Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cold Aire II

Here's another test - in which I manage to break my insulated mug:

Cold Aire Duex from Matt Kuchta on Vimeo.

I tried adding food coloring - interesting effect with the water, but as it changes into steam, it no longer retains the green color and is just white. Not a "flaw," but a "feature" that will have to be accounted for in the future.

Monday, December 13, 2010


It was cold enough this morning (ca. -10°F) to do this:

Cold-Air and Boiled Water from Matt Kuchta on Vimeo.

I'll have to figure out how to "kick this up a notch." Perhaps some kind of trebuchet or something...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A wee bit o' snow

We got a little more than 18" from the snowstorm that blew through. Hope everyone trying to get to AGU can find a way around the mess and have fun in San Fran...

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Geomorphically "Correct" Art, Part One

Among my various side-projects, I've been drafting a map for my friend and awesome author, Kelly McCullough. He's working on a new series, set in a far-away land (TM). One of the challenges for the map was a forested area, surrounded by rivers. There was also a mountain jutting out from the middle of the forest. Adding to the complexity, the region is bound by mountain ranges. The trick was to combine these features into a visual representation that looked good, but also didn't obviously break any "rules" regarding how landscapes evolve and relate to each other:

At some point, once the first book is published, I'll revisit more of the features, including how I managed to fit country and city names into these features, without making any one piece too hard to read.

This post was inspired by Riparian Rap's "Geomorphically Incorrect Art" series. I've always looked at fantasy maps as serving two masters. First, it needs to supply the necessary elements that enhance the storyline. Second, it has to contain sufficient realism so as not to destroy the readers' suspension of disbelief. If the map looks like it depicts a real place, the story benefits. If the map looks like it was thrown together by someone who wasn't there, the story suffers. The maps in J.R.R. Tolkien's books are examples of the former - even though they aren't always geomorphically plausible, they have a sense of place and history that serves the tale.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The role of "Geofabrics"

I ran a demonstration in my soil mechanics class today, showing the role of "geofabrics" in Mechanically Stabilized Backfill (MSB) retaining walls. The basic premise is that the soil particles behind a retaining wall are trying to slide past each other and move downhill. This sliding motion (called shearing) is how soils typically fail - soils are weakest in shear. If we can increase the shear strength of soils, we can greatly enhance their overall strength. By adding "geofabrics," which are often woven or extruded plastic grids, the soils transfer the shearing to these sheets.

I started by packing layers of plastic BBs between pieces of damp paper towels. The BBs will try to roll & slide past one another - but this motion (shear) is opposed by friction with the paper towels. Result: the BBs don't move. When I flipped over the stack of BBs/Paper Towels, the stack of BBs stayed put. Some BBs near the sides fell out, but most of them remained - prevented from sliding past each other by the paper towels.

The first attempt didn't work well. But by packing them more evenly and lifting the container slowly, I was able to keep the pile of towels/BBs stable:

It's surprisingly strong: it was able to support the weight of several large textbooks:

Thursday, December 02, 2010

AW #29

AW #29 is up over at Ann's Musings. Check it out. I like her use of landforms as a way of organizing topics. Thanks Ann!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Creationist Theme Park?

So, it appears the wacky entrepreneurs over at Answers in Genesis are planning on building a theme park next to their albatross "museum."

Check out the fancy press kit and video of the Governor of "Bedrock" (nee "Kentucky") over at Barefoot & Progressive.

There will be a full size* replica of Noah's Ark, a Tower of Babel, but no roller-coasters.

So, do you know why there won't be any roller-coasters at the Creationist Theme Park?

Because Gravity is "Only a Theory."

*full-size varies greatly depending on how you define "cubit." Among other variables...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Home is...

...where you hang your hat. Or your towel. Or something

This month's Accretionary Wedge (hosted by Ann's Musings) is about your "home." What do you like - what's not so great. I put together a little GIS map showing the regional topography to give you an idea of the lay of the land. The area is dominated by bedrock-controlled ridges with Quaternary alluvium filling in the valley lowlands.

I like the challenges of piecing together the little bits of information that tell me about the evolution of this landscape. I also like that there are many scenic little rivers that are near my house.

I do wish we had some big mountains nearby...

...but I guess that's why we go on field trips.

I've blogged about western Wisconsin before:
Braided Streams of Yore
Driftless Area Origins Part One, Part Two
Fractal Landscapes

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Lessons to be learned...

So, we had an election yesterday. It seems that my opinions differed greatly from the majority of everyone else who showed up to the polls. I guess there are lessons to be learned somewhere. Especially lessons related to marketing, message, and what people perceive as risk, versus actual risks.

I'm still finding my way through some stage of the grieving process. There is work to be done. There will be more work on my end than there could have been if the election had turned out otherwise. At least we didn't elect them for life...

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


I was going to try and post this Sunday, but I ran out of time. I'm having one of my classes measure some tombstones for their lab activity. They'll collect data on the width of marble tombstones a measurement at the top, and one at the bottom. Then they'll plot the change in thickness versus the date on the grave.

This is a pretty easy and fun activity - it's got some good pedagogy, too. It forces the students to actively participate in the learning activity, students have an opportunity to collect, graph, and analyze data. It also has connections with interesting and current research in the weathering rates of various materials.

