Monday, February 19, 2007

My nominee for Sedimentary Geology Patron Saint

Inspired by the creative genius of Apparent Dip (see sidebar), I have chosen my nominee for the patron saint of the world of Sedimentary Geology:

Henry "Indiana" Jones Jr.

Indiana Jones divides his time between teaching at prestigious universities and field work. Jones believes that archaeology [would have been geology if geologic time would fit in the 2-hr cinematographic (?) framework] is the "search for fact - not truth".

I admit wanting to be both Indiana Jones and McGyver as a kid (and also Murdoch from the A-team and Kitt from Knight Rider... that's right, I wanted to be a car... but Kitt was a talking car! Even back then David Hasselhoff was too cheesy for an 9 year old kid to idolize), hence my tendency to hang with the "cool kids" in thermochronology/geochronology whenever I can.

But at the end of the day, sedimentary geologists usually end up sweaty, dusty, unshaven, and some times bleeding- just like Indy. And that's just after teaching class!

It's too bad these guys never got to collaborate. I can see McGyver improvising a anti-snake smoke-screen from a box of tic-tacs, a key-ring, and a road flare, while Indy bull-whips the crap out of some bald German guy. I guarantee any article by Jones and McGyver or McGyver and Jones would be the most downloaded ever! Maybe that day is coming?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

I could have published on that!

Okay, not really, but my previous post does find some support in a recent study that I swear I had no knowledge of until last night. This study shows that adults over 70 with higher levels of education forgot words at a greater rate than those with less education!

But apparently the prognosis is not so grim for those in Ph.D.-land to bail,
Study director Eileen Crimmins of the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology says she wouldn't recommend halting any schooling based on the results.
I would wager quite a few moon pies (which are, apparently, a delicious treat favored in these parts and a likely topic for a future blog) that the memory loss starts well before 70. I think they should take a bunch of rookie grad students, test their memory at their matriculation and then again after they defend and I bet the results would be the same.

In fact, there is one study that could come in extremely useful: "I am soooo sorry I forgot to (insert chore/task/drudgery here), but as you know, Alley et al. (2007) has demonstrated that my numerous years in school have impaired my memory such that I cannot be held accountable." I am pretty sure Fannie Mae will go for that, or maybe at least the phone company.

I do wonder if the real root of this problem is either the prolonged sleep deprivation or increased consumption of cheap libations experienced by grad students. Probably both!

One thing I don't understand is the data came from Asset and Health Dynamics of the Oldest Old, a project that uses the acronym A.H.E.A.D. .... wait a minute..... there's a few letters missing there. I guess if you are going to be calling your subjects the "Oldest Old", then using a nicer acronym than A.H.D.O.O. is the least you can do.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Surviving Academia: Skill #1

Skill #1: Acquire temporary amnesia.
Lately I cannot shake the feeling that I'm always forgetting something. Today I realized its because I am always forgetting something!

The transition from Ph.D.-land to a "real-job" in academia is a traumatic one. A part of the trauma is that everyone outside of academia thinks your job is so cush: "How many classes are you teaching? Only one? Wow, what do you do with all your free time? And you get the summer off too? How many years did you have to be a student to get this gig?"

Another trauma is going from being virtually independent (assuming a functional relationship with your advisor) to hostile take-over of all minutae of your work by a innundation of bureaucratic administrative crap, especially when you are starting out with a beater computer, email that doesn't work, accounts that aren't set up, furniture that isn't there (filing cabinets are so last century) and total lack of equipment to do your specialized work.

And then there is the transition from being in Ph.D. land, with the luxury of thinking about one goal, all the time, giving it undivided attention, and that being your lovely pet: research.
Before starting as a prof, I would have said that research actually was multi-faceted and that there were different projects and they all had exciting avenues for discovery that varied substantially, that thinking about research wasn't really thinking about just one thing because it all required different aspects of your attention. O, how cute that sounds now!

