Saturday, May 30, 2009

White man’s disease

I just got back from the skin cancer clinic. Here in Australia, due to high insolation, outdoorsy lifestyles, and pale skin, the skin cancer rate is 1700 per 100,000 of population. That’s almost 100 times the global average of 19, and is a ratio that some of us like to simplify to 1.7%. I don’t have figures for geologists, but we tend to exceed the population average in all three of the above categories, so they can’t be good.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever worked in a geology department without at least one skin cancer survivor. Luckily, this year I seem to be clear, for now. But it is still a significant career risk factor, and if y’all to any field work at all, it is something to consider.

And I reckon it is a risk that is underemphasized. In 2007, when we were drilling for uranium, we had huge regulatory constraints involving dust levels, masks, dosimeters, filters, scintillometers and associated paperwork. Now, exposure to radioactive elements is obviously a bad thing, but at the same time we were working for 13 hours a day underneath a gigantic unshielded nuclear explosion.

As it turned out, the only detectable dose we recorded was on the radiation badge that a driller chucked in his hand luggage and sent through the X-ray machine at the airport on the way home. But after a few days on the job, a number of people were showing obvious signs of sunburn. Ors company regs require all of our employees to use sun protection, but there isn’t any way to do the same for contractors, other than ask nicely.

In fact, it makes me wonder. On a per megawatt basis, is the cancer risk from sun exposure inflicted by building and maintaining solar power stations greater than that from nuclear power?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day 2.0

Map the Fallen is a Google Earth plugin that shows the hometown and place of death of all coalition soldiers who have died on deployment since 2001. Lest we forget.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Oops!... He did it again

Anyone eying the live seismology display in the Geoscience Australia Exhibit Hall before lunch might have noticed a little red circle appear in a tectonically quiescent protrusion of the Asian continent. A quick trip to the USGS earthquake page confirms that once again, there was a zero depth seismic event in North Korea. Tired of having the limelight stolen by Pakistan and the Middle East, the petulant pop star of the DPRK has tried lighting his farts again.

This time, he might have gotten more than a fizzle. At magnitude 4.7, this quake explosion had several times the energy of the previous test, which was discussed by the geoblogosphere at the time. Still, it isn’t clear what the purpose is. North Korea is unlikely to develop a booming export industry trading in radioactive dirt. The millions degree temperatures achieved will not burn off the glorious leader’s excess body fat, scour his arteries, or resurrect the brain cells he lost in a stroke. Starving people can’t eat antineutrinos. So really, this looks more like a pathetic attempt at a Madonna cover. The question is, who does he think of when he touches his little pink switch?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Scorpio and Orion

According to Greek Mythology, Orion was a great hunter who angered the gods with his prowess. Being Greek and touchy, they sent a scorpion after him as revenge. The story goes that Orion is perpetually avoiding the scorpion, so that the two are never in the sky at the same time- Orion always sets before the scorpion rises, and refuses to reappear until the Scorpion is gone.

The reason this works for the Greeks is that Scorpio is a Southern Hemisphere constellation. From the northern midlattitudes, it is only visible for 9-10 hours a night, so there is ample time for a gap before and after Orion. Down here in Australia, though, the opposite is true. Scorpio stays up for 13-14 hours, so there is a window where both Scorpio and Orion can be seen low on opposite horizons. This is most easily seen around this time of year, when Orion sets early in the evening, and Scorpio rises right around sunset.

I few years ago, I took a picture of this, but never got around to blogging it. So here they are:
Orion diving into the last glimmer of twilight in the west, while in the East:

Scorpio rises over downtown.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Squid 2 is in the wild

Squid 2, the sequel to the blockbuster SHRIMP data reduction package known as Squid, has just been released to the public. Surf, don’t walk, to sourceforge to get the latest isoplot and squid 2.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Research productivity at Hogwarts

The Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry is known primarily as a teaching institution. However, it is important to realize that like all cutting edge academic institutions, research is an important part of the school’s mission, and teachers there are expected to produce novel and important research commensurate to their position. Here we examine the publication record of a few key teachers at the school.

Let’s start with Professor Minerva McGonagall. As head of a house, there is no doubt that Professor McGonagall has a steadfast service reputation. And she seems to be an adequate teacher. But when it comes to publication, she is sorely underperforming:

We would expect more from the quiet, bookish Professor Sprout. Unlike McGonagall, she doesn’t waste her precious research time chasing Death Eaters, working with admin, or counseling students. And sure enough, she has several dozen publications, and is one of the more productive members of the faculty:

Professor Snape combines McGonagall’s exemplary service record with Professor Sprouts’s love of subject matter and attention to detail. And as Google Scholar shows, this has had a fantastic result on his productivity. He has more papers than the rest of the staff combined:

No wonder that he perennially feels overlooked, put-upon, and underappreciated; his grants are probably keeping half the school afloat.

One possible interpretation of these data anecdotes are that evil is conducive to research. A quick check of Lord Voldemort suggests that this is not the case, but one has to be careful. As previous articles here in the lounge have noted, Google Scholar is particularly insensitive to women who change their name. Although Voldemort is not a woman, the same name changing issues may effect him, so it is likely that he may adopt the habits of many female professors by publishing under his ‘maiden’ name, Tom Riddle:

I wonder how the citation index rates them all?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Awesome geoblog

This is the blog of the just-completed Lau eruptions oceanographic cruise. Most people, when cruising the South Pacific between Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga, are content with entertaining themselves with the onboard activities.

Not these guys.

They used their cruise to pilot robotic cameras into the teeth of several actively erupting undersea volcanoes. Click through to see pictures of red hot magma 1 km down, steam explosions, and pillow basalts forming right before your eyes.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Columnar basalt in the rain

Welcome back to the blogosphere, Chris.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Geochronological goofiness

Why does the Eoarchean come before the Paleoarchean, when the Eocene comes after the Paleocene?