I'm having the students use rulers, rather than calipers - I feel like the risk of damaging the grave markers is too high with students using a couple dozen steel calipers. I may try to get some inexpensive plastic-jawed calipers in the future. As a test, I gathered a few measurements from a nearby cemetery to see if students would be able to get usable data. Most of the thickness variation was more than 1mm, so they should get precise enough measurements to see a general trend. At the end of the week, we'll collate all the measurements and then the students will analyze and plot the class data - turning in a lab report next week.

My quick data collection produced a weathering rate estimate of about 0.03 mm/yr, which is fairly slow, compared to some other locations. But my data set is pretty small - and I suspect a few of these gravestones were "resurfaced" in some way.

A few links:

I based my lab activity off of the SERC's weathering rate activity write up:

GSA is sponsoring a research/outreach program about gravestone weathering, too - some cool and time-appropriate citizen science:

Monday, November 01, 2010

WIsh I was there...

Many geo types are fully involved with GSA again this year. Alas, I am unable to attend. But I plan on being in the Twin Cities for next year's convention. If I'm lucky, I'll have a student or two with a poster as well.

For now, enjoy the Accretionary Wedge and wave to the giant bear in the convention center. Last time GSA was in Denver, I caught pneumonia and spent my entire poster session sitting down, wheezing. Oh, and I lost my fleece. So I hope your Denver GSA is better now than mine was.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Accretionary Wedge #28: Halloweeny DeskCrops

Trick or Treat

It's time for another Accretionary Wedge. This month's theme is "Deskcrops," which I had intended to use as a showcase for the weird and wacky stuff that we geologists accumulate over the years. I've seen departmental collections where the strangest things were in there. "Pebbles and Mortar" from Hadrian's Wall; flesh, bone, and adiposere (fat) from a dead rhino; 1 mL of Deuterium (heavy water); and many more strange and beautiful things.

Seeing that it's Halloween (and also my Birthday), I thought it might be neat to go Trick-Or-Treating in the geobloggers to see what I get. When I was a kid, I would split my loot into different piles. From stuff I liked, to things, like "Bit-O-Honey" that weren't really very good. Fortunately for me, all the stuff I got was great - and roughly fits into categories related to the rock cycle.

This was my costume:

I'm going to give pride of place to my contribution: a few chunks of Trinitite: the glass made out of fused sand and rock and bits of equipment (casing, wire, etc) that formed in the explosion from the first atomic bomb.

It doesn't look like much - just some greenish, glassy stuff - several vesicles, and "blobs" of melted, spherical droplets. It has a little radioactivity above background. But I did notice some interesting bits. It does have parts that fluoresce in long and short-wave UV light:

There are a few flecks of orangy things. The chunk of rock they're sitting on is also showing off some nice fluorescence. I blogged about this chunk last week.

It's under short-wave UV that the Trinitite really shines (pun intended):

I don't know what's causing the red, orange, yellow, and white colors. It's probably a fascinating melange of stuff incorporated into, altered, or formed during the explosion.

So, let's see what else I got...

Igneous Rocks

First off, we'll go with igneous rocks. These are rocks formed by the "freezing" of molten rock. These rocks may form deep below the surface as an "intrusive," or erupted onto the surface as an "extrusive" rock (often in a dramatic volcanic eruption).

Philip at Geology Blues provided some "Lavasicles." And tells a tale of finding neat rocks hiding within an existing collection. No need to traipse around the world, just capitalize on what's at hand. Kind of like MacGyver...

Jess at Magma Cum Laude (she's probably still unpacking at her new blog-home) tricks us with an interesting scorch pattern on some pumice from the Sufriere Hills.

Garry, the Geotripper, shows off some lovely peridotite xenoliths. And provides a keen quote to boot!

Ian from Hypo-theses, continues to blog about a rock each day. Quite a challenge. You know the post is going to be interesting when the exposition begins with a story about sitting around a bedouin campfire on the edge of the Sahara. We're treated to many photos of some kind of long-named, Norwegian pegmatite. Check out those phenocrysts!

Lockwood's blog, Outside the Interzone, gave us a neat hunk of pillow basalt. It includes the classic field photo (hammer for scale) to show its provenance. Also, not the only blog to photograph the rock with a cat for scale - there might be a theme here...

Sedimentary Rocks

Sedimentary rocks are either "clastic," which are made of broken fragments of pre-existing material compacted, cemented, and turned to stone. Or, they are "non-clastic" - I've never been a fan of classifying something by what it's not - so I prefer the term "chemical" for the other group of sedimentary rocks that are formed by precipitation out of solution.

Anne, over at Highly Allocthonous shows off some nifty cubes of rock she uses to teach about porosity and permeability. Incidentally, my house lies about 20 feet above the Eau Claire Formation in the stratigraphic sense. There's a slice of the Wonewoc and some unlithified sand/gravel outwash between us, but some of my drinking water comes from this aquifer. Many of our local springs form as a result of the interbedded shales that form local aquicludes (even perched water tables in the hills nearby).

Silver Fox, who is still Looking for Detachment, shows off a very Halloween-y hunk of dolomite breccia that looks like a Jack-O-Lantern. These kinds of rocks show that the distinction of "clastic" or "chemical" are not always useful. The big pieces of gray dolomite are clasts, but the whole thing is made of and cemented by the precipitation of minerals from solution.

