Chalk it up to Geological Ignorance

Looking up from the Cretaceous Seafloor
Andrew Alden, our geology guide at, does some of the most consistent quality geology blogging I know of… and he’s been doing it for much longer than most of us.

John McPhee does the greatest geology writing hands down (and has the Pulitzer Prize to prove it). As I’ve suggested before, I wish he blogged – I just can’t get enough of his writing.

So when Alden pointed out McPhee’s latest piece in the March 12, 2007 New Yorker I was ecstatic. I rushed over to the library this afternoon to read the article – and indeed, McPhee is at the top of his form in “Season on the Chalk” [Thanks for the link, Andrew!]. I won’t spoil it for you – rush out and read it yourself.

My glee at learning of McPhee’s article however, was somewhat tempered by Alden’s surprising mention that “Chalk is largely unknown in the United States”. As a Kansan I live on a seabed of Cretaceous chalk. Indeed the very same sea (temporally) that deposited the Chalk Cliffs of Dover was busy laying down a similar blanket of the powdery stuff right here in the heartland of America. Having read both articles now I am (mildly) glad to report that the confusion is not on the part of the esteemed writer, but instead on the part of the geologist (ouch). Chalk it up to a west coast mindset – great geology out there (I’d know – it’s where I did my Ph.D. field work), but it’s hardly representative of the entirety of the United States.

Maybe Andrew needs to watch a little NCAA March Madness… Rock Chalk, Jayhawk! Indeed. :-)

I know I’m giving Andrew Alden a hard time here, but I’d also invite him to come visit western Kansas after the GSA Meeting this fall in Denver to see some chalk in its natural habitat. (John McPhee’s invited, too!) Until then I’ll invite him (and all of my readers) to take a virtual field trip to the Castle Rock badlands in Gove CountyGoogle Earth Placemark where one can see good ‘ol American chalk in all of its glory.

[Update 3/22/07: This great blog post about the Niobrara chalk just showed up on my radar today.]

Castle Rock badlands, Gove County, Kansas

Citizen Science Journalism

Yesterday an anticipated, but nevertheless dramatic geologic event occurred – a lahar roared down the slopes of Mount Ruapehu in New Zealand. I first caught the news via a Technorati blog search on the term “geology” which pointed me to a post at NZ Weather (which, in turn, points to some good local news sources). Shortly thereafter I found an AP story picked up by Yahoo News. What particularly intrigued me was the spectacular b-roll (unnarrated video) footage of the lahar courtesy of AP Video (link no longer available [Chris Rowan found it – different source, same b-roll, still no way to buy it]) that accompanied the original story. That video has since been supplemented and narrated and can be viewed here. The unnarrated b-roll, though, is what really captured my imagination. It contains some spectacular helicopter footage of the lahar in progress and the tephra dam that failed at the summit crater lake. The educational uses would be amazing! I want that footage!

So, what did I do? I went to the AP Video website to see if I could purchase it. What a waste of time! As far as I can tell AP is uninterested in making money off its footage when it comes to the little guy – all I can see are offers you’d need to run a full blown news organization to buy. Now obviously AP got that footage from someone else, and I’d be just as happy to pay that person or organization for the use of that footage, but I have no idea how to track the original source down. (Any ideas? Post ‘em in the comments.) Why is this important? Well, I could probably find some way to rip AP’s video, maybe strip the audio, and reuse it myself. That might even be legal (fair use) if I was doing it for just my classes here at Fort Hays State University, but the moment I post it to the web on my blog it’d be a clear copyright violation – even though it’s not for profit and my intent would be to educate. It’s no mystery that current US copyright law has become an abomination to the Founders intent in the progress clause (“To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries” – US Constitution Article I, Section 8). But until we can get that fixed, I’d really like to have some legal way of procuring this video for educational (but not strictly classroom) use, and making it available under a Creative Commons License.

So how does this relate to citizen science journalism? Well, I love blogs, and one can do a good job writing up this story in the way a traditional newspaper would publish it (i.e., words and still images). In fact, Ole Nielsen over at Olelog did a fine job of that. But this is the sort of geologic phenomenon screams out for video coverage! At one time I had hoped that Science Network TV (“CSPAN for Science” – NOT!) would cover breaking science news like this, but they’ve been a great disappointment for me when it comes to geology in the news (heck, geology period). So while they’ve dropped the ball, citizen journalism has taken off, thanks to blogs and vlogs. And I want to do my part. So can somebody tell me how I can legally procure a copy of that raw video footage? – because there’s not much geology that exciting here in Kansas that I can shoot myself.

Geology Reading List

Over at Apparent Dip, Thermochronic is compiling a list of geology/science books that are accessible to the general public for “The Great Science Book Challenge” (see also here). I’ve made a couple of suggestions off of my Intro Geology extra credit reading list. Of course, John McPhee is right at the top of my list of recommendations. I’ve found some other interesting titles on his list that I haven’t read yet – all I need to do now is find the time to read them. :-|

Do you have any suggestions to add to these lists? Tell me about your favorite geology/science popular culture books in the comments.

