Sunday, June 18, 2017

I'm on Pulse of the Planet

I obviously took a break from writing this blog. Eventful year, not in a good way, but that's life.

I did want to post a link to some podcasts that I participated in for Pulse of the Planet. The Executive Producer, Jim Metzner, lives close to where I teach. The podcasts are only two minutes long and on fossils.

According to their website: "Pulse of the Planet is broadcast over 252 public and commercial stations around the world and on the Armed Forces Radio Network, reaching over one million listeners weekly."

The different podcasts aired on four dates in May - 23, 24, 30, & 31. They can be found on the website here:

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Rosendale Cement geology walk

For those of you who are local to the Ulster County area...

Have you ever wondered about those mines and kilns you see in the woods on the sides of the road between the towns of Rosendale and Kingston?

Want to learn more about their original purpose and history?

Are you familiar with the Delaware & Hudson (D & H) Canal?  Did you know that it's intimately associated with the 19th century Rosendale Cement industry?
Would you like to enter a room and pillar cement mine with a geologist who will explain what you're looking at (in layman's terms)?

Are you interested in how those rocks formed some 420 million years ago and what makes them special?

Did you know there are fossil coral reefs throughout our local area?

Did you know Rosendale Cement was once nationally famous?

Join me on Sunday, May 8 at 1:00 pm for a family-friendly geology walk at the Century House Historical Society in Rosendale, NY.  We'll see some kilns, remnants of the D&H Canal, coral fossils in outcrop, and go inside of the Widow Jane Mine.

A suggested $5 donation supports the all-volunteer, tax-deductible work of the Society in preserving the mine and grounds of the A.J. Snyder Estate historical property.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Tripod Rock

I had to drive down I-287 in New Jersey in early January so I made a side trip to visit a place called Pyramid Mountain National Historic Area in Morris County.  This park has a famous feature called Tripod Rock which I've wanted to see for a while.

Tripod Rock is similar to the North Salem Balanced Rock in northern Westchester County which I've also posted about.  In both cases, these are rocks that geologists refer to as glacial erratics but also have claims of being anthropogenic (man-made) structures.

The Visitor's Center was closed when we were there (a weekday in early January) but the bulletin board had a good supply of maps and other information).  The hike from the Visitor's Center to Tripod Rock is about three miles round trip on well-marked and maintained trails with about three hundred feet of elevation change to get up to the ridge where the feature is located.

Geologically, Pyramid Mountain is Precambrian gneiss of the New Jersey Highlands (a continuation of our own Hudson Highlands here in the Hudson Valley) just west of the Ramapo Fault boundary with the Newark lowlands.  It was easy to see numerous signs of glaciation in the area.

One of many large glacial erratic boulders in the forest

A smaller erratic of Devonian Schunnemunk Conglomerate

Glacial striations in the Precambrian gneiss bedrock

Tripod rock is certainly an impressive feature at the top of a small rise.  Approximately 2.5 x 2.5 x 5 meters in size (a very rough guess from my pictures), it would weigh around 100 U.S. tons.  It's balanced on three other rocks about a half meter off the ground (hence the name, tripod rock).

Someone placed a large log on the right side that I didn't feel like moving

The geologic story of Tripod Rock is simple enough.  During the last advance (Wisconsin) of the most recent Pleistocene Epoch ice age, sheets of glacial ice moved down from the north plucking and carrying boulders which then become deposited as glacial erratics as the ice melted around 12,000 years ago.  Tripod Rock, along with the New Salem Balanced Rock in northern Westchester, just happened to be deposited on other rocks leaving them nicely balanced for us to admire today.

That's not the whole story, however. Some have argued that Tripod Rock is a natural solstice marker.  Others have gone even further and have called this a dolmen.  Is there any chance that this interpretation is correct?

Well, to start, the glacial erratic interpretation is certainly the most plausible (Occam's Razor and all that).  As mentioned above, the area was clearly glaciated and even the bedrock on which Tripod Rock rests shows glacial polishing, striations, and chatter marks (a row of crescent-shaped chips carved out by rocks carried along the bottom of a glacier).