Having been properly tricked, David at History of Geology provenance, shows off some lovely fossils from the eponymous "Dolomites." Incidentally, carbonate rocks are relatively susceptible to chemical weathering, but often resistant to physical weathering - especially in arid regions where they slowly weather into sharp little points and edges, that give rise to the term "tear-pants" topography. Those of you who have sat on these rocks have probably noticed how quickly this texture can slice open clothing, boots, and hands.

Metamorphic Rocks

A metamorphic rock is what happens to rock subjected to increased heat and/or pressures. These produce new textures and minerals as the rock deforms in response to these changes.

The Musings of a Life-long Scholar shows off a "deskcrop" that doesn't take up much space - a backscatter electron image of a monzonite grain. Photographs often contain a lot of data, and they take up much less space than the actual material.

Dana Hunter over at En Tequila Es Verdad, provides a few images. The first is a Schist, followed by a meteorite, and then the "peacock" ore, bornite. Also with cat-for-scale photograph.


Then there were some treats that didn't fit into a nice category. Like the multi-treat packs, they had a little bit of everything, or their post had some other geologically related theme.

Callan Bently and his Mountain Beltway, also unpacking into a shiny new home, shows off a bunch of samples. Does a vodcast count for a blog carnival? Seems kind of "fancy" for this show since everything else looks monodimensional by comparison. Kind of like being the following act after the talking pig at the county fair.

Helena Heliotrope from Liberty, Equality, and Geology shows off a spikey dogtooth spar and a hunk of orpiment. Orpiment is a pretty (if toxic) mineral with a chemical formula that's easy to remember As2S3. Just omit the subscripts. This works even better for Realgar.

Julia over at Stages of Succession shows off some "Labcrops" of biological specimens, including multicolored mammalian crania, critters in jars, and a few colorful remarks. I'm rather partial to the red maxillae and yellow frontals on the skulls.

John - from Karmasotra - shows off some clamshells. I believe they're all Mercenaria sp., showing various growth and bioerosion development stages. Plus a creepy comment about preserving beauty through death. What was that quote about "leaving a beautiful corpse..."?

Finally, one more trick: Ron Schott's Geology Home Companion, blogfather to many, and inspriation for this theme said he was working on a post. I'll link to it when it appears.

The "tricked" blogs are all there, you just have to figure out how to see them... (hint: try selecting text).

I think I've gotten everyone - please alert me to any errors or omissions.

UPDATE: Ann,who muses on geology and other things, has a post. It got lost in the shuffle and I wasn't able to find a link to the post until today. She writes a few musings about a piece of amber. As you may know, amber is the fossilized sap of trees. It has the interesting property of being slightly less dense than salt water, so sometimes chunks of amber erode out of the rock where they are preserved and wash up somewhere down the shore.

UPDATE 2: Jazzinator (aka Dino Jim) has a post to add. It includes a nice spooky story of a scary mineral. No trick, I guess. I figure being at the bottom of the post is tricksy enough...

What was I thinking?!?

I thought the grant was due in two weeks... I thought the grading wouldn't be as backed-up as it is... I didn't think you'd send me so man awesome posts... and it's my birthday today, too.

They're all reasons - not results (as my wife's graduate adviser would say). So I'm probably not going to be finished with the Accretionary Wedge until this evening.

For now, check out my costume from yesterday's party:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Look what came in the mail

Steve and Lily over at LRRD sent me a treat:

Thanks! It looks great :)

Reminder: Accretionary Wedge!

Call for Posts!

Just a reminder - the October "Accretionary Wedge" is being hosted here at RAASP. We may be small, but we've cleared a whole blog entry just for this.

You can leave a comment on this thread, the original post on this blog, or the Accretionary Wedge site.

If you don't have a blog, but still want to participate - send an email to me (find it via the profile page). Include your name, a brief description, plus a photo (keep the file size reasonable, please). I'll add it to the mix.

Here's a preview:

Many geologists have access to a rock saw now and then. The desire to cut rocks into useful/interesting shapes can have quite a pull. I have no idea where the rock came from (save for the UW Geology Museum Giftshop, or exactly what it is - it's mass is 776.9 g. An estimate for volume put it at 283.1 cm3, which gives a specific gravity of about 2.74. It scratches glass, but not quartz.

I think it has some quartz mixed in, but I'm not sure about the green stuff. It kind of matches some of the descriptions of Scapolite group minerals, but the color seems a little weird a few flecks do fluoresce a pale yellow-white. It's got a generally metamorphic vibe/fabric, which is probably why it's causing me trouble. And yes, "vibe" should be a diagnostic category for rocks and minerals - we can put that into the next edition of Hurlbut & Klein.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

More fun with LN2

More things to do with Liquid Nitrogen. Particularly if you ordered a whole bunch for some volcanic eruptions and didn't use it all up...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Email "Upgrade"

Today they "upgraded" our faculty email service. Which is an "upgrade" in the sense that the online storage space has exceeded 109 bytes. We were limited to 18MB before - a serious limitation nowadays, what with photos, video and all that. Heck, even text files and spreadsheets cut heavily into that space.

