Monday, November 22, 2010

Seeking tech advice: smartphones for geologists

I currently have what I fondly refer to as a "stupidphone." It makes calls. It receives text messages. It stores phone numbers from some of my contacts. I can set it to "silent" mode during class. And... well, that's about all I do with it.

But that's going to change soon.

I'm thinking hard about getting a smartphone. My current cell carrier is being acquired (locally) by AT&T, which means that iPhones are finally an option in Durango. But Verizon also has good service here, which means that the various Android phones are also possibilities. I'm going to upgrade to one or the other, but I'm not sure which. I've talked to my local salespeople, but I'm not sure they quite understand what I want from a phone. In my ideal world, I would get a phone that would allow me to do the following on the road from Durango to Albuquerque or Denver: find my location from GPS, plot it on a map, look up the geology on a geologic map, figure out the direction to a mountain peak in the distance, take a picture of an interesting outcrop, and show it to the world on Twitter. (In my dream world, I would be able to do this while driving through the Navajo reservation, but I don't think any carrier has decent service through much of it.)

So, Internet: what's your experience with smartphones? I'm interested in hearing what you like and don't like about your current phone (especially the iPhone, Droid X, and Samsung Fascinate, though if you love another Android phone, I'd like to hear about it, too.) I'm also hearing about what apps you like as a geologist (or as a non-geologist who knows the kinds of things that I like).

(I know that Android vs iPhone can be a near-religious preference, so I guess I should also say that I'm agnostic. I like Apple products (I've got a Mac at home and I love the iPod Nano I won from my local NPR station), I like Google (Google Earth, the search engine, gmail, blogger...), and I use a PC at work. I could work with any of the operating systems.)

Edit: Given that the first comment gets into the Apple vs Android preference immediately, here's some more ground rules: I want to know what YOU like about YOUR phone. If you're an Android fan, don't tell me what's wrong with the iPhone; if you like iPhones, don't tell me what's wrong with Android. I've kept one comment, but will not publish any others that bash the other operating system.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why pseudonymity matters

A while back, someone on Twitter shared a link to an article in an Anthopology blog that mused about the reasons why people are more comfortable sharing personal information on line than they are in person. But as I read the article, I saw something else: one of the reasons why many women choose to use pseudonyms online.

The blogger witnessed a conversation on a subway that went like this (full version here):

Him: I haven’t seen you in awhile!
Her: Yeah …
Him: So are you going to Penn?
Her: No.
Him: You don’t live out east?
Her: No. I live here, in Manhattan.
Him: Oh, I live on Long Island. If I didn’t have kids …
Her: Yeah, it’s expensive.
Him: Well, yeah. But also the schools. I would have to pay for the type of education my kids get on Long Island.
Her: [Nods politely. Casts sidelong glance at me.]
Him: Are you married.
Her: No.

Just reading the conversation made my skin crawl and set off every one of my warning alarms about creepy guys. Ick. ICK.

The anthropology blog muses that people are willing to share much more personal information online because they feel as if they have a degree of distance that they don't have on a subway. There's this implication that sharing information online is just as dangerous as talking to a creepy guy on a subway, but that people don't realize just how dangerous it is.

But... sharing can be valuable as well as dangerous.

Living in a world where one can't share personal stories - a kid's lost tooth, a failed experiment, a glorious day in the field - is isolating. It's even more isolating when those personal stories involve undercurrents of discrimination - like being mistaken for an administrative assistant. Blogs (and other communication across distance) can reduce the sense of isolation for women geoscientists - that's one of the findings from the survey that Anne Jefferson, Pat Campbell, Suzanne Francks, and I did last summer (now online here). Blogs do seem to help.

But sharing that personal information can come at a cost if you attach your real-life name to it. Creepy stalkers may be rare, but if your real name is attached to your stories, you can be found. And, although it may help job-seekers to be Googleable, it's also important that job-seekers come across as someone who would fit into a job. Expressing fear that you aren't good enough at research is not a good way to sell yourself to an R1 university, and sharing frustration with teaching sexist students does not make you look like an excellent teacher. The very things that make women-in-science blogs valuable could threaten the careers of the bloggers, if the bloggers didn't use pseudonyms.

