Saturday, June 30, 2012

Isn't the solution obvious?

A local education issue...

From a June 29, 2012 Kingston Daily Freeman article:

"The college president has said about 60 percent of UCCC freshmen need to take remedial math and 40 percent need to take remedial writing, though the numbers vary from year to year."

UCCC refers to Ulster County Community College here in the mid-Hudson Valley.  Most students coming into our community college are simply not able to do college-level work (college-level English and math skills are foundational for all of the science courses I teach, for example).

The article states in the very next sentence:

"And the state Education has reported that only 28 percent of Kingston High School students in the last two graduating classes were fully prepared for college and/or careers, as measured by their performances on math and English Regents exams."

Many of UCCC's students come from the Kingston school district.  The article went on to discuss the college can work with the high school to improve student's readiness for college.  I have no problem with that - it's a good thing.

As a taxpayer, however, I do have a problem with local public schools (Kingston is not unique).  The Kingston City School district spends $17,624 per student each year.  The problem is not a lack of money.  The problem is a lack of accountability.  Not from the teachers - the teachers are accountable to students, parents, administrators, the State Education Department, and the federal Department of Education in many and various ways.

No, I'm talking about holding the students accountable.  If only 28% of Kingston High School students in the last two graduating classes were fully prepared for college and/or careers, as measured by their performances on math and English Regents exams, perhaps only 28% should graduate with a diploma.  Damn the students and parents who would undoubtably raise hell and blame everyone but their precious snowflakes.  If you start with fucking kindergarten, it would be a part of the expectations.  No going to 1st grade until you learn the alphabet.  No going to 2nd grade until you can read simple books and add numbers together (or whatever it is that 1st graders should know).

Then again, maybe this is obvious to me since we homeschool our kids.  We don't use a lot of formal curricula, but we do use one for math (Saxon).  If one of my kids gets a 75% on a math test, we don't just move on (like you do in a public school classroom), we go over everything again to make sure it's understood.  This is necessary because math is cummulative.  If you have a gap in your knowledge about the Revolutionary War, you can still learn about the Civil War.  If you have a gap in your knowledge about fractions, it will keep coming back to bite you in the ass with successively higher level math courses.  With English skills, I believe it's because many kids today simply don't read.  The very idea of reading a book for pleasure is a foreign concept.  If you don't read anything other than ungrammatical text messages, you won't be able to write well.

Knowledge builds on itself.  Without a good foundation, it just gets worse and worse each year and then our community college is supposed to take someone with a 6th grade reading level (when they read, which they don't) and who thinks fractions are advanced math, and remediate them in one or two semesters such that they can be a college student.  Add to this the fact that many of these students aren't even motivated to be there - they hate learning and education and will tell you that.  It's not surprising that it typically doesn't work.  While there are a few success stories, many of these remedial students use up multiple semesters of mom & dad's money, financial aid, and student loans to finally drop out with a transcript full of W, F, and D grades. 

Some students are shocked that they can't pass a course simply by showing up because that's how it worked in their high school.  I'm not exaggerating - students have told me this directly.  I've been told by a teacher at a local middle school that they are not allowed to fail kids more than once.  Even if they completely deserve to fail.  I've been told by another teacher that her distict superintendent initated a discussion on doing away with failing grades altogether - teachers would not be allowed to give a student an F.  In other words, students can not fail not matter what they do (or, more accurately, don't do).

By our shortsighted and permissive educational policies, our fear of offending anyone or holding them accountable, we're dooming a generation of kids to a life of ignorance and stupidity.  We will reap what we sow.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Obsidian - Part II

So yesterday I wrote a bit about the igneous rock obsidian.  I finished by mentioning how obsidian devitrifies over time by hydration when exposed to atmospheric water vapor.  One of the results of this devitrification is the mineral cristobalite.

