Friday, September 30, 2011

Record Amounts of Rain!

I received the following data from the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Albany.  The data was collected from the Dutchess County Airport near Poughkeepsie (41° 37' 28" N, 073° 52' 58" W) here in the mid-Hudson Valley.

A listing of rainfall, and departures from normal, for each month in 2011 to date:

 Month  Precipitation
1.78 in.
3.65 in.
5.17 in.
4.63 in.
5.16 in.
4.40 in.
2.24 in.
13.23 in.
7.30 in.
47.56 in.

The National Weather Service (NWS) uses a 30-year average for "normal" climate values of temperature, rainfall, etc. They also compute them in 10-year intervals such that the last yearly report, for 2010, compared the year to an average of values from 1971-2000. When the NWS prepares the yearly report for 2011, however, it will use an average of values from 1981-2010.

Anyway, how does this year stack up to what a "normal" amount of rainfall is in the Hudson Valley? Well, according to the 1981-2010 data, "normal" rainfall for the year is 46.53 inches. We've already exceeded that by 1 inch and we're only 3/4 of the way through the year!

On August 28-29, courtesy of Hurricane Irene, we had a record 24-hour rainfall total of 7.07 inches!

Enough already!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Parents and Professors

So, if you're the parent of a young-adult (notice I didn't say child) in college, should you even try to help out your son or daughter by giving their professor a call?

No, no, no, and no.

Here's an article from U.S. News & World Report on 10 Reasons Parents Should Never Contact College Professors.

There's another reason too.  At my institution, we've been told we're not allowed to talk to parents, not even allowed to verify that their son or daughter are even registered in our classes, because of FERPA - the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act.  The only exception is if a student goes to our Registrar's Office and fills out and signs a waiver.

So, when a parent calls me to discuss their little darling, I just tell them "Sorry, due to federal privacy laws, I'm not allowed to talk to you about this."  Many parents view this as horribly unfair, especially when they're the ones paying for the tuition and books.

But, to be honest, most parents who would call a professor are not the kind of parents who'd want to hear my honest appraisal of why little Jimmie or Katie is failing my course.  It's a community college, virtually all the kids who attend are smart enough to pass the 100-level courses.  If they're failing, it's because:

     1.  They don't come to class
     2.  They don't give a shit and aren't putting any effort into the course
     3.  They don't turn stuff in

It's not rocket science.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Homeopathic ER

I love this video! Why don't mainstream scientists believe in things like homeopathy (read my post here if you don't know what homeopathy is), crystal healing, reiki, etc.

Still support these "alternative" healing practices? Willing to be treated with them when wheeled into an ER in critical condition? Or maybe you'd prefer "Big Pharma" drugs, expensive medical equipment (x-rays, MRIs, and the like), and traditionally-trained MDs?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Banned Books Week

It's Banned Books Week (September 24 - October 1). Here's a list from the American Library Association (ALA) of banned and/or challenged books from a Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century list.
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Ulysses, by James Joyce
Beloved, by Toni Morriso
The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
1984, by George Orwell
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morriso
Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
Native Son, by Richard Wright
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey
Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
Go Tell It on the Mountain, by James Baldwin
All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
Sophie's Choice, by William Styron
Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
Women in Love, by DH Lawrence
The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer
Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser
Rabbit, Run, by John Updike
Here are some interesting statistics from the ALA:

Read one of these books today and celebrate your freedom to do so. Give one to your kids to read too!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rain, rain go away...

Seriously.  Here's the weekly forecast from my area from the National Weather Service.

Did I mention I'm teaching Observational Astronomy this fall?  You know, the kind of class where we want to go outside at night and look at the damn sky.

Here's the forecast from LAST week:

If I enjoyed gray skies and a moldy environment, I'd move to freakin' Seattle.

Since it's September, the leaves are starting to turn.  We haven't had a frost yet (it's going to be 82 F tomorrow!) and I don't see too many shades of reds at yellow at my place - the damn leaves are just turning brown!

I hate Hudson Valley weather!

Flu shot

Got my flu shot yesterday.  Took all of 5 minutes.

Here's a good blog post discussing the effectiveness of flu shots.

I'm convinced they're effective and safe.  And a good thing to do (you may be OK with risking a case of influenza, but you're then also a vector for spreading the virus - perhaps to one of the tens of thousands of people who die from flu-related complications each year).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Entering the dark half of the year...