We didn't talk about pseudonyms in our GSA Today article. But I've got a feeling that pseudonymity is what makes the benefits discussed in our article possible.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Job opportunity: director of STEM student support services

Hello world, and sorry for the blog silence. I'm still not back to regular posting, but I would like some help spreading the word about a job opportunity here at Fort Lewis College. We recently received a grant from the Department of Education, to provide support for science/technology/engineering/math students who are low-income, first-generation, or have disabilities. We have a similar program (the Program for Academic Advancement) for students college-wide, but this new program will support math, science, and engineering students. I'm excited about this program - our PAA program does a fantastic job helping students finish their degrees and move on to graduate school or the workforce, and I'm looking forward to working with the STEM3 program.

If you have a blog that deals with diversity in science, could you tell your readers about this job opportunity?

Here's the official job announcement (also online here: ):

STEM3 Student Support Services Program
Fort Lewis College
Durango, Colorado

Fort Lewis College invites applications for the Director of its new STEM3 Student Support Services Program (a federally funded TRiO program). The position is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education that requires application for renewal every five years. The Director is responsible for organizing and managing support services for 120 academically and/or economically disadvantaged college students. Services include tutoring and academic, career, financial aid, and graduate school advising for eligible students in the STEM disciplines. STEM disciplines include the Sciences (Agriculture, Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, Exercise Science, Geology, Geoscience, Physics, and Psychology), Technology (Computer Science Information Systems), Engineering, and Mathematics. The Director will also be responsible for approving expenditures, maintaining budget control and responsibility for the appropriate use of grant funds; facilitating and overseeing development and implementation of effective, objective project evaluation; maintaining data collection and a program database for monitoring and tracking of participant progress and outcomes; working closely with the Dean of the School of Natural and Behavioral Sciences and the FLC STEM faculty to ensure program delivery will meet STEM student needs; overseeing preparation of fiscal and technical reports for the U.S. Dept. of Education and Fort Lewis College; managing and supervising program personnel; providing intrusive academic advising and monitoring, and financial aid advising to a small caseload of participants; attending STEM Department Chair meetings; and serving on relevant college committees.

Minimum qualifications are as follows:

• Masters Degree in Social Sciences, Education, Educational Administration, Student Personnel Administration, Counseling, or related field and a BS / BA in a STEM discipline (see above)
• At least four years experience working with disadvantaged students (low-income, first generation, students with disabilities) in higher education
• At least two years experience designing comprehensive programs that include courses, activities, workshops, tutoring or supplemental instruction, student monitoring, or other services that promote retention of SSS eligible STEM students at the postsecondary level
• At least two years experience implementing procedures for delivery of services, data collection, program evaluation or similar procedures that enhance program effectiveness and promote student retention in SSS or similar programs at the postsecondary level
• At least three years of administrative and supervisory experience that includes budget oversight and management.

Preferred qualifications include:

• Experience as a disadvantaged (first-generation, low-income, or disabled) college student
• Experience working with a TRiO program or other program with a similar mission
• Ability to provide ad-hoc tutoring support, especially in mathematics
• Successful grant writing and grant management experience.

This position is a full-time, 12 month position. Candidates must be willing to work flexible hours including evenings and weekends. Some travel is required to statewide, regional, and/or national meetings. Salary is $42,000 with full range of benefits. The position is anticipated to begin in November 2010. Individuals with experience as a disadvantaged individual or assisting disadvantaged students are encouraged to apply.

Interested and qualified applicants must submit: 1) a letter of interest detailing experience that meets the minimum and preferred qualifications, 2) a current resume, and 3) the names, addresses, email addresses, and telephone numbers of three professional references electronically to:

Deadline: Complete applications must be received no later than 5:00 pm on Monday, October 18, 2010 to receive consideration.