But, it's also "upgraded" in the sense that half of the faculty can't connect to things yet, it uses an unnecessarily complex web interface, and the functionality of all items uses a new idiom.

I'm going back to my Apple Mail program - at least I know how it works and where all my stuff is...

Oh, and check this out. Because we could all use some perspective on a Monday morning.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Happy Earth Science Week!

I did a test run of an eruption simulation I have planned for later in the week. It worked out pretty good. I threw a little video together to let you see what's going on. I'll have a more detailed post probably this weekend.

Volcano Simulation Test 0.3 from Matt Kuchta on Vimeo.

Happy Fossil Day!!!

It's the first National Fossil Day!

The National Park Service is sponsoring the first annual National Fossil Day. I guess there are lots of activities planned. They even have a song. Go hug your trilobites, graptolites, and belemnites!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

DSLR Pinhole Newz

My "Pinhole Camera" post seems to be one of the more popular items on this blog. This morning, I tried something a little different. I placed a sheet of aluminum foil over a C-mount adapter, then poked a tiny hole in the middle of the foil. This turned the camera into a (rather expensive) pinhole camera. No lens required! Here's my old 10D with the setup:

After a little trial and error, I found that an exposure of about 13 seconds at ISO 800 produced a reasonable exposure.

You can see that the super-tiny aperture allowed for all the dust particles on the sensor to show up as dark gray blobs. It's been a while since I've cleaned the sensor (it's an old model that doesn't come with the auto-cleaning option). Also, the image is a little soft - if I had made the hole a little smaller, more round, and sanded the edges smooth it would have come out much sharper. But as a proof of concept, it worked wonderfully.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Reading the Landscape

I came across a brief article on with some pictures of Mars. The article describes the deepest valley in the solar system: the Melas Chasma on Mars. At some 5.6 miles, it's quite a bit deeper than anything we see here on Earth.

The 3D rendered image they showed (high-res image linked here), showed some landforms that looked remarkably similar to unconfined, subaqueous debris flows that we can see here on earth. Basically, a turbidity current - which is a gravity-driven cloud of debris and fluid (some good videos of modeled versions here). One of the remarkable things about the Mars image is how clearly the leading "toe" of these debris flows stands out (arrows point to several of them - along with a nicely developed fault scarp and hummocky block of wasting cliffside).

I'm not sure how the mechanics of these things work on mars, but without a thick atmosphere to help "cushion" the flow and allow it to travel long distances, I wonder if it's Mars' reduced gravity that helps these things travel so far.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Summer Rains

This has been a very wet summer for western Wisconsin. I was down in one of the local creeks, and noticed that there were many new bedforms in the sand on the creekbed. I saw that the sand bars at the mouth of the river were about ten inches above the water in the creek.

Our heavy summer rain helped dump a whole heap of sand into this little tributary stream. It flowed down to the big river, which was also swollen with extra rain. So the "base level" of the stream was higher during the summer. Now that the extra water has flowed away, the river level - and thus stream level - is lower. The "base level" of this little tributary stream has dropped. And as such, it will tend to carry sediment away towards base level. Ultimately, all rivers' "base level" ends at the sea. Although even this is a little misleading, since there are huge undersea canyons that act as weird fluvial systems in their own right. Check out Clastic Detritus sometime, as he often talks about submarine canyons.

I just think I'll share some photos I took while I was there. Consider it a study of the intersection between the landscape, fluvial geomorphology, and art...

And a self-portrait:

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Ahoy! Full speed ahead?

So, the semester is in full swing here at our fair University. I feel like I'm messing with the throttle because there are so many things I could be working on. Instead, I'm pausing between lectures to write a little blog update. I guess you could say the helm looks like this:

Time to get this ship moving forward again...

Monday, October 04, 2010

Non-arthropod invertebrates?

I'm working on a grant proposal right now. The wording on the application calls for:
"...inventory efforts on select non-arthropod invertebrates..."

This got me thinking, what would a non-invertebrate arthropod look like?


Judging by the spike in my visitor counts, Brian Romans' post of my braided river image has gone up.

For those of you that are new, welcome. Feel free to poke around. In other news, here's a picture for your entertainment:

Those of us that study the variety of processes that occur at or near Earth's surface, we sometimes have to account for the fact that living organisms often call this thin veneer of fragmented rock, organic debris, air, and water home. As they go about their lives, they often churn up these layers of meticulously deposited material. When viewed from the perspective of a geologist, we call it "bioturbation." When viewed from the perspective of a groundskeeper, it's called a "varmint." Technically speaking, it was probably a ground squirrel or a mole, not a gopher 'round these parts.

"Well, here we are! Pismo Beach and all the clams we can eat!"

"Hey, wait a minute! Since when is Pismo Beach inside a cave?"

I arrived at school one Monday morning to find this lovely tunnel lying exposed in the newly graded front "yard" of our newly renovated science building. I took a few pictures - the whole plot was smoothed over and seeded by the grounds crew before I could find a toy Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck to place in the photo... must have been that left turn near Albuquerque.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The randiest of the gastropods is the limpet.

So, this is how mollusk biologists behave, eh?