A day late, but happy Autumnal Equinox.  Astronomically, it was Friday, September 23 at 0904 UTC which corresponds to 5:04 am EDT Friday morning.

The First day of autumn.  We'll see days grow increasingly shorter as the Sun rises increasingly south of east and sets increasingly south of west moving lower into the southern sky each day until it all stops and turns around at the Winter Solstice on December 22.

While I enjoy the crisp, cool days of autumn and the changing of the leaves, the progressively earlier sunset and later sunrise each day does leave me a little depressed.  It's not fun arriving for work in the dark and leaving work in the dark each weekday!

Here's a neat video I saw on Phil Plaitt's Bad Astronomy blog.  It's composed of hundreds of images of the Earth, each taken at the same time, from the geostationary METEOSAT-9 satellite.  The video runs from the 2010 Autumnal Equinox to the 2011 Autumnal Equinox.

Note how it starts with half the Earth lit.  Tthe word "equinox" comes from the Latin for "equal night" because day and night are each 12 hours long everywhere on Earth at this time (the Sun is directly over the equator).  Then watch more and more of the Southern Hemisphere lit as we move toward December.  At the Winter Solstice (winter for us here in the Northern Hemisphere, not for those south of the equator), the Southern Hemisphere has maximum light and, here in the Hudson Valley, we only have about 9 hours of daylight each day.  The Sun is directly over 23.5 degrees south latitude (the Tropic of Capricorn) at that time.

The terminator (boundary between light and dark) tilts back to the Vernal Equinox in March when we once again have 12 hours of day and night.  Then it's the Northern Hemisphere's turn to have more and more daylight.  At our Summer Solstice, in June, the Sun is directly over 23.5 degrees north latitude (the Tropic of Cancer).  Now we have about 15 hours of daylight each day.  Finally, we return to the Autumnal Equinox.

The reason for this, of course, is the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth and the Earth's revolution around the Sun over the course of the year.  This is why we have seasons here at mid-latitude locations.

The ever-turning wheel of the year.  Read more about this in my Vernal Equinox post from March!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sex at Dawn

I've also recently read Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by husband and wife psychologists Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá (2010, Harper).  Another readable and very interesting book (albeit with a few flaws).

Their basic argument is that our ancestors were sexually promiscuous, much like our close evolutionary relatives the bonobos (Pan paniscus).  In hunter-gatherer societies, the connection between sex and the birth of babies was not clear and, they contend, children were seen as communal property shared by the entire tribe.  Men and women both had multi-male and multi-female partners and sexual relations strengthened the ties between members of the community.  Ryan and Jethá provide a number of anecdotes from still extent hunter-gatherer societies to bolster their arguments.

They argue that the concept of sexual monogamy only developed in the past few thousand years with the advent of agriculture.  Why?  Because with agriculture came settled life, ownership of land, and, with the domestication of animals, the awareness that babies have both a mother and a father (farmers learned to selectively breed animals).  Paternity became important because land was left to offspring.  Patriarchal monotheism arose in the same place the earliest cities and farmers developed (the Fertile Crescent) teaching that monogamy was God's will and that women were essentially the property of men.

This books thesis is in direct conflict to many who have argued that humans are "naturally" monogamous.  The facts on the ground, however, don't seem to support our cultural concept of the idealized nuclear family - half of divorces occur because of infidelity, pornography has a strong appeal to men who spent, in 2006, an astounding $97 billion dollars on the industry, and an estimated 1 in 25 dads are raising children they did not father.

Ryan and Jethá try to make their case by comparing us to the other hominid apes (our closest ancestors) - talking about such scintillating topics as ape sex, penis and testicle size comparisons, sperm competition, copulation frequency, and others.  Interesting stuff.  Convincing?  I'm not sure.

There are problems.  One gets the impression reading this book that it's a polemic and contrary evidence is not presented or discussed in any meaningful way.  Anecdotes are often presented in support of claims and the book is repetitive in places.  It's not a scientific work.