Fort Lewis College does not discriminate on the basis of race, age, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, political beliefs, or veteran status. Accordingly, equal opportunity for employment, admission, and education shall be extended to all persons. The College shall promote equal opportunity, equal treatment, and affirmative action efforts to increase the diversity of students, faculty, and staff. People from under-represented groups are encouraged to apply.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Blog status: I'm here and I'm elsewhere

After the ruckus over at Scienceblogs recently, I've had some questions about the status of my blog. So here's a late official announcement: I left Scienceblogs permanently last winter. I've been busy lately, and things aren't likely to slow down any time soon, but if I have time and inspiration to continue blogging, I will do it here.

However, I'm also contributing to my department's new blog: FLC Geo News. The new blog will include news about happenings in the Four Corners area (Four Corners Geologic Society, Four Corners Gem & Mineral Club, talks at Fort Lewis College), active geoscience in the Durango area (debris flow videos, Animas River floods and low water, snowfall, avalanches), and stories from the department. I won't be duplicating anything here, so if you visit Durango for field camp (or for work or play) and read this blog for news, you might want to follow the department blog instead.

Why are we making this move? For the past nine years or so, the department has been sending a newsletter to alums and friends of the department. The newsletter started as a collaborative writing exercise for our junior writing class, but it's become important to the department beyond any educational benefit. The writing class is changing to a research methods class (because the college now requires two writing classes that are guaranteed to transfer, and we didn't want to change our class to fit the state's requirements), and that meant that the newsletter assignment no longer fit into any of our classes. At the same time, one of the college's web designers suggested that we add a blog to our department web page. So we decided that we would partly replace our newsletter with a blog.

The plan is, initially, to use the blog to post stories similar to what we've put in the newsletter. That means snow reports, news about student/faculty research projects, and lots of stories about field trips (including field camp). One of the advantages of a blog is that we'll be able to share pictures in color. Another is that we'll be able to share news quickly, and let friends and alums know when faculty and students are coming to their town for a conference. (And yes, we'll be able to give snow reports before everything melts.) We're planning to use the blog posts as the basis for a paper newsletter, for people who avoid the internet. (They exist. No, really, they do.)

I'm hoping that we'll also be able to use the department blog the way the Wooster geology department uses theirs. Their senior geology majors have to do an Independent Study for graduation, and this summer, the students are telling stories and sharing pictures from their field work. The stories are great, and I think it's good practice for the students to tell stories to non-specialists. (We're going to have students give their articles to faculty members to post, too, just like the Wooster department is doing.) We require senior thesis projects, too, and our students also have stories to tell. The blog will allow them to do it (and do it before their papers and presentations are due at the end of the year).

I'm the only one who has posted anything so far. If you want to see pictures from field camp's week backpacking near treeline, come check us out.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ghosts under pressure

Callan has a great (and evocatively titled) post about "crystal ghosts" - metamorphic minerals that have been replaced by something else. Callan's examples are, like most of the ones that I've seen, "retrograde metamorphism" - replacement of one mineral as it cools. Textures like these form because we live on Earth's surface, and it's colder here than where metamorphism happens. In fact, we only see metamorphic minerals because it's hard for those retrograde reactions to happen - you've got to add water to get many of the minerals that form at lower temperatures.

But my favorite metamorphic ghost tells a different story:

This is a microscopic image, rather than a field photo - it's of a thin slice of rock with light passing through it. And it contains the same minerals that Callan discussed: kyanite, sillimanite, and andalusite. Three minerals with exactly the same formula, formed under different combinations of temperature and pressure.

Except they're all here in the same rock:

If all these minerals had formed at the same time, we would know the exact temperature and pressure at which they formed. But, as with most places where all three of these minerals are formed together, they probably didn't form at once. In this case, it looks like the kyanite replaced the andalusite. (In another sample from the same outcrop, kyanite fills the entire andalusite-like square.)

And that's really cool, partly because it's a texture that you don't see very often, and partly because it means that this rock got really hot first, and then was buried. (Andalusite forms at high temperature and low pressure; kyanite forms at higher pressure.)

And it fits with the story that my students and I had been working out before we found this rock: that a granitic magma worked its way up a fault zone while the fault was active, first heating the rock and then burying it.

