Saturday, March 21, 2009

Shocking News

In a bit of shocking news, OPEC and the oil companies, in an effort to waste save energy and drive up profits normalize prices in order to stabilize their global hegemony the economy, have announced that today, March 21, is the first day of fall.

Time to winterize your houses folks... I hear it's expected to be a long, cold one.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Sonnygirl at RUFKM has an oddly compelling argument that Nancy Grace killed Caylee Anthony. I think Sonnygirl (if that's his real name) does an excellent job of pointing out the competing weaknesses and strengths of her conjecture; anyone who makes the effort to critically examine their own arguments objectively deserves to be (at least) listened to. Which 1) is why I won't listen to Nancy Grace, and 2) is why I think we should lock up Nancy Grace right now. Better safe than sorry. Because the more I think it through, Sonnygirl's argument could almost be extended to suspecting that Nancy Grace had committed every murder in the US over the last 4 or 5 years... at least those involving young, attractive, white victims.

Spring It Is, Then

So this morning at 11-something UTC, which I think would be like 4-something Pacific Savings Time, spring officiously sprang. I posted a piece back in January, nearly two months ago, on this local establishment and the green stuff coming up in the front yard.
A nice clump of daffodils between the sidewalk and the street...
And beside the steps with crocuses...
I really should have cropped this to highlight the violets, and the little spray of bursting leaves on the roses... yes, that's right, the roses are starting to leaf out.
Somewhere, a camillia bush is blooming. I walk by several of these each day and I've been watching the buds swell and color up, but I haven't seen blossoms yet. This was picked elsewhere and dropped.
Walking across the street and onto campus...
The dogwoods are going at it.The above was taken from the same place as the previous, just turning 60 degrees or so. Owen Hall (Electrical Engineering) is one of the newer buildings on campus, and one of my favorites. In a bit, I'll show you why.

I've been following the budding and blossoming, as I said above, for nearly two months... spring starts early here! First snowdrops were posted 2/9; first crocuses on 2/21; and first daffodils on 2/27. In most cases, the flowers were open a week or so earlier, and the photos were taken a few days before I got around to posting them. So to the geobloggers, consider this entry as my post for the spring meme... one I started addressing a month and a half before the meme was declared!


This is a fascinating article to read, but at the end, my question is "Why?" How to design a 1,000mph car.

There's some fun dry humor (To keep Andy from flying or inventing the world's fastest burrowing machine, we have to control the airflow over the car extremely carefully to avoid a buildup of high pressure under the car...), some interesting engineering problems (...the sorts of numbers we're dealing with: potentially more than 210 kilonewtons (47,000lbs) of thrust from the jet and rocket engines, which together make Bloodhound SSC over 160 times more powerful than a Formula 1 car; four huge and heavy solid-titanium wheels spinning at up to 10,300 revolutions per minute, generating 50,000 g at the rim; air screaming past the carbon and aluminium bodywork at 1000mph, applying 12 tonnes of pressure to every square metre of bodywork ...), and of course the thrill of catastrophic danger, combined with !CARS!, which the western mind apparently conflated with "cool" immediately upon their invention. There's also an animated video that impressively shows the car outrunning a bullet from a magnum .357.

But why?

I think it could potentially be justified in terms of engineering techniques developed, materials science advances... in fact, I can think of all sorts of issues that this project might pay off in what is discovered. It just seems like there might be, ya know, some practical project(s) that lead to the same ends. There is no mention of cost, either what has been spent so far, nor what is anticipated in the future.

I wonder why?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sneak Preview of Bush's Book

News Item: The decider has decided to pen a book... or as Comrade E.B. Misfit remarked, "The correct word is 'crayon.'" The first linked article above notes:
In contrast to the traditional blow-by-blow presidential memoir, George Bush's tome, provisionally entitled Decision Points, will describe how he took on 12 key political and personal decisions, including the invasion of Iraq, his response to Hurricane Katrina, running for president, and giving up alcohol. "I want people to understand the environment in which I was making decisions," Bush said. "I want people to get a sense of how decisions were made and I want people to understand the options that were placed before me."
Now being a world-famous, internationally respected blogger has its perks... and never more so than in this case. The G.W. Bush Lieberry has granted me exclusive rights to pre-publish Chapter 3 in its entirety. Prepare yourself for a stunning glimpse into a mind of presidential caliber.