I suspect that I've been kept out of the loop because I am a paleobiologist. Not to worry. I've got an icon for this situation:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Accretionary Wedge #27

So the Accretionary Wedge theme is "Important Geological Experience." I thought I'd post a picture from my first major geological field trip (in "deskcrop" format as per next month's AW).

It's a fault-polished piece of the Bighorn Dolomite. I collected it in March, 1996 as part of a spring break trip to Wyoming. It was one of the first times I realized that I could "do" field geology. And, most importantly, to look at the rocks. It was one of those moments where the instructors had just taken us through the stratigraphic section of central Wyoming, pausing at the preCambrian igneous/metamorphic rocks. Just a few yards away was this highway road cut through Ordovician dolomite.

One of the instructors put me on the spot, asking me to speculate on how one might get ordovician rock sitting next to preCambrian basement rock (skipping all those cambrian rocks in-between). The outcrop was nothing special - in fact, much of it was covered by talus and vegetation. But, being a minting geologist, I thought for a moment, then looked at the rocks by my feet. There was a chunk of beautifully polished dolomite. "A fault" I said, holding up the sample. I managed to earn "field-trip-brownie-points" not only by providing a reasonable answer, but also a piece of material evidence for my idea. Even today, if the geologic story in front of me does not seem to make sense, I make sure to look down at the rocks by my feet.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Call for Submissions for Accretionary Wedge #28!

UPDATE: AW#28 is Here.

Call for OKTOBIR AW28 posts: Deskcrop Trick-or-Treat

It's only September, but I'm going to get things started early for October's Accretionary Wedge.

The AW for Sep is going to be over at Outside the Interzone - so be sure to get something to Lockwood first. But to get you started thinking, I'm going to solicit posts for October. There are some great things going on during October. It's in this month that Archbishop Ussher tagged as the date of the creation of all our "stuff." Baseball playoffs and the World Series take place. Leif Erikson day is the 9th. Columbus day. Of course, it's also Halloween. Halloween is also my birthday.

October's theme is going to be "Desk-crops." This can be any rock or other geological* specimen that you have lying around your office/desk/lab that has a story to tell. The spookier the better. Photos and/or illustrations are very important (although not absolutely required). This is taken directly from Ron Schott's "deskrcop series" of his rocks and such - great examples of what I had in mind with the theme (but not the only way to skin this horse).

Submit your posts by Friday, October 29th. Late posts might get "tricked."

*in this case, "geological" applies to any "earth material" that either directly, or indirectly came from the earth. Lithified, or unlithified samples count. Artificial gems/minerals count, as do biological specimens that are directly or indirectly connected to an "earth science" message are also fine, heck a REE graph or spectrogram of some stuff is okay, too. But big, beautiful landscape photos of entire cliffs and bluff faces don't count -unless you have a mountain in your office. This might be okay if your office is on a cliff, I guess. Provenance photos alongside deskcrops are also good.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Continuing Thots on the Geoblogosphere

So things are getting underway here at RaaSP central. A new semester brings with it new students, new projects, and new responsibilities. I have been hired as an Assistant Professor at a State University for a tenure-track position teaching earth-sciencey type classes. There is no geology department (I'm it), so I'm stuck with a bunch of physics professors. This is not nearly as dire as it sounds. They're a great bunch of professionals who enjoy teaching as much as research - a good fit for my interests. My wife also works at the same school, so that's also important.

Being an assistant prof requires a whole new slate of obligations. That's also fine, since many of these obligations have me interacting with interesting people who are doing interesting things. It doesn't leave me as much "free" time as I would need to have a "SOOPER BLOG!1!" That's also fine, because I like my job, and I want to stick with it. But trying to associate myself with some of the bigger names and networks of the geoblogosphere might require too much of my attention. The best blogs have near-daily content. I am lucky to have one or two days in a week where I can put something thotful together. That is also fine, because there are many good blogs out there that talk about interesting things.

But there aren't many blogs that talk about all of the things that are interesting to me. There aren't that many blogs that parse information in a way that I would prefer, or with the detail I want. So I will be content in my role as one of these lesser blogs that tosses something into the ether on a somewhat less than regular basis.

I will also be increasing my presence on our University's web presence by placing research/teaching/outreach materials there. I will be continuing my original mission of geo/snail info on this blog and linking to my other "interesting stuff." I'm also removing some of the veil of anonymity that has been this blog's MO for the past five years. I figure that one important leg in a professor's tenure track is outreach, so there will be lots of reaching out. But more so as the voice of a professional and educator, as opposed to some mysterious 17th century mathematician cum programming-language slash unit-of-pressure.

Everything I plan on doing has one primary purpose: my tenure. To get there, I will use teh blog/internets as one arm of my outreach. But as a "professional" academic, there are a few cautions to maintain:

  • Professional Affiliations:
  • I do not, nor will I represent anything but my own personal take and opinions on this blog. It will in no way be meant to represent the positions or opinions of my Department or University. As such, I will probably have to avoid some issues related to academia, while focusing more attention on others.

