Geology Office Hours Hangouts on Google+

For more than a month now I’ve been holding “Geology Office Hours” twice a week on Google+ using the “Hangouts with Extras” feature. Hangouts are a free video chat for up to ten participants on the Google+ Platform. I’ve said before that Hangouts are the “killer app” of Google+. The aim of the office hours is basically to answer questions about geology and to discuss geological events in the news. They are open to anyone who wants to attend. I’m currently running them every Monday and Thursday at 4:00pm CST (2200 GMT) and they usually last 1-2 hours, with participants coming and going freely as their own schedules dictate.

We recorded this afternoon’s hangout so if you’ve been wondering what Hangouts are all about, have a look:

(The recording was my first successful attempt and I did minimal editing. Audio quality is not great, but not terrible either. You can see a higher resolution version if you watch it in HD on YouTube.)

South Radial Dike & Shiprock

It was not until the summer of my forty second year that I first laid eyes on Shiprock. And though I cannot say that I had the same sort of religious experience members of the Navajo Nation have in its presence, my experience seeing it as a geologist was no less reverential. Thus, rather than going on about its geological significance, I invite you to explore it as I did while my GigaPan was capturing this moment in time.


OK – I Definitely Felt That

Sometimes when you get to the end of the day and you haven’t come up with an idea for a blog post, Mother Nature steps in and serves one up. Well, that just happened. About an hour ago I was sitting at my computer musing about what to post when I felt the chair and monitors begin to wobble. My first thought was that it was wind (it’s been a pretty windy day, even for Kansas), but when the shaking subsided I glanced over to Tweetdeck and what did I see? I saw this tweet from @jeffersonite:

OK Quake

Turns out it was a M5.6 quake down in Oklahoma. Personally, this is my third ever felt quake and the first I’ve been able to report to “Did You Feel It?“. I should probably Storify this tomorrow, if nobody beats me to it. And if you followed the quake on Twitter, you’d also have seen that it spawned a great idea for a future Accretionary Wedge: “Most-memorable/significant geologic event that I’ve [directly] experienced”. When’s the next available month, @lockwooddewitt & @callanbentley?

3D Geologic Models Created with Photofly

Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time knows that if there’s one thing I love, it’s discovering new computer based visualization tools that can be applied to geology and geoscience education. Beyond the basic digital camera, one of my first forays into this realm was creating QTVR panoramas. Not long after that I got deeply interested in developing geologic applications for Google Earth. Then, in 2007 this line of inquiry led me to GigaPans. I’ve dabbled in other technologies along the way as well, one of which – Microsoft’s Photosynth – didn’t result in any blog posts here but got me thinking about photogrammetry and using photography to create 3D models. Well, recently I’ve discovered a brand new technology – Project Photofly from Autodesk Labs – that allows me to realize the dream that Photosynth first hinted at.

The basic idea behind Photofly is not so hard to comprehend. By taking a bunch of photos of an object from different orientations, a computer program can identify unique points on the surface of the object and provided there’s sufficient overlap and coverage it can use photogrammetry to reconstruct the relative positions from which the photographs were taken and then from this information it can generate a 3D mesh of points that model the object and then it can project the images onto that model to create a photorealistic rendering of the model in 3D that can them be manipulated in a computer graphics program. Simple, eh?

So what do the results look like? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are three examples:

This was the first Photofly model I created. It is a hand sample of a fold in the Vishnu Schist.

This is my favorite model so far. I added narration to the video so you can listen to the explanation while you watch.

This last flythru is of a considerably larger scale object – Castle Rock in Gove County, Kansas. Below is a GigaPan of Castle Rock, for comparison.