CHAPTER 3: Wherein I Grapple With Uncertainty

Then there was that time I got "tails," but I'm uncertain what i I wuz grapplin with that time. I think it mite have been over Saddam having a smoking gun, or somethig liek that. or mebe it was over which one ends in 'n' and which one with 'q,' cause I never did get that one strait. I like George Strait too! Did I ever tell you why? well, both his names is good: George and Strait! I wouddent like him if his name was "George Gay!" Heh, heh, get it? George Gay... Heh, heh, heh! Sometimes I crack myself up!

The End (of Chapter 3)
I, for one, am holding my breath to read the entire text from beginning to end. I think suffocation would probably be preferable.

Followup: The G.W. Bush Lieberry and the publisher wish to make it clear that this excerpt has not undergone careful proofreading and editing yet, and that minor editorial changes will undoubtedly be made prior to publication.

For All of Us Agnostics

Then all you have to do is believe, absolutely and without reservation, that the reason you stuck the pin into that particular character is because that particular character caused you to do it. And away you go.

Waitaminit... I got "Nothing." Now what? (via BuzzFeed)

Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai

Der Spiegel has an excellent photograph of the underwater eruption near Tonga. Click over for a link to the full-sized version (the magnify icon at the lower right of the image). Clicking over to Eruptions to find what Erik Klemetti has said about this over the last couple of days, there has apparently also just been a M7.9 earthquake in the region... that's a biggie, folks. It is unlkely there's any direct relationship between the eruption and the quake- read the post for details. His posts on this volcano include another photo and link to video here, yesterday's report that the plume is disrupting air traffic, and Tuesday's first alert.

The Volcanism Blog has also been covering this developing story. Today he has posted a summary of available information, along with an extensive set of links to news reports and other sources of information. Yesterday, he posted an extraordinary sequence of still photos, and later linked to the BBC video from which they were taken. Those two posts and two other earlier posts can be seen under the Tonga tag.

This seems to me to have the makings of a fascinating eruption, from which the volcanology community will learn a lot, or a horrifying disaster. Or, I hate to say, both.

Followup (6:40 PM) Hadn't got to this piece yet... The Big Picture has a very nice photo set of this eruption.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wednesday Words: This is Shaping Up Into a Real Game!

A few semi-randomly chosen comments from last week's edition (Click over to read the full list of contributions. Lots and lots of good suggestions in the comments!):

Wee Mousie: Tardradr is a form of extra sensory perception that tell you when you are dealing with a retard.

Darius Whiteplume: I used to have a 'tard radar set, but the Wasila hill-billy burned out the circuits

Tengrain: When you are playing pocket pool, it is a game of Pance.

Mr. Wayne: I honestly though pance was when you put on a dance for your significant other just before bed without any pants on.

Silver Fox: Frishing obviously has something to do with fishing: it's when you fish on friday.

My own contributions for the week:

Reado is the brand name for a style of skin-tight leisure wear for when you want to lay out at the beach with a good book. Caution: if you weigh more than Kate Moss, they will make you look either disgusting or ridiculous, or both.

Layareat: Stratified food or when all the shelves in your refrigerator collapse to the bottom.

Protective Custody

I recommend it for some celebrities. I just pointed out a week and a half ago that Michael Jackson might have been happier if he had died at the end of the 80's... I'm NOT saying he should have, just that if he could have seen then what a hash his life would become in the next 20 years, it might have appeared to him to be an attractive choice. Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and on... these people have so lost touch with reality that they need to be protected from themselves and society, and society needs to be protected from them.

If you're not convinced, consider this: Michael Jackson Wants to Be Plastinated. Money quote from the linked article: "Bild speculated that Jackson's nose, which has famously received a series of surgical interventions, was already plastinated enough to not require any further work." (The link in the quote goes to, which appears to be a German entertainment tabloid, and the source of much of the Der Spiegel report. The article there is in English.)