  • Proprietary Information:
  • Some things that I really want to share with people may have to wait - some things may represent ongoing research that will be published later. Other things may be withheld due to grant funding (I can't very well tell you where to find endangered snails if some of the money that paid for my work came from the NHI). But there are also some ongoing research projects that I will make available as they happen. The mating snail behavior, for example. Blogging is a great way to share "what's new right now." Some of this work may be part of a student project - to keep things fair to the students doing the work, I'll describe active research projects in a way that allows for the students to contribute their thoughts.

  • Copyright:
  • As a result of integrating my employment, some "things" have slightly more complex copyright issues (see also "Proprietary Info"). My "work" done for this blog may have a few extra notes about how the material should be re-used. The Creative Commons has a good system that I will utilize whenever possible.

    I'm sure there are other things that I'll think of that can/will change. For now, this site will provide a link to my University page and professional information. Other things probably don't require any kind of formal description. But, being the web, I'll probably write about some of it - it's somehow satisfying seeing one's thoughts in "print."

My Faculty Page.

My Department.

My University.

Close Up View of Neohelix mating

Aydin had a request for something a little slower and closeup. I grabbed a series of 6 frames from one of the last "kisses," cropped it close, and turned it into a quick animation:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Snail Porn!

So I've been quiet on the blogging front. I'm retooling some of the web work that I've been doing in order to better fit with my ShinyNewJob [tm]. As such, some of the non-snail/geology content will be shifted to a new venue. There may be a new format for the snails, too at some point in the undefined future.

For now, I am providing a link to a video that I shot this past weekend. I had two adult Whitelip snails (Neohelix albolabris Say 1816) that were content to just explore their small plastic tank. It was a good life, as far as snails go. Occasional lettuce (they preferred romaine to iceberg or green leaf), carrots (they did not like the bagged "baby carrots"), and periodic munching of their paper towel substrate (they preferred the paper towel over the baby carrots). But it took about two months for romance to take hold, and for the first time, I got to watch them engaged in some mating behaviors.

Snail Love from Matt Kuchta on Vimeo.

I'm not sure if this embedded video is working properly - let me know if it works for you or not.

I set up a camera to take pictures every 30 seconds. I stacked the resulting 186 photos into a video file and have uploaded it to Vimeo (more snail/geo videos should be coming as I can produce them). Doing the math, that compresses about 93 minutes into a 16 second clip (about 300x speed). You can see them "exchange" genetic information several times throughout the interaction. I can't tell if one snail is exclusively "giving" and the other is receiving. This interaction continued from at least 8 in the morning until well after noon this past sunday. (Sting ain't got nothin' on these critters). I haven't seen any eggs laid yet, but I'll check back soon. I may add some "soil" to provide some better cover for the potential eggs.

Update: if the embedded video isn't working you can try the direct link: here.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Some additional Snail Blogs

I stumbled upon a couple of newish snail blogs this past week:

Snails Rock
Some pictures and images of land snails in Kentucky.

Portagee Joe's snail blog
Pictures and images of land snails in Kansas.

Both blogs have some nice pictures of land snails and their surroundings. A more thorough summary and blog round-up of snaily things is probably due soon.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Accretionary Wedge #26 is out

And it talks about the role(s) of the geobloggers. Some interesting ideas. I will have to mull things over and revisit these ideas, but our new lab space will be opening up in a few days, and I have to move into it. And our offices will be ready a week later. So we'll see what happens.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A very big snail

One of the products of the summer's fieldwork; the large polygirid, Neohelix albolabris

This individual was found with a number of cohorts at a fascinating site with lots of snail species, including a particularly exciting discovery that I'll have to remain coy about for now...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Shootin' Pool

There's an old adage in Billiards - you're not making this shot. You're making this shot to set yourself up for the next shot. If everything goes right, you leave yourself well-situated for each successive play, and run the table...

This applies to blogging in that where I want this blog to be next is somewhat unclear. I want to spend time on geology and snails (they are the blog's namesake after all). But there's so much more to heaven and earth than are dreamt of in this one blog (click on my profile and look at the other two blogs I've spec'ed out for an example).

Then there's this whole job-thing that I've got. I have some new obligations with that. But our digital campus is a good fit for the interwebs for the most part. We even have a professor in the English department who incorporates twitter into her class. So I've got some things to think about. I'll be interested to read this month's Accretionary Wedge.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Whither Geoblogs?

This month's Accretionary Wedge goes a little something like this:

Taking the liberty of paraphrasing, I interpret this to be asking what role the geoblogosphere should play going forward. Should it have a role in disseminating research? Should geoblogging be factored into academic- or business- employees’ evaluations? Can, and how should, the expertise and enthusiasm of geobloggers be harnessed to effectively reach and educate the broader public? In short (again, as I interpret the issue), what do you see as the purpose of geoblogging and the geoblogosphere?

I wonder if this was inspired, at least in part, by "PesiCoGeddon" over at ScienceBlogs (Sb). You can get more on the geoblogs take at the former home of "Highly Allochthonous."

But it does seem as though the general zeitgeist in the geoblogsphere is something along the lines of "how do we move this tool (blog) beyond it's current context (teh internets) and begin to interact/influence the larger domain of geology?" Here are a few things that, as a scientist, I find are important to my job/interests. I've arranged them in a sort of "three-legged stool" that full professors are often fond of using to highlight how we assistant profs should be spending our time.