Flat World Fixer Upper

About a month ago I made a couple of updates to this blog, thanks in no small part to the urging of my San Diegan feline friend. Among the additions were an Author blurb with my contact info (top left), an About page (still needs work), and most noticably, a switch to the Tulip Time WordPress theme, designed by an outfit out of Bowral, NSW, Australia. I’ve been meaning to update my blogroll for a while, too, and today I got a helping hand from Yuvi Panda, a 16-year-old blogger and Microsoft Student Partner living in Chennai, India. I liked the way he hacked the blogroll of the Tulip Time theme to sort links by category and he was kind enough to reply to my request for the code necessary to implement it. Thanks to all of you for your help!

All of this without leaving my desk in Hays, Kansas. Behold… the power of a Flat World.

Google Viewer

Google Reader just enabled viewing of embedded videos directly in the aggregator. That’s way cool! But it leads me to a feature request that I’ve been meaning to make for a while…

Could the magicians (and I mean that with the utmost respect) at Google Labs please enable viewing of embedded QTVR panoramas? And not just in Google Reader (though that’d be a great start), but where I’d really like this is in Google Earth (in the HTML renderer for Placemark Description bubbles).

Climbing Cedar Mesa, near Mexican Hat, Utah, June 12, 2005

To give you an idea what I’ve got in mind, embedded above is a QTVR panorama I shot halfway up Cedar Mesa in southeastern Utah back in the summer of 2005. I’d love for that to be viewable in my RSS aggregator (Google Reader). Also, here’s a placemarkGoogle Earth Placemark in Google Earth with the QTVR embedded in the description bubble. Embedding QTVR panoramas works in Google Maps, so why can’t it work in Google Earth?

Update: At Dave Morris’ suggestion I’ve updated the placemark to include a Collada panorama bubble. If you’ve downloaded it previously, you’ll need to redownload it to see the new feature.

OPML to the Rescue

I love Google Reader, but it’s definitely still in beta.

Two months ago during an information overload crisis I unsubscribed from a couple of USGS RSS/CAP hazards alerts feeds. Today, when I wanted to resubscribe to those feeds I discovered a problem. In the intervening time I’ve largely switched from Bloglines to Google Reader as my primary RSS aggregator. It appears that Google Reader is not capable of auto-discovering (and therefore subscribing to) USGS Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) feeds. Google Reader has no problem with USGS RSS feeds. I was able to work around this problem using Bloglines to auto-discover and subscribe to the CAP feeds, then I was able to export these feeds as an OPML file and import them into Google Reader. I don’t know how standards-compliant the CAP format is, but since Bloglines appears to deal with it with no problems and Google Reader reads the feeds (once subscribed) just fine, I suspect that the failure to auto-discover these feeds is a bug in Google Reader. I have contacted both Google and the USGS about this – hopefully it can be fixed quickly. I’ve also urged the USGS to offer their feeds in an OPML format and to add Google Reader to the list of aggregators on that page (with proper instructions), seeing as it is being adopted as the aggregator of choice by a rapidly growing number of people.

For anyone who’s interested, here are the three USGS CAP feeds I’m subscribing to (M>5 quakes, landslides, and volcano alerts feeds) as an OPML file: USGS_Geol_Hazards_Alerts.opml

I'm Listening

It’s been a quiet year in blogging for me. I haven’t posted nearly as much as I had intended to – in fact my blog has been largely neglected for much of this year – especially since the summer ended.

So when my blog was scratched by a cat yesterday, it was a timely reminder that I’ve been meaning to do something about this for a while.

K T Cat titles his post ” Barriers to Entry in Blog Reading” and cites my blog as a prime example. Now, I’m not in the habit of conversing with felines, but inasmuch as Mr. Cat has an expressed interest in geology I’m open to new experiences. So here goes…

My initial pleasure at being linked to was somewhat tempered by being used as an example of being a barrier to blog reading. On the face of it I have to disagree with Mr. Cat that I’ve erected any barriers whatsoever to blog reading – he was able to read my blog as easily as anyone – logging in was no requirement and therefore no barrier there. In a larger sense, though, K T has a point, because inasmuch as blogs are conversations (and I do indeed subscribe to tenets of the Cluetrain Manifesto), the necessessity to login to leave a comment is indeed a barrier to at least the immediate gratification that cats seem to desire. My e-mail is also not accessible directly from my blog page (which, remarkably, hasn’t deterred the spammers), Mr. Cat complains. Here I plead guilty as charged. My blog lacks some fundamental usability features such as an about page – something I hope to address within the next few days (if not hours). Perhaps I should set as a goal for 2007 to become the top Ron Schott in Google (I’m numbers 3-10, currently). My e-mail is no secret – it’s splashed all over most of those pages. The login requirement for posting comments was aimed at helping me weed out comment spam – I’m willing to rethink this decision if I can find a compelling alternative.

Does this mean that I’m deaf to my readers? Certainly not! I am listening… intently. Though my blog’s design and postings have suffered from neglect as I pursue other aspects of my life, I am watching my RSS feeds like a hawk (among them, an ego search). E-mail and blog comments are not the only way to have a conversation. Mr. Cat and I are involved in a blog conversation as real as any other, thanks to the power of RSS, trackbacks, and search. That said, I am willing to try to make my blog more accessible in my copious free time (yes, now).

I wonder if the Mr. Cat knows any humans that want to have a conversation about geology?