on, too. Any suggestions?

Also, apparently there’s a geobloggers’ meetup, though I forget where and when. Sunday night, I believe. The Digital Innovations group was thinking of springing for beer at our session to foster the same sort of interaction, but costs spiraled out of control. So, off to the pub after the session, I guess.

Drill Ship in the Blogosphere

Dang. Everybody has a blog now, even the staff and scientists on the drill ship JOIDES Resolution.

Blogs | JOIDES Resolution.

More Awesomeness

From one of the reviews: “And in case you find yourself in my position, I can confidently report that Duncan Hines Classic Yellow Cake Mix is also a completely inadequate raw material for the same project. Not to mention the mess it makes in the centrifuges.”

via Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Uranium Ore.

YouTube – Primordial Soup With Julia Child

Could not resist re-posting this (as seen at The Kitchen). It’s just too awesome. Earth History students, you will definitely see this in class!

YouTube – Primordial Soup With Julia Child.

I Bought it on EEEEEE-Baaaaaay!

I’m in the middle of writing a grant proposal: hashing out user fees, equipment and supply costs, student stipends, etc… I’m half-seriously thinking about stocking my lab with surplus equipment bought at auctions.

An old vibrating sample magnetometer selling for K on eBay. New ones cost upwards of 0K.

OK, not really. “Runs great” is NOT a wonderful endorsement for a sensitive lab instrument.