Non-Geology People Will Not Get This

I warned Silver Fox yesterday that a comment I left on one of her posts had started the seed of a bad pun in my thoughts...

Matt Damon has confirmed that he will play the role of an amnesiac prospector, who is also a trained assassin, dueling with a rogue government agency over control of a fantastically valuable copper deposit. Due to his amnesia, he is only occasionally able to recognize the tell-tale minerology of the ore.

Damon is hinting that the movie will be called "The Bornite Identity."


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Whoa! Almost Forgot to Mention This!

Yes indeedy, folks! Looks like the 2012 campaign is officially underway. And not a moment too soon! After all, there's only 42 43 almost 44 months left.
And pay attention to the small print. Sarah is much too modest to authorize any one to collect PAC money for her candidacy. I'm sure this is the work of selfless private citizens who recognize the world-changing potential of a Palin presidency.
Also note, these are just images, not active links. I don't do politics on this blog.

Hal Clement

Apparently (according to the quiz), I am now a writer of science fiction, not just a reader. Something to keep in mind on this blog. Is it science? Or is it fiction? Not even your faithful blogger knows for sure. (hat tip to How's That for a Slice of Fried Gold)
I am:
Hal Clement (Harry C. Stubbs)
A quiet and underrated master of "hard science" fiction who, among other things, foresaw integrated circuits back in the 1940s.

Which science fiction writer are you?


Yesterday I mentioned to a fellow coffee drinker that I didn't think many of the financial geniuses who've served us so well realized the depths of appreciation that the American people would like to express to them. Firedoglake reports,
AIG hires extra security for its New York offices, newspapers and TV
anchors talk of torches and pitchforks, and a senior US senator calls for
executives to commit suicide. And America, rather than ask, “Oh my god,
what have we become?” instead, on the whole, screams “Hellz yeah!”
Thanks, AIG, and other sundry movers and shakers. We gotcher bonuses right here.

If Republicans Ruled the World

We would all do exactly the same things at exactly the same time.

And we would like it. And it wouldn't hurt. And we would be thankful. Amen.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday Mineral: Labradorite

Somehow, I just keep coming back to this mineral (see here and here, in the "fixed composition" paragraph). No apologies though; it's an important one. And in case you didn't click on the second of the above links, I'll remind you that it's a plagioclase feldspar, sodium-calcium aluminosilicate, with 50-70% calcium and 30-50% sodium. In simpler terms, it's the calcium-richer side of the middle of that series. Overlooking the glare from the flash, this sort of non-descript dark color is typical for coarse labradorite.In porphyritic volcanic rocks (those with a generation of larger crystals from slow cooling in a magma chamber , and one of very small crystals from the ultimate eruption and subsequent quick cooling), it often appears lighter in color. As should be clear from the above picture, this particular sample has been polished. It was a gift from my friend Cassidy, so I don't know where it's from.Another picture showing the somewhat dull appearance of this mineral. But wait! what are those little sparkly bits? Where are those colors coming from? Time for some wonkishness...
I lifted this diagram from some astronomy lecture notes, of all places; if this is infringement let me know, and I will politely remove them. What this diagram tells you, basically, is that feldspars form with two broad swaths of composition: sodium-potassium rich (alkali feldspars), and sodium-calcium rich (plagioclase feldspars). Na and K trade off because they have similar charges. Na and Ca trade off because they have similar ionic radii. They do not have the same charge, and this is compensated by Na taking one more Si (+4) and one less Al (+3), while calcium does the reverse. Remember, labradorite would occupy a fifth of the bottom swath, from the middle, near the "o" in "Plagioclase" to the right, to maybe the divide between the "s" and the "e."