I would love to be able to embed the models directly in a website so one could manipulate them independently or at least offer a file that one could download so that one could manipulate it in the Photofly viewer software, but I haven’t figured out how to do this effectively yet. If you’d like to try out Photofly for yourself, it’s a free download (Windows only) from the Project Photofly website. The 3D model creation is done in the cloud after you upload a set of photos. You can edit the resulting model and manipulate it in 3D in the desktop software. You can also generate movies that can be uploaded to YouTube or your choice of web based video platforms. There is supposed to be a way to get these 3D models into an app on a smartphone, but I haven’t figured out how to do this yet either. The cloud based service for creating these is expected to be free through the end of 2012 – no promises beyond that.

I’m very excited to think of all the geologic features that would benefit from being visualized in 3D. What would you like to see me model next?

Silverton, Colorado & the Animas River

Aaah, once again the clock is ticking loudy and the blog post I had contemplated making today is going to take more time than is left before midnight. So I suppose I’ll just go to my old standby and post a GigaPan with some interesting geology for your exploring pleasure. It’s not quite as easy as throwing up a standard photo, but even if I have to do this every other day I’ve got enough GigaPans in the hopper for over four years of filler posts. ;-)

Today’s scene comes from the same late spring 2010 trip as Tuesday’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison shot. In fact, I shot this one just one day earlier, on my way from Shiprock, NM to Montrose, CO.


Carl Berger has previously captured Silverton, Colorado from this vantage point with some beautiful fall colors. I wanted to shoot the city but also catch some more of the beautifully braided Animas River and San Juan mountains scenery. I had a partly cloudy day to deal with, but I think that for the most part I was able to patiently outwait the clouds and capture mostly sunny images.

Social Media & Geology – Fall 2011

For the month of November I’ve pledged to join Anne Jefferson‘s #sciwrite science writing challenge. Whereas most of the folks participating have chosen to focus on journal articles or manuscripts that may not see the light of publication for months, I’ve chosen to take this opportunity to revitalize this blog, which has been neglected for far too long. Since I’m no longer actively teaching geology in academia, my focus has shifted to understanding the opportunities that exist to practice and promote science of geology in the rapidly evolving sphere of social media. In fact, I’ve been using online social tools – from geoblogs to Twitter, and recently Google+ to name just a few – with a geological focus for quite some time. Recently, however, a couple of folks have prompted me document how I’ve been using these tools. Since I know from experience that my usage evolves with the development of new products and platforms, I’d envision that this may be the first in a series of posts that track my changing social media usage through time. Moreover, as I began writing this post, I realized that I have more to say about this topic than I first realized. Consequently, I’m going to turn this initial post into a high level survey of my current usage of social media and use subsequent posts over the next week or two to dig deeper on individual subtopics.

Background – How I Got Here.

My interest in social media begins with the fact that I’ve been using computers practically every day now for most of my adolescent and adult life. As a consequence of using them primarily in an academic setting I’ve always had access to state of the art hardware and, perhaps more importantly, high speed internet access. Those circumstances have also conspired to give me a front row seat to the communications revolution that was sparked by the invention of the world wide web. Although geology has always held more appeal to me than straight up computer science, I have felt myself increasingly drawn to the latter as the scope of the communications revolution wrought by the internet has become apparent. I want to be entirely clear, though, that I still think of myself first as a geologist, and all that I’ve undertaken in learning and using social media has been focused on geological applications.

I’ve had a web presence since 1994 or 1995, when I was a graduate student in the Department of Geology & Geophysics at UW-Madison; NCSA Mosaic was my first web browser. I learned HTML by looking at the web page source of existing web pages and did all my coding by hand (for the most part, I still do). I have been making web pages to supplement teaching since 1997 or 1998. I tended to update my static webpages frequently. I was first introduced to the concept of Weblogs by Fred Siewers at Western Kentucky University, where I had my first full time geology teaching position, for his appropriately titled Geoblog, perhaps the first of its kind on the web. I made a few guest posts on Fred’s Geoblog, but since I was already coding and frequently updating my own web pages I didn’t see the appeal of using canned software to make updated web pages.