Claims have been made for a summer solstice alignment at Tripod Rock (Scofield, B. 1983. A possible summer solstice marker in northern New Jersey. NEARA Journal 18:4-27).  Here's a diagram of the alignment from Wikipedia.

I'm a bit unconvinced.  I could draw a lot of different lines on the above diagram and odds are that one or the other will align with something celestial.

Get the idea?

Boulders labeled G & H in the diagram.  Also partly balanced.

Was this a dolmen?  Did the Lenape Native Americans or some other people build this?  While not impossible, it seems unlikely only because there's simply no evidence to suggest that they did other than "Wow, that's neat, it's unusual so someone must have created it."  That doesn't mean it wasn't used as a solstice marker by Native Americans, just that until I see some sort of credible evidence, I remain skeptical.

Snipped from a website.  This is just crazy talk!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Really want improvement SUNY?

The two-year community college where I teach (which I do NOT speak for in any way, shape or form) is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system.

There has been a lot of talk (and policy) lately from SUNY and the Governor's Office about time to completion and retention. Students often take more than two years to complete the two-year degrees and many never graduate. SUNY and various politicians (both local and national) want to improve those numbers.

Of course, most of the time, people who talk about such things are surprisingly clueless about facts on the ground.  Let's start with time to completion first.

A typical two-year degree is 60 credits or so.  That's 15 credits each semester for those of you poor in math.  That assumes no need for developmental classes.  Unfortunately, a significant number of our local high school graduates come into college requiring developmental writing before getting into Freshman English 101 or developmental math (sometimes several of these) before getting into a College Algebra course (the bare minimum math needed).  Depending on what they want to major in, they may need a number of math courses (Want to go into science? You need several courses beyond even Calculus I).

Also, virtually all of my students work - some work full-time.  They have to because college is expensive (yes, community colleges are cheaper, but for some of us, even cheaper is too expensive).  Many of my students don't do well because they don't have time to do well.  Between working, family obligations, life stresses, etc. they simply can't do a minimum of 15 credits each semester successfully.  So they take longer.  If they eventually graduate, I consider that a success, even if it takes them 4 years.  SUNY considers them failures.

Want to fix that SUNY?  Make college cheaper so students don't have to work outside jobs for more hours than they attend classes.

Retention - keeping a student until they graduate - is also problematic given two factors SUNY also appears to be clueless (intentionally or not) about.  First, we're open admission.  We take anybody who can write a check (or fill out the financial aid forms).  I've had severely autistic kids in my class. I've had people who I'm convinced have IQs well below the norm in my class.  These kinds of cognitive deficiencies can't be addressed by better teaching or increased tutoring.  They're real barriers.  It's tough watching these kids crash and burn because they come to class and often try hard but I'm not making up special grades for them because they're good kids.  They're going to fail and I'm not the one who set them up for that.

At the community college level, we don't give everyone a degree, we give everyone an equal opportunity to earn a degree.  SUNY considers us a failure because we can't graduate all of these kids.  We could improve our statistics by becoming selective.  But that just defeats this mission of us as a community college with equal access.

 Another problem, which I've written about before, is that many of our students transfer before earning a degree with us.  If a student starts at our school, and transfers to a four-year university after their first year, and later earns a bachelor's degree, they are counted as a failure at our institution since they attended but didn't earn a degree with us.  It's absolutely ridiculous and needs to be changed.

So, Governor Cuomo, NYS Legislature, Chancellor Zimpher, and the SUNY Board.  Want to improve education at the SUNY community colleges?  STOP CUTTING OUR FUCKING FINANCIAL SUPPORT AND SUPPORT FOR STUDENTS!  Make college (especially community college) CHEAP and students will be better able to succeed and graduate on time.  Get us money for the auxiliary support these students need with English and mathematics.  Get us funds to hire more full-time faculty instead of having MOST courses taught by part-time faculty who are not invested in the institution and are afraid to uphold academic standards (a whole other issue).  Change your statistics to reasonable measures (transfer out of a community college to a four-year institution is a SUCCESS, not a failure).  Get your heads out of your asses and visit community colleges and talk to faculty and staff (not presidents and Board members).

Enough ranting for today.