The above is schematic, but basically approximates what a minerologist would call the "hot" feldspar curve. I have modified it with blatant disregard for hard data below, but the general principles, I think, are accurate. If the feldspar cools slowly (note we are dealing with a fairly large crystal here; this sample cooled very slowly underground), some of the mid-range compositions are not stable; an initially crystallizing feldspar at the composition of the "o" will "exsolve." Some regions will become Na-enriched, and other regions Ca enriched. So instead of a single continuous composition of "o," it ends up with alternating regions of composition "Pl" and regions of composition "se." And if those regions are in a size range approximating the wavelength of visible light, there are some amazing optical effects...
Note that this is not the intrinsic color of the mineral; it's an effect of scattering and interference from zones of slightly different compositions. It's like the "rainbow" effect of an oil slick on water. In the latter case, the layer of oil is thin enough to produce the same optical interference and resultant colors: the oil isn't actually "rainbow-colored." You can only see these colors at particular angles to the crystal lattice, which is why I had to catch this flare at an odd angle, and so much is out of focus. But it really is quite beautiful. This stone is often used in sculptures, and as facade and decorative stone in buildings- I've noticed it's used quite often for jewlery stores.

I should also make it clear that this effect is quite different from the brillant colors that sunstones can take on. In the case of Oregon's sunstones, the colors apparently arise from microscopic inclusions of metallic copper, but that may not hold true for all sunstones. The sunstones are phenocrysts in volcanic rock; they have initially formed pretty slowly, but their final cooling was quite rapid by geologic standards. They would not have undergone the gradual cooling necessary to get the alternating lamellae of varying compsitions.


Last week started cold: daytime highs in the low to mid 40's, and Tuesday night (if I remember correctly) lows were forecast to reach 23. As the week went on, it slowly warmed. Friday was gorgeous: mid 50's and sunny; even Thursday had been nice- not quite as warm, but still nice.

Then Friday afternoon, I saw an arc around the sun...This is often (not always, but often) a sign of warm moist air moving in and creating a haze of upper troposphere ice crystals. In the above, we're looking west along Monroe (from the smokers' purgatory at my favorite coffee shop) and a little south to the north side of the Oregon State University Campus. Below, I zoomed in to get the sundog on the north portion of the arc.I think it actually comes through better in the first picture. At any rate, "warm moist air moving in" is an opaque way of saying, "wet warm front moving in; prepare thee an arc."

Our weather since Friday night has been... vigorous is a good word. We've had some sun breaks, and I'm always surprised at how quickly the ground dries. But it has been pouring. And blowing. And pouring some more.

I'm not really complaining; as I've said before, I sort of like the rain, and the weekend was warm. We've had a relatively dry winter, and some real rain feels right. With the time change last week, the flowers, and the warmth, it really is starting to feel like spring.

Just One Waffer-Thin Bonus

Bang. On.

10 Things Geo Majors Should Know

Callan has started a fiendish meme: what are ten things all geology majors should know? The fiendish part is that you can't repeat things that others have already listed. So I'm getting in on this Ponzi scheme at the outset. I kind of cheated on the last one... but I do think it's important. The other lists I've seen are below mine

1. Should be confident that he/she could point out evidence of change anywhere on the Earth's surface.

2. Should know how to (and preferably, be eager to) talk to non-scientists about their subject.

3. Know how to use ternary diagrams.

4. Know basic mapping skills; with a Brunton compass and a topo map, take appropriate
measurements both for recording data and navigation.

5. Given an outcrop, tell a story about how it came to be. This does not mean "get every detail right," but at the core of our discipline is a love of stories and change over time. Bachelors degree holders should have developed some skill with this.

6. Be able to generate alternative hypotheses (no one-handed geologists!) and recognize ways to look for evidence supporting and refuting one or others.

7. Be able to (in broad strokes) sketch out the history of the earth in an astronomical context, and compare and contrast the earth to the other terrestrial planets.

8. Discuss in some detail modern civilization's utter dependence on geologic resources, including (but not limited to) water, energy, metals, building materials and nutritional materials (particularly with respect to fertilizers).

9. Describe how geology is intertwined with other sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, meteorology, oceanography, astronomy) and with mathematics (it's no accident that a major branch of mathematics is called GEOmetry).