I began running my own web server to hosting my own web pages in 2001, bought my first domain ( in 2003 or 2004, but still didn’t see the value of blogging software until I finally “got on the Cluetrain” and began to appreciate the value of syndication (RSS) in late 2004 or early 2005. I established a self-hosted WordPress blog in March 2005 and have been geoblogging (sensu stricto) ever since.

If you’re just now thinking about getting started with social media and my litany of experiences thus far seems daunting, relax; today’s tools make it very easy to bypass almost all of that. I include it only to document my own background experiences and my winding path to the tools I currently use. I’ve certainly gained a lot of perspective through those experiences, but there’s no need for anyone just starting today to retrace my meandering path.

The Tools I Use Today

Geoblogging is at the core of the current nexus of geology and social media. Blogs are a personal publishing platform; geoblogs are simply blogs that focus on geology. The geoblogosphere really coalesced and took off in 2007, and has been steadily growing ever since. The key, early on, and what made geoblogs social was the community that developed around cross linking and commenting between geobloggers. 2007-2008 was really the heyday of the geoblog cross-commenting. While the number of geoblogs has continued to proliferate and commenting remains strong on some geoblogs (e.g., Eruptions), much of the conversational banter between geobloggers has moved away from blog comments and onto Twitter in recent years. Nonetheless, the core social experience in the online geoscience community continues to be focused on geoblogs. There’s no question I feel a stronger social bond to those who geoblog regularly than others. (Twitter users come in a strong second here, but even among those I feel a stronger affinity to those who do geoblog than those who don’t – perhaps this is why I feel so guilty for not updating this blog for long stretches, even when I’m very active on Twitter.) Early on, it was not uncommon for spontaneous geomemes to race through the geoblogosphere. Another thing that developed in 2007 was the first of the formalized geoblog-based games – Brian Romans’ Where on (Google) Earth? series. Blog carnivals came to the geoblogosphere with the arrival of the Accretionary Wedge series – in essence, the Wedge has recently formalized the geomeme genre. Geoblogs today have even wider exposure through blogging networks such as Wired Science and the AGU Blogosphere. I’ll briefly mention Google Reader’s sharing features – now defunct – that previously allowed for social sharing of a curated stream of media discovered via RSS; I used this feature extensively, but until a workaround is found I’ll limit further discussion of the social implications of this type of curation.

Geoblogs may be the core of the social experience in geology, but if you want to know what’s going on in the geological social sphere right this minute, you need to be a geotweep (geologist on Twitter). Twitter has been described as a microblogging platform – each individual entry is limited to no more than 140 characters; what it lacks in loquaciousness it makes up for in immediacy. Many geologists who tweet (post to Twitter) will monitor Twitter and see updates in near real-time (by contrast, blog updates in an RSS reader commonly show up minutes to hours after they’re posted), thus it’s possible to conduct real-time conversations in Twitter. (I paused twice while writing the last sentence to reply to a conversation on Twitter.) One of the drawbacks of Twitter conversations is that they tend to be ephemeral – it’s not easy to find or reconstruct them after a day or two. Storify is a social media tool built to overcome this limitation by archiving selected tweets (and other web based media). To best get a sense of the sort of geological conversations that can develop on Twitter see an example from “Geotweeps Discuss…” or another from Luis Fernández.

Podcasting and Netcasting
Surprisingly little has been done with podcasting and netcasting by geologists. The one semi-regularly held geology podcast was the Chris Town’s PodClast, however that series is currently dormant. I am currently working on developing a weekly Geology Roundtable format discussion using the Google+ Hangout feature (more below). In my opinion, these media are ripe for further development in a social vein in the geological community.