It is, however, an interesting book and, I believe, mostly correct.  As a species, we're not naturally monogamous.  That doesn't neccesarily mean we need to give into our baser instincts to be horndogs, there are certainly benefits to a traditional nuclear family - especially when children are involved.  But, perhaps it means that we need to be more forgiving of those who can't quite live up the the idealization.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How I Killed Pluto

Well, no, not me.  It's the title of an interesting book I just read by Caltech astronomer Dr. Michael Brown.

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming (Spiegel & Grau, 2010) is an easy read about the human side of astronomy and the events that lead up to the demotion of Pluto as a planet - an event in which Brown played a critical role.

Brown's passion as an astronomer is in hunting for trans-Neptunian Kuiper Belt objects.  The Kuiper Belt is the region out beyond the orbit of Neptune, discovered in the early 1990s, where a large number (tens of thousands we believe) of icy bodies orbit the Sun.

Brown, along with his colleagues, have discovered numerous objects in this part of the solar system but the Holy Grail for them was to discover something larger than Pluto - a tenth planet.  In 2005, Brown believed he did - an object nicknamed Xena (after the TV character).  This discovery, however, created a problem.  There was no formal definition for the word "planet" in astronomy.  Was Xena a planet?  What about other objects discovered which were slightly smaller than Pluto.  Were they planets?  Why or why not?

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) took up this question in 2006, muddled around for a bit, and then came up with this definition which settled the issue.  A planet has three characteristics:

1.  A planet orbits the Sun.  Jupiter's moon Ganymede is larger than Mercury but it orbits Jupiter so it's not a planet, it's a natural satellite.

2.  A planet is large enough (has sufficient mass) to have formed a spherical shape.  That leaves off all those potato-shaped asteroids.

3.  A planet has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.  This omits Pluto as a planet.  Objects which fail this condition are now called dwarf planets.

There are now five official dwarf planets - Pluto (some consider Pluto a binary dwarf planet because the center of mass with its moon Charon lies between the two bodies), Ceres (a spherical asteroid in the asteroid belt), Haumea (discovered by Mike Brown but with some controversy since a Spanish group of astronomers may have unethically tried to claim credit - an event Brown discusses in his book), Makemake (also discovered by Mike Brown), and of course Eris (Xena's official name - discovered by Mike Brown).  Brown and his colleagues have also discovered other trans-Neptunian objects (Orcus, Quaoar, etc) that are likely to be dwarf planets (hard to tell their shape when they're so far away and relatively small).  There are likely hundreds of dwarf planets out there.

Any astronomer will tell you that Pluto is fundamentally different from the four terrestrial, rocky planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) and the four Jovian, gas giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune).  Pluto, as a small icy body with a highly elliptical, inclined orbit, is much more like the Kuiper Belt objects we've been discovering over the past two decades than it is like the traditional eight planets.  I think most astronomers agree that Pluto deserved its demotion - it is a fundamentally different type of object.  That's scientifically interesting and studying objects like Pluto will teach us much about the formation of the solar system.

Mike Brown interweaves all of this information with a personal account of his life and work.  He spends a lot of time in the book talking about his wife and new daughter, born while he was making his important discoveries, but it works with his narrative.  Reading this book will give you insight into the life of a planet-hunting astronomer - the long nights, hatred of the Moon's light and cloudy nights, and days and weeks of examining raw data and telescope images for little moving dots of light.

It's a great read and I highly recommend it.  By the way, here's Mike Brown's Planets blog if you'd like to learn more.

Friday, September 16, 2011

What are those strange paper things...

Interesting post by Rogue Columnist titled "Men Don't Read".  I completely agree.  Not only that, I'm always surprised when talking to my colleagues who are college professors that many of them don't read for pleasure either.  I can't imagine - I always have 2 or 3 books on my nightstand and can't fall asleep without reading for a while every evening.  I visit the library on a regular basis as well to support my habit.

Most of my college students don't read for pleasure either.  They're also incredibly ignorant on a wide variety of topics.  Wonder if there's a correlation?

I've also noticed that some parents who complain their kids don't read much have no books in the house and the parents watch TV all evening.  My kids read too damn much, we have to threaten them every night to put their books down and go to sleep.  Of course it helps that my wife and I both read a lot, our house is loaded with books, we go to library sales all the time, and at any one time have dozens of books checked out of the public library.  We also no longer have cable TV.

