Friday, November 28, 2008

Movember final weekend

I've mowed my face down to just the mo now, for the last gasp at Movember. I'd like to thank both of the regular readers who have donated thus far. If anyone else wants to do so, the following link should take you to the donation page:
Please give generously.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The geology of Plymouth Rock

Plymouth Rock, where the Mayflower pilgrims allegedly alighted on the new world, is a large boulder of Dedham granite. Like the pilgrims, this granite has traveled.

It is a glacial erratic, meaning that it was scraped off the ground and picked up by a glacier, and it then dropped into its current position when the glacier melted during the waning years of the last ice age. The Dedham granite from which it is derived is a neoproterozoic intrusive that forms much of the crystalline basement of the Esmond-Dedham terrane.

This terrane forms the bedrock of much of eastern Massachusetts and most of Rhode Island. The 680 Ma granites intrude older clastic sediments, which contain predominantly Grenville-aged zircons. But the basement on which those sediments settled is a mystery.

The Esmond-Dedham does not just have a mysterious bedrock; it has an exotic origin as well. It is an accreted terrane. It is a sliver of the southern supercontinent of gondwana, and only arrived at its present North American position in the last gasp of the Alleghenian orogeny, the last of the three mountain-building events that formed the Appalachian mountains.

So when the pilgrims stepped onto that rock, those transported souls were disembarking onto an erratic dropstone of a microcontinent, which itself had traveled from Africa, back before the Atlantic Ocean even started to form.

Here on planet earth, even the solid ground moves around the globe. Splitting, sliding past, colliding and attaching to each other, these continental fragments travel around the globe at the whims of convection.

In is not in the nature of this planet to be static; we leave that to the dead moons and asteroids of the solar system. But for an evening, tomorrow, we can cease our wanderings, and gather together for company, cheer, chow, and thankfulness. Unlike Plymouth Rock, most of us are not born of lava, witnesses to the birth of mountains and seas, and surfers of continental glaciers. But we can all tell stories, give thanks, and enjoy this great American holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Super-sized sandbox

Sometimes, having a daddy as a geologist isn't too bad.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Retrenchment blogging, day 16

Nobody has requested any science posts, so I guess I should fill in the story of my job quest. I took my Mo on a tour of a prospective employer’s lab yesterday, and it didn’t seem to deter them too badly, which is good. Today, I had lunch with a former student from my lab tech days, who is now working in the geol survey’s geothermal section. This was not a direct job interview- or even a hunt for leads, but rather an information-gathering exercise in order to figure out who does what and how the industry works. Just because a company has a geothermal lease doesn’t necessarily mean that they employ field geologists. Some do, others contract out all of their actual dirt-involving services to service companies. Understanding who does what allows one to target the correct potential employee. And it's always nice to have an excuse catch up with people and see how they're going.

Tonight I need to apply for something for which application was encouraged- always a good sign, I suppose, but it doesn’t do to get too hopeful at this stage.

Below is my short-form resume, so all you Americans can tell me how inappropriate it is. I should get this guy tidied up in case I apply for work back home. Suggestions, compliments, and insults are welcome.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Friends don’t let friends wear lamb chops

With Movember approximately 2/3 over, my ability to raise funds by looking even uglier than usual has been only marginally effective. While charity is not a competitive activity, I can’t help but point out that of all Australian Mo bros, I am currently the 28,100th most effective fundraiser. There are fewer than 50 towns in all of Australia with 28,000 people in them. So I think it is time for some incentives. For $20, you can nominate an area of facial hair to remove next. For $50, you may nominate a topic to be blogged here at the lounge. And for $100, you may do the same as for $20, but without the constraints of bilateral symmetry. But don’t give money because you want me to look funny. Do it for the depressed prostate sufferers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Green energy dustup

Many people advocate putting large solar powerstations in arid regions. The reasoning behind this idea is that the land isn’t much good for anything else, and that the low rainfall will mean few clouds and high insolation. Trouble is, a lack of clouds does not necessarily mean that a lot of light is reaching the ground. For example, see the picture below.

This is a cloudless desert morning, and yet, the poor solar panel shown is producing very little power. The reason, of course, is that a dust storm is blanketing everything in yellow gritty haze. During the winter, the solar panel plus battery kicked the ass of our generator, which is cumbersome, old, messy, and often difficult to start. But after a day of hot dust, we had to recharge the battery from the car, and eat whatever meat had thawed. Cleaning it the next day was a bit of a pain as well.
On the other hand, a wind turbine would have been awesome, at least in the short term. I suspect that the full sized suckers, if installed in this environment, would eventually create dune deposits in their wakes. And the sandblasting probably wouldn’t do the rotors and bearings any favors either.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Retrenchment blogging, day 12

I formally submitted a job application yesterday to Geoscience Australia. Since the Australian government only hires permanent residents as an option of last resort, I suspect my chances are slim, but it looked like an interesting opportunity and was good practice for the world of official applications, form filling in, and other trappings of big organizations.