10. Be able to honestly say "I think rocks are really cool..." or some variation thereof.

Eric's List:
1. Hydraulic Geometry: this concept relates fluvial discharge to slope, channel width, channel depth, and velocity, and explicitly shows how delicate adjustments in one can result in changes in the others.

2. Paleocurrent indicators, and how to describe, interpret, and measure them (especially from trough axes)!

3. What are Froude and Reynold's Numbers, and what do they mean!?!

4. That a lithofacies is the sum of all textural, sedimentary structural, and lithological attributes that uniquely defines a given lithosome, and how THIS DIFFERS from a depositional environment model.

5. The basic sedimentary basin types (i.e., retroarc forelands, forearc, etc), and what subsidence patterns generally define them.

6. Why there are locks on the Panama Canal (the Geoid!)

7. The difference between lithostratigraphy and chronostratigraphy

8. How to draw a Wheeler Diagram

9. The timing and location of the major orogenies

10. Walther's Law

Chris' List:
1. The difference between absolute and relative radiometric dating.

2. Uranium-lead dating and how each element on the uranium 238 decay chain interacts differently with the environment.

3. The difference between a continent and a tectonic plate.

4. The properties of felsic, intermediate and mafic lava types.

5. How and why the melting temperature of a rock changes depending on the the concentration of volatiles therein.

6. What an ophiolite is and the significance of very old ophiolites.

7. The structure of the deep Earth (the upper and lower mantle including the MoHo and other zones)

8. The biological explanation for the formation of banded iron formations.

9. The insignificant difference between a volcanic sill and a volcanic dike.

10. How to spot changing environments in a stratigraphic column.

Callan’s list:
The relationship between cooling rate and crystal size in igneous rocks.

The fact that rocks can flow, given sufficient temperature and pressure [and low strain rate, for the purists out there].

The idea that sedimentary rocks reflect specific depositional settings. By studying modern depositional settings and the sediments they contain, we can interpret ancient sedimentary rocks in light of the conditions under which they accumulated.

The fact that the chemical stability of molecular configurations (minerals) changes with different temperatures and pressures (metamorphism).

Large Igneous Provinces, and their potential role in tectonics and expressing mantle plumes.

Elastic rebound theory for the origin of earthquakes.

The notion of partial melting, and its relationship to Bowen’s Reaction Series.

An understanding of the carbon cycle, and an understanding of the atmospheric physics that facilitate global warming.

The role that rivers play in shaping the landscape: nickpoints, terraces, quarrying, abrasion, drilling of potholes, etc.

The Earth is 4.6 billion years old, which is extremely old in comparison to human life — and the reasons we think it’s so old [Pb isotopes, etc.].

Mel’s list:

Evidence for plate tectonics.

That fossils (and trace fossils) can provide more information about the rocks they reside in - depositional environment, chronology and correlation, water temperature, stratigraphic up, relative rate of deposition, water depth, etc.

And vice versa, the rocks can tell you a lot about the fossils that are contained within them - geography, taphonomy, chronology and correlation, etc.

The relationship between sediment production –> sediment transport –> sediment deposition.

How to identify minerals.

Differentiation and fractionation and how they apply to the planet, the solar system, and isotopes.

How aquifers work (or don’t work if we drain them too quickly).

Where our energy supply comes from. All facets from petroleum products, to solar radiation, to conductive metals extraction, etc. (These are also useful for seeking gainful employment as a geologist.)

Pedogenesis. How it takes thousands of years of chemical reactions and transport to generate the soils we use for agriculture. (And how we should be taking better care of them.)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday Funnies

Well shoot, almost forgot my Sunday responsibilty. Well, I can handle this one.