I'm going to go read right now (a book called How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown).  I'll post a review in a couple of days.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Irene & the Rondout Creek, Rosendale, NY

I've been pretty busy lately, but I did want to post some more information about flooding on the Rondout Creek at Rosendale during the passage of hurricane Irene (actually extratropical storm Irene by the time it reached us).

Here are before and after pictures of the Rondout Creek from Sunday afternoon, August 28, just after the rain stopped from Irene, and Sunday, September 4, one week later.  The pictures were taken from the Route 32 bridge over the Rondout looking westward toward the Village of Rosendale  (click to enlarge).

Note how close the water was to the berm protecting the homes and businesses along Main Street.  That evening, a voluntary evacuation recommendation was issued for Main Street because of fears the creek would overtop the berm (fortunately, it didn't).  Note also the incredible difference between "normal" creek water levels and the level after Irene.

On the banks of the Rondout, next to the bridge and across the creek from St. Peter's Church, is a small wooden shed.  This shed is a United States Geological Survey stream gaging station. USGS Streamflow data has been collected here sporadically between 1902 and 1927 and pretty much constantly since 1927.

In that century of data collection, the amount of water in the creek from Irene was the highest recorded at 36,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) of discharge!  It was also the highest water level (26.94 feet) ever recorded there.

Here's the raw data since 1927.  The columns are the water year (USGS defines this from October 1 through September 30), date of measurement, gage height in feet, and discharge in cubic feet per second (cfs).

The second (35,800 cfs / 26.80 ft) and third (30,900 cfs / 23.93 ft) highest flooding events occurred on October 16 and August 19 respectively in 1955.  They're an interesting story.  On August 12, the remnants of hurricane Connie dumped up to 15 inches of rain in parts of the Hudson Valley and this event was quickly followed by hurricane Diane which struck less than a week later on August 17 dumping another 7+ inches of rain into the Hudson Valley!  The effects of these storms were somewhat reduced by the fact that the area had been suffering a drought prior to the rains.

To add insult to injury, a slow moving coastal storm struck the area two months later on October 16.  This storm dumped up to 18 inches of rain in parts of the Hudson Valley.  Both times, the Village of Rosendale  flooded as the Rondout overtopped its banks.

It's not a surprise to geologists that the Village of Rosendale is susceptible to flooding from the Rondout because even a quick glance at the topography shows that the village is situated on a natural floodplain (the south side of the creek is significantly higher than the north side).

Here are some pictures from those two 1955 flooding events.  This images are from the Town of Rosendale web site (click to enlarge).

After this flooding, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers came in, blasted some rock slightly downstream at Lefever Falls, dredged the creek, and built up the berm now protecting Main Street of Rosendale.  If that had not been done, Main Street would have flooded this year and quite possibly on April 3, 2005 as well (anyone else remember those rains and flooding?).

There are some interesting things you can do with this stream data.  You can, for example, rank it by discharge where 1 is the year with the highest discharge (2011) and 85 is the year with the lowest (1967) since there are 85 data points between 1927 and 2011 inclusive.  Now we can use the following formula to calculate the recurrence interval in years for each discharge:

     Recurrence Interval = (n + 1) / m

where n is the number of data points (85) and m is the rank of each data point.  Then we can graph the recurrence interval in years (on a logarithmic scale) against the discharge in cubic feet per second (cfs), sketch a trendline through the points, and obtain the following:

According to the USGS, flood stage occurs around 15,000 cfs (a gage height of 18 ft or so) and we can see from this graph that such a condition occurs about once every 3 years (find 15,000 cfs, move over to blue trendline, and then down to the x-axis).  The most recent flood has, of course, a recurrence interval of 85 years since it's the highest in 85 years of record (basically a 100-year flood event).  This is a simplistic analysis, of course, because it's hard to talk about 100-year flood events with barely a century of data.  I'd want at least 1,000 years of data to define 100-year flood events but we have to work with what we have.

Below is an interesting graph showing how the quickly the river rose.  On Sunday, August 28, between midnight and noon (which is the time it was raining the heaviest), the river rose from about 10 feet to 27 feet.  The red line is flood stage (hit around 6 am) meaning folks went to bed with a normal river and woke up to raging floodwaters.