Facebook and LinkedIn
A number of geologists and geology organizations post to Facebook. My own experience there is limited for two reasons. First, my social network there developed around family and college and high school friends rather than professional interests. While some of these folks are interested in geology, many are not and until recently it was not possible to direct posts to specific subgroups there. Secondly, Facebook posts are not indexed by search engines like Google, so discovering people with like interests is not very easy. My experience with LinkedIn is even more limited than Facebook and suffers from the same limitations. Although there are certainly geologists on both of these sites, my experience is that the social discussions around geology have been limited to organizational pages such as that of the Geological Society of America.

Delicious, Flickr, and YouTube
Delicious is a social site for sharing bookmarks, Flickr is the dominant social site for sharing photos, and YouTube is the #1 site for sharing web video. All three integrate social elements but none has attracted a strong independent social group around geology. I have found many useful links, photos, and videos through these sites, but do not tend to engage regularly in conversations around geology on either site. For the most part, the valuable material that originates on these sites tends to be discovered by the geology community through incorporation into geoblog posts. Flickr and Delicious both offer the ability to syndicate RSS feeds on a search term such as “Geology” and I tend to use this method to discover material tagged with that or similar terms.

Many have classed Google+ as a social network akin to Facebook, and though there are similarities, Google+ also has a number of distinct social tools that go well beyond Facebook. At the moment, the killer social feature on Google+ is Hangouts – a free group video chat for up to 10 participants. For the last month or so, I’ve been holding regular “Geology Office Hours” hangouts to answer questions about geology and discuss geological events in the news. Initially I held these publicly (open to anyone who wandered in) but recently I’ve had to limit participation to those who indicate an interest ahead of time. Initially very few folks showed up, but as time has passed and word got around the attendance and level of conversation has gotten better and better. I haven’t yet found a way to record these sessions (Google+ will eventually make this a standard feature, along with the ability to upload them to YouTube), but I am working on that. Google+ also offers posting of text, photos, and video that rivals blogs for the amount of social participation – via comments, +1s, and sharing – if not yet the ability to customize and format material in the post. Google+ is still a rapidly evolving platform and many new features are released in beta on a weekly basis. Full integration with Google’s existing app suite with its already well developed collaboration features promises to make this an exciting social platform for productivity as well as information sharing.

There are certainly more specialized web properties that have social features (GigaPan comes to mind) and even some social media sites with more niche usage (Ning, for example), but I’ll halt my discussion at this point in hopes of hitting the publish button before midnight. I expect I’ll end up blogging about some of these social media tools in more detail over the course of the next few weeks. Your questions and comments are welcome – after all, it wouldn’t be very social of me to ignore your feedback.

Painted Wall, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

I’m working on a #sciwrite post about how I’m currently using social media, but it’s not going to get done before the clock strikes midnight, and I really want to show my blog some love by having at least one blog entry for every day of the month. So in order to get something posted quick and dirty I’m gonna post a GigaPan that I had already highlighted on Twitter and Google+.

Painted Wall, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
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The Gunnison River has cut down through Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rocks in western Colorado to form one of the deepest gorges in North America. This morning shot captures the famous Painted Wall, so named for the many light colored granitic dikes that appear to some as an artists brush strokes on a canvas of dark metamorphic rocks. In fact, the granitic dikes are igneous intrusions into the older metamorphic rocks. A careful examination of such an exposure can be analyzed to determine the relative ages of the dikes based on the principle of crosscutting relations – younger intrusions of granitic magma necessarily crosscut existing rocks, thus determining their relative ages.

While I was standing at the edge of the abyss watching the GigaPan robot work its magic, I heard a rustling behind me and turned to see what it was. This is what I saw:


To be completely accurate, that is indeed the bear that I saw, but I didn’t snap that photo. You see my camera was atop the GigaPan about an hour into shooting the massive panorama above. Fortunately for me the bear decided he had more interesting things to do than ask me what I was up to in his backyard. He sauntered off down the trail towards the parking area and I called to a couple of approaching Canadian tourists who were able to snap the photo before the bear decided the neighborhood was getting too crowded and headed off from whence he came.