In case you never realized, George was one messed up guy...
see funny english mistakes

No, this isn't "finally." We're just getting started.
Above "unfortunate accident" lifted from From Criggo, as is the unfortunate combination of photo and caption below:Of course, quite a number of my giggles this week were LOLz-induced...
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

I guess I haven't made it really clear that as much as I like cats, I don't really consider myself "a cat person." Normally that phrase indicates an exclusiveness: "cat people" don't like dogs. I happen to be very fond of dogs too.
funny pictures of dogs with captions
see more dog and puppy pictures

My friend JD says he's got this "Cat Side Story" as his desktop picture:
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

I've always known Rowan Atkinson was brilliant, though in fairness, I think Marty Feldman was even more so... and certainly braver.
rowan atkinson
see more Lol Celebs

And a blogger who is often amusing surpassed herself with a photo taken on a recent trip: From Lisa at "That's Why"

I guess my happiest find this week was My [Confined] Space, but the participants there are posting 40-50 pieces a day. I may drop this; it's a lot to wade through.From this post. If you click through and click on the picture, you can get a larger version.

And finally, not really pictures, but maps... but the fun is in the narrative... in the Top Ten Confusing Place Names at Google Sightseeing.

And I just realized... no actual comics. Oh well. That's why I call it "Sunday Funnies:" for the flexibility.

Nothing Has Changed But the Way We Look At It

So apparently the Phantom Ship at Crater Lake National Park isn't a dike. The article in the Medford Mail Tribune does not make it completely clear, but seems to indicate that the island is the remnant of lava flows, and that its existence is more a matter of chance than the result of harder, more resistant intrusive rock withstanding weathering and erosion. The above picture is from a wikimedia source, not the AP picture accompanying the article; AP is apparently pretty picky about copyright infringement.

I'm sorry to see that Southern Oregon University is canceling its geology program; I have fond memories of that campus and its students from the 80's. Jad D'Allura led two field trips on Klamath Mountain Geology for OSU groups when I was an undergraduate, and I bumped into him briefly when I was in Death Valley over spring break in 1993. Good guy, and great trip leader.

Stewart Crosses the Pond

Interesting piece at The Guardian on Stewart's takedown of Cramer. I have watched some of the clips leading up to this confrontation, and I've set aside the video clips of the actual interview, but I haven't watched them yet. Still, I have been quite interested in reading the commentary and coverage of this event- and "event" is the right word. Like Stewart's interview on Crossfire, and Colbert's address at the White House Press Correspondents Dinner, this will be talked about for years. Enough others have discussed it that I don't feel like I have anything to add, except I find it interesting that this is being covered by a British newspaper: it's not just news, it's international news. And I love this quote from Stewart regarding his show... passing on the quote is the whole reason I'm posting this at all: "We recognise what a world-changing thing we have created and the power that we wield. And we wield it arbitrarily and mostly for evil."

Colbert at the White House Press Correspondents Dinner

Stewart on Crossfire (which was canceled shortly afterward)


I have joked around since the Reagan era that the best possible application of "Star Wars" or SDI technology would be to blast mosquitos and flies out of the air. Usually followed by guffaws and descending, fluttering fingers to portray the charred remains of these pestilential little bastards falling out of air the after after a successful deployment of the imaginary laser system.

I can't really take credit for this, but perhaps I should look into getting a job in the defense sector.


Dana Perino on CSpan:
"You were just speaking earlier about the possibility that since we had a little bit of a better week on Wall Street does that spell a turnaround?" Perino said. "Can all the credit go specifically to President Obama? Well, I would say no. We are just going to have to take a while to let all of this settle down and let the policies that our administration and the new administration are trying to put in place have a chance to work."
Let's just ignore the fact that a few days of the DJIA increasing is more or less meaningless. Let's just ignore the fact that "our administration" is no longer "trying" to do anything... and from all appearances never did, even when still in office. Let's just ignore the fact that presidential policies are at best tenuously linked to economic performance (which, yes, I know, is sort of a back-handed dismissal of Bush's economicamentary failures). But the fact that Perbimbo is trying to grab credit for this non-event is so painful that it rises to the level of hysterically funny. (hat tip to Steven Benen at Washington Monthly)

And in other SpokesFAIL! news, Ari Fleischer sez, "How DARE you say 9/11 happened on our watch?" Seriously.

Of course, as Iris points out, there may be some truth to that: Ari's comment that didn't get fair play was "We were most certainly not watching."