We'll see what happens. I won't post many details of job applications while they are pending. Might not be prudent, y'know.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Retrenchment blogging, day 10

And now, to address the serious problems.
What am I supposed to do with all of these?

Friday, November 14, 2008


Movember (The Month formerly known as November) is dedicated to raising awareness and funds for men's health issues. Specifically, prostate cancer and depression. As with many activist causes, this is done by horrifying people. We horrify people by growing hideous mustaches. According to the rules, one is supposed to start clean-shaven, and grow from there. But I was never much good at following rules. So I'm taking the opposite approach, and generating a mostache by subtraction, starting with a full beard. Please give generously. If I can show up to job interviews like this, you can spare a fiver. All donations over $2 are tax deductible.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Retrenchment blogging, day 7

Day 2 was mostly resume updating and tracking down references.
Days 3 and 4 were a long planned trip away.
Day 5 was gathering info on a specific field in which I have no experience or contacts.
Day 6 was talking to a guy at a largish gold company about resumes, corporate mindsets, and how to professionalize general field mayhem.
Day 7 was mostly catching up on actual work.

Resumes give me the shits. As they are cultural artifacts, doing them in another country gives me the shits even more. My secret day six contact was very pleasant at pointing out that what I thought was my long format, Australian style CV was several pages too terse, and completely devoid of the catch phrases and buzz words required to woo the eyes of management and HR.

I’ve always been of the opinion that buzz words are a key indicator that the user has no idea what he it talking about. But what I took away from that meeting was that, in large organizations, the people with the power to hire don’t have any idea either. This these catch phrases serve as a shared delusion- a cult of murky grammar- to facilitate a shared mindset and outlook. So if I want employment at such an organization, I need to pinch my nose, drink the kool-aid, and develop an understanding of opportunities and needs of stakeholders relevant to the actionable efficiencies and outcomes.

Why keep up with the Jonses when you can name your town after them?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Opal on Mars

ResearchBlogging.orgMilliken et al. 2008 claim to have discovered opal on Mars. They used high resolution satellite-based IR spectra.
IR spectra show absorption that is caused by the vibrational frequency of molecular and crystallographic ionic bonds. In this case, it is the Si-OH, OH, and H2O bands that were characteristic. Opal is not the only hydrated silica on Mars, but the exact energy of the various bonds is dependent on crystallographic and compositional constraints. Spectra of various silicates were taken, and opal was found to be a better match than sheet silicates or hydrated volcanic glass (e.g. obsidian). The details are in the data repository, to which I do not have access.
Various popular articles have suggested that this is evidence for surface water or hydrothermal alteration on Mars. Neither conclusion is sound. Opal generally forms in low temperature environments, and is easily dehydrated at modest temperatures. Here in Australia, it is generally precipitated by groundwater in areas that have been arid (more evaporation than precipitation) for millions to tens of millions of years. However, it is still significant.
Opal is not thermodynamically stable. As a hydrous amorphous phase, one might expect it to alter over a billion year timescale. This means that either it fails to devitrify for potentially interesting reasons, or it is young. These alternatives are generally testable. This is because opal often has high U contents and high U/Pb ratios, allowing for U/Pb geochronology to be performed (e.g. Amelin & Back 2006).
An aerial or satellite gamma ray survey should be able to identify any potential uranium enrichment, as long as the spacial resolution is as fine as the outcrop extent. If present, a sample return mission to an opalized paleochannel would potentially allow a minimum age to be determined, assuming that the opalization postdates the surface flow and predates the inversion of the terrain through differential erosion.
In Australia, opalized paleochannels can present as false positives in uranium exploration, due to the elevated but uneconomic uranium enrichment. I don’t have a literature reference for this though, as the information was obtained via a seminar series at the School of Hard Knocks.
Tuff cookie discussed this a few weeks ago.