Below is the discharge (amount of water in the Rondout flowing by each second) measured in cubic feet per second (cfs).  The vertical scale is logarithmic.  Discharge increased from around 500 cfs to 36,500 cfs in that same time period (a 73 fold increase in the volume of water!).

It was essentially a flash flood event - even more so for those poor folks in narrow stream valleys up in the Catskills.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Bee Tree

Last weekend I was helping a friend cut up some trees which fell during hurricane Irene and came across this one...

I cut right through a bee's nest with my chainsaw.  Yes, the bees were still in the nest and using it.  Yes, the bees were angry.  Turns out I can run pretty damn fast - even holding a running chainsaw.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Take two quartz crystals and call me in the morning...

Well I'm obviously a geologist (at least that's what the degrees on my wall say).  I'm also a professor of Earth sciences (and chair of the math/sciences department) at a mid-Hudson Valley community college.  I'm always coy about mentioning the name of the college because I don't want anyone to think my opinions here have anything whatsoever to do with the college where I work - believe me, the administration would not want me to be an "official" spokesman for anything (you may not have noticed, but I have strong opinions about a number of things!).

Our college, like many others, has regular credit-bearing courses (like the ones I teach) as well as offering what are called "continuing and professional education" courses.  These are non-credit, non-transferable, and are taken for personal and professional enrichment (there are even some programs that lead to certificates).  There are hundreds of courses where you can learn a foreign language (or ESL), yoga, Microsoft Office, or even how to fly a helicopter among many, many other things.  The Continuing and Professional Education courses are a good thing, they offer a service to the community and bring money into the college.  I've taken a few of those courses myself.

There are, however, sometimes conflicts between the non-credit and credit-bearing sectors of the college.  Credit courses have been adversely affected by non-credit course scheduling (there are cases of credit-bearing classes being bumped out of a classroom for a non-credit course), there are concerns that non-credit courses may siphon potential students away from credit-bearing classes (AutoCAD is offered in both credit and non-credit areas, for example), and some faculty have concerns about the types of courses being offered.

What do I mean by that last point?  Let me provide a current example...

This fall, there's a new course being offered on Crystals.  That caught my eye since I teach about crystals too.  This fall, I'm teaching Physical Geology - a four-credit laboratory course on, obviously, physical geology.  Physical geology is basically the study of Earth materials and processes.  Earth materials include minerals and minerals are crystalline.

When I teach about crystals, it's in the context of lectures on atomic bonding, the geologic definition of a mineral, the different classes of non-silicate and silicate minerals, the physical properties used to identify minerals, Steno's law of the constancy of interfacial angles, different crystal habits, etc.  In other words - what centuries of scientific investigation have revealed about minerals and their crystalline forms.

There are many amateur organizations interested in mineral crystals I whole-heartedly endorse as well.  The Mid-Hudson Gem & Mineral Society is a good group of people in the mid-Hudson Valley who like nothing better than to get down and dirty searching for beautiful crystalline minerals.

So, you might be wondering, what is this Crystal course being offered by a local institution of higher education?  The entire "course" description is as follows (or you can read it here on page 64):

Learn about crystals and how they affect your chakras as well as how to use a crystals grid for healing, a crystal pendulum for scrying, and programming crystals as gifts.  Your instructor is ###.

The instructor, who goes by the title "Rev.",  is a self-proclaimed psychic who also teaches Reiki (in those classes, you "see auras, track the chakras, [and] feel blocks in the auric field") and Tarot.

So, what's the problem Steve?

Well, I should start out by saying that I love minerals.  I have many decorating my home, office, and even an agate slice hanging from the rear view mirror of my car.  Crystals are a thing of beauty and there are a few I am especially attached to and which have meaning for me.  Of course, when I'm not feeling well, I'll visit a doctor and take any prescription drugs he thinks would help.  I don't place some hematite on a string around my neck magically hoping it will make my blood pressure go down (although I believe the placebo effect is much more powerful than most people give it credit for).

I also don't really have a problem with what people believe.  I have many beliefs of my own which are not supported by science.  I do, however, have a problem when such beliefs affect others - examples include people who don't vaccinate their children endangering the public health or religious cranks who insist on teaching,  in public school classrooms, that our ancestors played with dinosaurs before the great flood of Noah.