I've read in the geo-blogosphere (blog on, you crazy diamonds) of others "A-day-as-a-scientist" and thought oh, how cool, I should do that too. Then I realized that lately science has had very little to do with the make up of my day. There's always a class to prepare for, start-up to spend, seminars to attend, another class to prepare for, grant opportunities to pursue, a lab to prepare for, email to read, faculty meetings to go to, justification for start-up spending...and of course, class again. And this is after I've accepted the relentless pursuit of mediocrity when it comes to class prep.

A fellow faculty kindly offered some sage advice she had been given, and the actual wording of which went something like this:
The trick to hauling 2 tons of canaries in a 1 ton truck is to keep half of them in the air.
Gotta love the southern flair to that description of multi-tasking!

But I think there is more to it than that. You actually have to forget those canaries (or juggling balls, or chain-saws on fire, whatever it is you have to toss up for a while) are even there. Because if you know what is hanging over you, its rather frightening and actually can induce a sort of paralysis. In this environment, research does become a sort of haven, where the din and smoke of those flaming chain-saws fades away as you reunite with your lovely pet, if only for an always too-brief Baywatch-esque musical interlude.

Hence, the evolution of the absent-minded professor. I thought it was just a stereotype, and one some people (especially the ever amazing He-who-does-all-my-laundry-and-picks-up-all-my-crap-at-home-all-the-time) would say I fit. But it's actually a necessary survival skill and defense mechanism to protect sanity and actually get to do the work that let's you keep this "cush" job. Maybe I was just predisposed and that this natural inclination led me toward the Ivory Tower... The best part is, I hear that after 3 or 4 years, this temporary amnesia just feels normal.

Oh boy.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Truly Holy Certifiable Crap.

This is an honest-to-goodness email I recieved today addressed to me and the rest of my colleages at Southern Football U:
  Renowned Professors,

following is information from Jonathan Gray, Biblical Archeologist and Geologist,
from New Zealand, demonstrating evidence that overturns conventional geological
dating techniques for our planet.

i urge you to read and ponder this information seriously. it may be the last
warning you receive from a Christian who has mercy and compassion upon your

wake up and escape Satan's lying clutches before it is too LATE.

  Michael Philip Korn
A concerned American and Citizen of the Kingdom of God.
Following the heartfelt expression of concern for my soul in this the irresistable overture was a nearly incomprehensible string of incoherent e-blathering. One of the more amusing sections:
  michael korn wrote:

thanks for this amazing letter.

my wife and i recently saw a video about noah's ark on mt. ararat. it concludes by
saying that maybe the ark is re-appearing now to warn our generation of a disaster
similar to the one it originally was designed to save us from. but this time the
flood will be of fire, not water.

as you know, i am in regular communication with evolutionary biologists,
geologists, and astrophysicists at the university of colorado in boulder. they
almost all are in total denial of these uncomfortable truths. i suppose i dont
blame them. it is a rare man who allows truth to so convict him that he is willing
to foresake his employment to pursue it.

this is pretty much what i did when i embraced christianity in the year 2000. in
so doing i faced "unemployment" from the orthodox jewish world i was part of in
israel. i am grateful the LORD gave me the courage to do this. but i can
understand the fears and reluctance of the scientific community to follow in my
footsteps, since they have even more to lose than i did back then: prestige, high
salaries, and of course suffering the scorn and mockery of their colleagues.

it makes me both sad and angry that people can be so intellectually gifted and not
see the Creator who endowed them with those gifts! one professor here, the
Chairman of the Psychology Department, told me after reading my flyer about
Creationism vs. Evolution, that the natural world contains not a single sign or
evidence of God. amazing. a Dept. Chairman amidst a renowned academic community
cannot see any evidence for God around him. terribly sad, but also terribly
frightening. especially since these are the people who are "mentoring" the 30
thousand students who attend here!

at times i feel such rage at their arrogant pride and willful stupidity and
blindness. other times i feel smothering depression to live amongst such
stubbornly wicked people.

but your emails give me a small thread of hope.