While the blogoshpere is not the first place for peer-review, it has served as a testing ground for a few ideas. Aydin over at Snail's Tales has used blog posts as the nuclei of several short papers. I think blogging about ideas, or active research can be very helpful - particularly if there are some refinements that can be made to the ways in which the ideas are communicated through writing. If a person can't understand what you're doing as written in a blog post, perhaps it's time to revise the text of your methods section. Not to say that the language of blogging should replace the language of the formal journal article. But practice in saying what you "mean" without the help of hand, body, or facial gestures is always good.

Another bonus is that of connecting with other like-minded researchers. When I started my PhD, I did like any turn-of-the-century grad student did. I searched "teh google" for topics related to my research topic. Not finding much about them on the general web, I though - if I was looking for stuff and didn't find much, I bet there might be at least one other person who's doing the same thing (finding nothing on the internet). Good general information web content often links to the more scholarly work that it was based from. And so, I started blogging so that others might stumble upon my interests and point me in the direction of useful information/people or I may help others find said information/people.

This was back in the mid-early Pleistocene of blogging when the "network" wasn't as interwoven. I say "mid-early Pleistocene" largely because the big, monstrous blogs (e.g. Pharyngula, Ron Schott, etc.) were already there, but they had not yet migrated to their current locations and ecologies. And, it appears that there is a looming blog-pocalypse (that's spelled with a catastrophe "S"), which threatens to force a restructuring of how the different blogs are linked to each other, and the possible loss of some very nice blogs indeed. Plus, "mid-early" is not a formally recognized unit of time, and therefore is not capitalized.

But the concept of a "blog" is less of a "hot, new thing" only practiced by time-wasting grad students. It has shown itself to be an influential medium of communication. I don't see why more active research can't be discussed on blogs. It helps keep people updated, forms the basis of more formally written communications, and it might help refine hypotheses, methods, and conclusions before they go to "press." And with more journals/libraries eliminating their paper stock and going to online subscriptions, more connections to these articles and ideas is not a bad thing.

Two problems I see right away, however. The first is that most University libraries use "hits" off their internal search engines to decide whether to keep renewing a journal subscription. These things aren't cheap. And if no one goes through the Libraries "portal" to get to "Science" or "Nature," then the library might think that those journals aren't very popular, and cancel their subscriptions - leaving those students and professors SOL for that particular journal.

Secondly, is the capability for abuse. Abuse in terms of using the blog as a bully-pulpit to harangue and pour derision over other individuals/institutions - sort of like the "Mann hockey stick controversy," but on a smaller (but more widespread) scale. Also abuse in terms of using the appearance of a "well-reasoned and insightful" analysis to promote a completely false and incorrect set of ideas (a la Andrew Wakefield/Thymerosol/Autism). But silencing speech is anathema to the web - and if everyone has a voice, some of these voices will be spewing BS. But that's where the second leg of our stool enters the story:

The most widely used aspect of the web, blogs and the intertoobz is to reach out to the larger community to share ideas, point out misconceptions, and show people how interesting and fun science can be. In an age of high population density, no one is isolated from geologic hazards. Properly understanding them will be only more important in the future. Do you hear that Gov. Jindahl? VOLCANO MONITORING is important! Having people tell us what all the different kinds of tectonic activities mean, is just as important. In an age of news media hype and extraordinary claims, a calm, reasoned voice is almost impossible (no, make that completely impossible) to find in most news feeds. But the blogosphere can and should take the time to pick apart the reports and the analyses to show what is and what isn't worth worrying about.

Speaking of, the increased prominence of groups like "Answers in Genesis" is a byproduct of everyone having a voice. They couch their biblically literal world-view in the language of pseudoscience. A non-scientist, sympathetic to the concept of a persecuted yet earnest christian voice, can be easily swayed by their arguments. But it takes mere moments to debunk the claims put forth. Garbage In, Garbage Out - but at least we can air out the trash on the web for everyone to see it for what it is.

And, outreach is an important part of our work (at least it says so on our contracts and grant applications). Disseminating ideas, increasing understanding is an important function of modern science. WIth the speed of the internet, ideas travel quickly (e.g. memes: how quickly did it take for "all your base are belong to us" to travel all the way across the world?). In a sense, outreach is teaching without a classroom or formal assessment. Normally, teaching is referred to as the third leg of the stool. But I'll skip that and focus on a slightly different part of the responsibilities of a faculty person at a University.

At the University, "service" is often considered to be serving on committees and general participation within the University community. While there are definite problems with leaking information from closed meetings, or complaining about a particular person/policy at a business/school, how many of us wonder "how they do it?"

How does a professional balance school, life, family, fun? What are some methods of being a professional that allow for us to do what we love and still get paid? Avocation, or vocation? Are we geologists all the time? Can any of us walk past a granite gneiss with huge garnet porphyroblasts and not stop and look at it? Or take a picture cuz it will last longer? But what about other stuff? Are there "best practices" that allow for people to balance work/life? I bet many of us geobloggers have some things that work. And I bet there are just as many that are looking for ways to reduce the demands of "work" without sacrificing efficacy. Sharing ideas is another terribly useful result of blog, which brings me back to the original nub of my gist. Whither the geoblogosphere?