Full article:
R.E. Milliken, G.A. Swayze, R.E. Arvidson, J.L. Bishop, R.N. Clark, B.L. Ehlmann, R.O. Green, J.P. Grotzinger, R.V. Morris, S.L. Murchie, J.F. Mustard, C. Weitz (2008). Opaline silica in young deposits on Mars Geology, 36 (11) DOI: 10.1130/G24967A.1

References sited:
Yuri Amelin; Malcolm Back 2006 Opal as a U-Pb geochronometer : Search for a standard. Chemical Geology 2006, v. 232, n 1-2, p. 67-86

R.E. Milliken, G.A. Swayze, R.E. Arvidson, J.L. Bishop, R.N. Clark, B.L. Ehlmann, R.O. Green, J.P. Grotzinger, R.V. Morris, S.L. Murchie, J.F. Mustard, C. Weitz 2008 Opaline silica in young deposits on Mars. Geology, November 2008; v. 36; n. 11; p. 847–850.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Retrenchment blogging: day 1

It has occurred to me that I will be neither the first nor the last person to lose his job during this economic cycle. In fact, if this situation becomes as severe as some predict, reaction to job loss could have a far greater audience than esoteric geology jokes. So, I am going to blog my retrenchment. Do not consider this advise by an expert- I haven't been retrenched before, so I don't really know what I'm doing. Whether this story has a happy ending or an infinite downward spiral remains to be seen. But I'll post actions, thoughts, and new as time permits, so my experience can serve as a guide- or as a warning- to future victims of economic rationalization.

Day 1. WTFH?
Last night, my manager called me up and told me that my position would be terminated in a month's time. He didn't say much more. Since I telecommute during the off season, I really had no idea what was going on, so I spent a bit of time chatting, emailing, and talking with various folks back west to see who else was effected and how. I had emailed a few close contacts or advise, and I followed that up as well. And, since I am employed for the next month, I did a fair bit of work. You know, like, my actual job. Some of that was retrenchment related, though, as I had to inform various collaborators that I wouldn't be around.

My initial strategy was to conduct wide ranging inquiries. I didn't quite call everyone I knew- that would be quite time consuming. But I picked some key high-value people and either gave them a phone call or dropped them an email (usually call first, with email follow-up if they weren't around). I also went through my business card collection- a year ago total strangers were giving me their cards in bars, grocery stores, etc and suggesting I come work for them. So I figure, might as well give them a shot. And I did the easy stuff, like contact relevant facebook friends, people in my inbox I owed mail, etc.

Many responses were pretty grim, such as "Ha. half our staff got laid off last week. sorry." In general, the people in the most similar situation (advanced degree holders with a few years experience) had the grimmest news. But unlike emails, phone calls were good in that even if the person couldn't help me, they often had positive messages which eased the worry, even if nothing concrete came of them. And several contacts did produce additional lead trees. Interestingly, one of the ex-collaborators who I called to tell him our joint project wouldn't get done came back at me with a highly promising lead, so that was a bit of unexpected good news.

It's a bit early to draw firm conclusions, but my best luck so far have been people in different businesses with whom I've had positive professional dealings. Tonight was spent updating the Resume/CV, but I can't send it out until I call my second reference and reconfirm that he's still happy to do it (It's been 18 months since I used him to get my current job). I'll probably use the long format one (shown) for closer contacts/ specific requests, and trim it down to a one-pager for cold drops on people who aren't likely to care enough to flip pages.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Termination Shock

1. The outer part of the heliosphere, where the solar wind slows down to subsonic speeds due to interaction with the interstellar medium.
2. The surprise caused when the boss calls during an after-hours election-celebrating beer, to say that one's job is ending in a month.

I know I promised science, but I've been busy dusting off contacts and updating my resume tonight. Science will resume when I get the time.

Complaints, leads, or suggestions for oddball careers potentially off my radar are all welcome.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Ya think the election will be this close?

It has always amused me that the US election date is the same as that of Australia's greatest horse race. Here's the official photo finish from this year's Melbourne Cup; Viewed nosed Bauer out by about one cm on a 3200m track. That's about 3 parts in a million. For comparison to the American horse race, if 100 million people vote today, that would be a 300 ballot difference. In science, it is extremely difficult to measure most things to that precision.

The observant among you will note that in this picture, the black horse has nosed out the one with gray hair. Interpretation of that point is left as an exercise to the reader.

Science resumes tomorrow.


Well, here we are. Assuming your time zone is sufficiently easterly, it is election day. Who will be our next President, Mitt Romney or Hillary Clinton?

The fact that this question is a joke shows just how far we have come. Both parties managed to ditch the business as usual candidates in the primaries, and nominate a couple of guys with experience and desire for reaching across the aisle for the common good.

Which one you choose is up to you; I could hum and haw forever on this topic, but I have work to do. So instead I'll just post my best guess at the end result, below. Happy election day, fellow Americans. And please remember to vote, if you haven't already.

Horse racing picks my be left in comments by Australians who are feeling left out.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Quick journal publication etiquette question:

If a private sector researcher is submitting a manuscript to an academic journal, and said researcher is concerned that the timescale of peer review might be longer than the timescale of employment (or even employer solvency) due to the current economic situation, is it considered unprofessional to use non-work contact information?

A friend of mine needs to know what contact info to put on his paper.