Michael Philip Korn

Arrogant pride and stubbornly wicked, okay, that I can see. Anyone who can dedicate years of their lives and lots of resources to the distant pre-human past and argue its noteworthy significance could be categorized as such by genocide victims in Darfur. But spend a few minutes around any scientist, and "willfully stupid" will likely not come to mind.

But I guess I would fit their mold since I find the alleged "reports" of sole prints in million year old rocks quite hilarious, particularly the "Triassic" rocks of 196-160 million years ago (puh-leez, the age of Triassic is not that hard to google!):
You have probably heard of all those iron pots,
gold chains, silver vases, ancient buildings and
so on, discovered deep down inside coal mines?

Okay, artefacts are one thing. But what about

You may wonder. Have traces of actual human
beings been found in the wrong places?

Definitely - yes.

For starters, human footprints are found in
undisturbed strata of virtually all geological

yes, they've been unearthed in rock layers
where the so-called “earliest” life forms appear.

Here are some examples:

* Pershing County, Nevada: A shoe print, showing
evidence of a well-cut and double-stitched leather
sole, in Triassic limestone “160 to 195 million years old.” ...

Butchery of the Geologic Time Scale notwithstanding, my favourite (spelled the british way for effect) had to be the heartwarming story of Man and Trilobite coexisting peacefully, until said Trilobite is squished by said Man's heel:
On June 1, 1968, William Meister was looking for trilobite fossils. With difficulty, he was climbing a 2000 ft high rock face.

He paused, and broke off a 2 inch thick lump of rock with his geology hammer. It
opened like a book,revealing a trilobite in the heel of a sandal print.

A consulting geologist was called in. He found more sandal-prints and some
footprints of bare-foot children.

It would seem from this evidence that mankind and
trilobites co-existed.
All of this would be more amusing if it weren't for the fact that I personally know people who would read this and believe it, hook, line and lead-posioning-causing sinker. Thank goodness we have Wikipedia to save the day.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

The Death of Birth

I'm watching a really good film right now, The Corporation. If you haven't seen it, do. Its a documenary about what a corporation is, how they came to be, what they are (conclusion: psycopaths), and the implications (not good, not good at all). Now, I admit, being a scholar of Earth Science, often my concerns rest in time scales of millions of years. Thinking in quarters is not my forte. Hence, I sought refuge in the Ivory Tower of academia, where time is often measured on semi-decadal time scales (and in the South, nontheless, where time just moves slower in general) and where my efforts largely have no profit agenda. But higher Education is increasinlgy modeling itself after big business, and so my planned escape of reality may ultimately be foiled.

To be honest, I think a lot of our woes as a society, and soon as a planet, stem from the epidemic of short-term thinking. I do take some small comfort in the fact that my occupation gives me an opportunity to convince members of Generation Y to take their attention spans off Shuffle and think about the impact of a new cell phone every 2 years for their entire lives, not to mention every Big Gulp cup that will end up in a land-fill and the CO2 output for every kilowatt hour of central air they enjoy. Plundering of the Earth is on-going, what are We going to do?

Luckliy there are people out there trying to find ways to get these publicly chartered organizations back to being responsible to the public whom they supposedly serve. Check out the Center for Corporate Policy, because the U.S. government has its hands stuck in too many pockets of Big Buisness to do any legitimate policing of it.

If you're bored sometime, read up on Monsanto. Evil incarnate.

Then, if you are motivated to act, look up a few links here.

Friday, February 2, 2007


Well, there's a good reason I work with rocks. This once was a vibrant jade plant. Too bad I never appreciated it in all its glory, for I have no "before" picture, but typically there are no droopy branches on a jade plant. All it took was one night of sub-freezing temperatures for the drastic transformation to occur. I guess it was more than sub-freezing- it was in the teens overnight. I guess I just didn't think that could happen in the south! Ooops.

I'll keep you (the masses reading this blog) updated on th poor jade plant's fate. If any of you out there amongst the masses happens to know much about Jade Plant Resuscitation, now would be an excellent time to post a message!