I also don't think beliefs completely unsupported by evidence (crystal healing, for example), should be given stature by being offered as a course on our campus and listed in a catalog with the college's name and logo.  It's one thing to say "I took a course in Italian cooking at SUNY ## County Community College" or "I took a course in Pilates at SUNY ## County Community College".  It's a bit different, in my opinion, than saying "I took a course in crystal healing at SUNY ## County Community College".  Community colleges already have image problems (some people believe we have lower academic standards and are where the dumb kids go - I don't agree with this assessment but let's acknowledge it's prevalent).  We don't need to further hurt our image by offering courses, even non-credit ones, like this.  There's plenty of other stuff we can teach people that isn't nonsense.

Although, since teaching at a community college means I'm significantly lower-paid than our local local high school teachers (by far), and can always use some extra money, maybe I should offer to teach a non-credit course (the old, "if you can't beat them, join them" strategy).  Dowsing or Water Witching.  I know where there are some nice witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) trees.  I could take students there to cut a few forked branches and we can go dowse for water.  Don't tell anyone, but here in New York (especially after this summer), you can drill anywhere and hit water!

Learn the ancient art of dowsing with geology professor Steven Schimmrich.  Participants will make their own dowsing rods, charge them with psychic energy, and practice dowsing for water and mineral deposits at selected locations in Ulster County.  Saturday, October 1, 8, and 15 from 9:00 am - 12:00 pm.  $120.

Any interest?

Wait, wait, I have a better idea.  Maybe I can do crystal healing too.  I can have my clients lay down on a bed (maybe I can teach in the nursing lab) and then place crystals on them (judging by the picture below, I don't even have to pay much attention to where they're placed as long as it's symmetrical).

I won't use those New Age tumbled stones either, I'll be using real mineral crystals. Unmodified and powerful with Earth energy.  Not too hard to make up stories - "I will place this magnetite crystal, which I collected from a sacred vortex in the Adirondacks, over your third eye chakra.  Its magnetic energy will reinforce your psychic energy by clearing blockages in the flow of your chi."  A little burning sage and a nature sounds CD will set the mood.  Attractive women may need to fully undress to obtain the best benefit from crystal placement ("What, you've never heard of the yoni chakra?  It's very important to clear the flow of your prana there with this tourmaline crystal...").

Sounds a hell of a lot easier than trying teaching a room full of young adults about the difference between amphiboles and pyroxenes, doing program reviews for SUNY, and writing assessment plans for the Dean of Academic Affairs' Office.

Sometimes I really wish I didn't have ethical standards.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Fossil Hunter

Recently read The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World by Shelley Emling (2009, Palgrave Macmillan).

It's the story of Mary Anning (1799-1847), a famous woman fossil collector from Lyme Regis, England.  Lyme Regis, a small coastal town in West Dorset, is world famous for its Jurassic Period (~145 to 200 million years ago) fossils - especially ammonites and and large marine reptiles like ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs.

I have to confess to not knowing much about Mary Anning prior to reading this book.  As a matter of fact, I had always assumed she was simply of woman who collected and sold fossils and only mentioned in textbooks because she was a woman doing something geological at a time when all geologists were men.  In other words, not very important in the history of geology.

I was wrong.

Turns out Mary Anning was quite the woman and has not been given her due in many respects.  She could have been much more too - if she wasn't living at a time when women were treated as 2nd class citizens and in a country where inbred, wealthy twits kept "lower-class" people away from educational opportunities.  She was obviously much more intelligent than many of the male scientists she worked with at the time.

Mary was born poor, of low social class, and received virtually no formal education.  Despite this, she taught herself paleontology and became one of the foremost experts on Jurassic fossils which she extensively collected outside her doorstep.

Head of an ichthyosaur fossil.
Fossil ichthyosaur collected by Mary Anning at Lyme Regis

Male geologists and paleontologist came from all over to go with Mary on local collecting trips, pick her brains and learn from her, buy her fossils, and then typically either resell them at much higher prices in London or publish what they learned without giving her any credit.

It's a great biography of an interesting, but tragic in many ways (she died relatively young of painful breast cancer), woman who lived during a fascinating time in the history of geology and who has not been given her due.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Screaming Tree

Went for a hike recently and I could almost hear this tree with upraised arms screaming at me.

Probably pissed off about the hurricane.  Then again, maybe I'm just strange.