Ghosts can tell fantastic stories, if you listen to them.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

How big was that EQ? Magnitude vs intensity in Chile and Haiti

My intro class is covering earthquake size on Monday. I talked to them about the Haiti earthquake at the beginning of the semester, and now an even larger earthquake has struck the subduction zone off the west coast of Chile. I put together a bunch of powerpoint slides for my class using some images shared by geobloggers, journalist-bloggers, and the USGS. And although I'm currently on blogging hiatus, I decided to share them with the world, in case anyone else could use them.

There are two different ways to talk about the size of earthquakes: magnitude and intensity. If you listen to news reports about disasters, you've heard of earthquake magnitude. You may not have heard of intensity, but if you've experienced an earthquake, the Mercalli intensity scale should sound very familiar to you. The two ways to talk about size are complementary - they describe different things. Both are important, but in different ways.

An earthquake's magnitude is related to the amount of energy released by an earthquake. The Richter scale, which isn't actually what's used any more, is a kind of magnitude scale. Richter's scale used the amplitude of shaking on a seismograph to estimate the size of an earthquake - the bigger the squiggle, the bigger the quake. (The moment magnitude scale used today includes other information that gives a more complete picture of the energy released by the earthquake. That information is especially important for understanding large earthquakes, like the one that just occurred in Chile.)

All earthquake magnitude scales are logarithmic: a magnitude 8 earthquake is an order of magnitude larger than a magnitude 7 earthquake. To illustrate this concept for my class, I borrowed the seismograms recorded by Ian Stimpson and shared on his blog (Chile and Haiti), re-scaled the Haiti seismogram, and put the two seismograms on the same powerpoint slide:

The maximum amplitude of shaking at the Chile earthquake is around 35 times greater than that of the Haiti earthquake. The difference in energy is even more extreme - the Chile earthquake released something like 500 times the energy released by the Haiti earthquake. One of the reasons for that can be seen in the two seismograms: the Chile earthquake shook for longer than the Haiti earthquake. The Chile earthquake also broke over a larger area (around ten times larger). Edit: as Ian Stimpson pointed out on Twitter, there's another reason why the energy difference is even larger. His seismograph saturated for the Chile earthquake - at some point, the seismograph can't record increases in the amount of shaking. (That's one reason that moment magnitude is used for large earthquakes - and it's one reason why initial reports stated that the Chile EQ was M 8.3, not M 8.8.)

We won't know how much damage has happened in Chile for some time. It's likely to be significant, but not 500 times worse than Haiti (and the Haiti earthquake has probably killed more people). Those differences are partly due to differences in the buildings, but they are also reflected by the second way of looking at the size of an earthquake: seismic intensity.

The intensity of an earthquake describes its effect on the Earth's surface (including its effect on people and the things they build). Intensity is measured on a descriptive scale called the Modified Mercalli Intensity scale. The Mercalli intensity scale includes descriptions like:

I. Not felt except by a very few under especially favorable conditions.


XII. Damage total. Lines of sight and level are distorted. Objects thrown into the air.

In between, it describes earthquakes that wake up people who are sleeping (intensity V), move heavy furniture (intensity VI), and cause chimneys to fall over (intensity VIII). Intensity is related to the energy released by the earthquake, but it's also related to distance from the fault that slipped, to the way that the fault broke during the earthquake, and to rock and soil conditions that can increase shaking.

And those differences mean that Port-au-Prince was hit really hard - probably harder than any place in Chile.

Although reports of damage are just coming in, the USGS has maps that estimate the amount of shaking in the Chile earthquake:

Image source: USGS ShakeMap for Chile EQ

A huge area was affected by shaking of Mercalli intensity of VII or VIII - strong enough to destroy some buildings, but to leave many standing (especially if they were designed to withstand earthquakes).

Contrast the Chile map with that of Haiti:

Image source: USGS ShakeMap for Haiti EQ

The Haiti earthquake shook a small area very intensely. Unfortunately, that area included the city of Port-au-Prince - a city with a dense population and buildings that are not built to withstand earthquakes. The results were devastating.

Other sources of information for classes:

IRIS's teachable moments collection
Terremoto Chile, a blog (in Spanish) about the Chile earthquake