What I see from my dark little corner of this "series of tubes," is that the current 800lb gorilla, Science Blogs (Sb, is having a bad time right now. It may well right itself, but not before the entities that made it successful either move, or take additional steps to distance themselves from the "seed" that started it all (pun intended).

One of the best things about Sb was the localization of good content. It was easy to check to see who had written what without lots of searching around. RSS feeds and Twitter accomplish much of this, but these feeds are separate. The blog diaspora have located at different places. Highly Allochthonous, for instance can be found here now. Ron Schott's blog page has done a good job collating geologically related blogs, but it's such a big list that it's hard to "stay entertained" because finding new and interesting content is still viewer-intensive. Then there's the part where other sciences have interesting things to say. I want to learn about atmospheric dynamics of meso-scale convective systems (big thunderstorms). But few geoblogs cover this. Astronomy, physics, biology blogs are cool too. As are chemistry, nutrition, anthropology and so on... But there are few "clearing houses" where our "one-stop shopping" mentality can be sated.

Unfortunately, nothing in life is free. Sb tried to balance the needs of advert revenue with individually-controlled editorial content, but stumbled pretty badly with the stillborn PepsiCo. "blog." And, of course, each person has different interests and desires. I desire the cosmopolitain content of Sb, but without the annoying ads, banners, and looming potential of "Big Money (tm)" controlling some of the more subversive elements. A college professor is supposed to have some academic freedom to pursue a variety of interests (particularly after tenure). But professors have a helluva lot to worry about, and blogging isn't exactly a zero-time commitment.

Ideally, I'd like to see an independently wealthy person(s) devote resources towards a clearing house of information. Both academic journals and blogs related to the content within and outside of those journals. Comments could be allowable, but for the most part they just prove that if a person has license to say anything, the first thing that comes out of their mouth is usually insulting, inane, or irrelevant (and often all three).

More practically, I hope that Sb continues - it's one model of blogworking that has been successful. But there are plenty of good blogs out there with ideas that don't get the kind of attention they deserve. We can't all have the "impact factor" that Pharyngula has, but it would be nice if there was a place (or three) where interesting content, regardless of topic, was easier to come by. In part to make my time-wasting through the reading of blogs more enjoyable. In part so that those of us more or less grounded in reality can more easily present a united effort against the anti-science, anti-reality crowds that try to sell us their addled opinions. And by so doing, allow us to think critically about our own preconceptions and assumptions.

Perhaps if some of the more motivated bloggers are up for it, using the current idioms of the Blogroll and Carnival, the content can be easier to find, the entertainments will be easier had, and the rational thinking will be easier thought. I'm not sure what I was getting at with that last sentence - I just thought it sounded cool. I would love for more people to read my blog and think that I am as clever as I think I am. But I can't just sit around, type a post now and then, and have it happen magically. I should be part of the solution. Or rather, I should be part of the refinement of the science blogs that I want to see. I haven't updated my "blogroll" in many years. I don't really like the code/format that Blogger offers to do so. But I like Brian Roman's idea of a somewhat regular update of "stuff I read on the blogs" type post. So perhaps it comes back to the individual. Search out good stuff. Keep your own lists/links. Let others know of stuff you think is neat from time to time. And keep hoping that you get what you want.

Because, as with everything about the internet, I want the content. I want it to be easy to find. I want it to be insightful and (if possible) entertaining. And I want it now. I just don't want to have to pay for it, or work very hard to get it. And while I asking, can I have a pony?

Update: I guess the "Geoblogosphere News" portal does this function, although this can be a place for information overload. You know, the look your cat gets when you spin him around in a swivel chair, then dangle a string in his face and shine a laser-pointer on the floor? You just want to run and hide under the sofa for a bit.

Update II: I fixed an unfortunate typo that blamed Michael Welland of Through the Sandglass for the Thymerosol/Autism debacle. Oops. Very sorry about that. Silly last names that end in "W."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Forget global warming...

Those of us in the mid-high latitudes of North America will be pretty well screwed if the earth were to stop turning:


Think of what you can do for the conservation of angular momentum. Your sustainable momentum efforts will be greatly appreciated by those of us affected by this looming crisis. Every rad/sec counts!

A trillion-dollar idea...

Given the obvious power of homeopathy, I suspect that we can soon be able to run our cars off sea water. Brilliant.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Vacation iz fun

I've been away on vacation for a while. I don't really have much for you. Here's a picture of some polished crystal spheres from a Renaissance Festival I visited:

Even in the magical world of wizards and witches, the rules of physics still apply. Rays of light passing through the crystal are refracted and the image visible on the other side is inverted both top/bottom and left/right.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Long's Peak Album

For my "A.W." contribution, I thought I'd share a bunch of pictures of Long's Peak. Instead of a long, wordy post about one picture, I thought I'd post a bunch of pictures and just a few words from a hike up to the top of Long's Peak a few years ago. Long's Peak has a special place in my heart in that Major John Wesley Powell was in the party that recorded the "first ascent" (undoubtedly the indigenous peoples had been climbing the mountains long before this).

The following year, I didn't climb the mountain, but rather hiked to the glacial tarn just below the peak (Chasm Lake). The long line of other hikers were winding their way around Mt. Lady Washington and continuing on to the summit. I turned off to the left and awaited the sunrise.