The formula for cristobalite is SiO2.  Here's where it can get a little confusing.  I mentioned in yesterday's post that obsidian was made of silica or SiO2.  But it's in the form of amorphous glass which means the silicon and oxygen atoms aren't arranged in a regular repeating (crystalline) lattice throughout the rock because it cooled too quickly for the atoms to arrange that way.

A piece of obsidian I have laying around - SiO2 glass

SiO2 is also the formula for the common mineral quartz. In this case, the silicon and oxygen atoms are arranged in a regular repeating fashion forming a crystalline structure (not necessarily a nice quartz crystal, even a lumpy irregular mass of quartz has a crystalline structure).

Crystalline quartz (SiO2) even though they're not crystals

Cristobalite is also SiO2.  In this case it is also a mineral, like quartz, but with a different crystalline structure because it's stable at higher temperatures (above 1,470° C) but can exist in a metastable state at Earth surface temperatures and pressures.  We call minerals, like quartz and cristobalite, that have the same chemical formula but different crystalline structures, polymorphs.  The mineralogy of cristobalite is complicated (read about it here) so I'm not going to even attempt more of an explanation here (by the way, there are also other polymorphs of SiO2 besides quartz and cristobalite).

Anyway, when cristobalite forms in obsidian due to devitrification, it typically forms white splotchy masses scattered through the rock that look like snowflakes - hence the name snowflake obsidian.
Cristobalite in snowflake obsidian

Snowflake obsidian is quite attractive when polished and you can find examples of worked snowflake obsidian at any rock and mineral show.

Examples of snowflake obsidian carvings

As obsidian keeps hydrating and devitrifying, over hundreds of thousands to millions of years of exposure on the Earth's surface, it eventually decomposes into perlite.  Many of you have probably heard of perlite since it's often mixed with soil to improve hydration and aeration.

Perlite is also amorphous volcanic glass, like obsidian, but hydrated with a lot of water.  When you heat raw perlite to 850–900 °C, it softens (because it's glass) and the trapped water vaporizes and escapes expanding the material by over 10 times its original volume resulting in low density, pH-neutral, bright white "rock" which is then ground into various sizes for different uses.

Perlite is not only used as a soil additive, it also has tons of other industrial uses as a filler, insulator, aggregate, and abrasive.

Within deposits of perlite, you can sometimes find left-over nodules of obsidian (snowflake obsidian typically) which are called Apache tears when they're found in Arizona/New Mexico.

For some reason, I have a whole bowl-full of Apache tears at my house and I have no memory of where I got them (other than I did not collect them and probably bought them at a rock show).  Here is a sampling.

According to Wikipedia:  "The name "Apache tear" comes from a legend of the Apache tribe: about 75 Apaches and the US Cavalry fought on a mountain overlooking what is now Superior, Arizona in the 1870s. Facing defeat, the outnumbered Apache warriors rode their horses off the mountain to their deaths rather than be killed. The wives and families of the warriors cried when they heard of the tragedy; their tears turned into stone upon hitting the ground."

Apache Leap Mountain, Superior, AZ

The "legend" part is the formation of the obsidian.  In the winter of 1870, Company B of the Arizona Volunteers did apparently corner a band of Apaches on top of Big Picacho (Apache Leap Mountain) resulting in a number of them leaping to their deaths rather than die at the hands of the U.S. cavalry.

Science and culture (yes, Johnny Cash is culture).

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Obsidian - Part I

Sometime between 77-79 CE, the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus, 23-79 CE), published Natural History (Naturalis Historia) - a massive tome which attempted to cover the entire field of ancient knowledge.  It was, in essence, the first encyclopedia.

One of the sections in Natural History dealt with glass and Pliny mentioned the following:

"Among the various kinds of glass, we may also reckon Obsian glass, a substance very similar to the stone which Obsius discovered in Æthiopia. The stone is of a very dark colour, and sometimes transparent..."

The term obsianus lapis "stone of Obsius" eventually morphed into our English word obsidian and refers to naturally-formed volcanic glass - a type of igneous rock.

While obsidian wasn't written about until Pliny, it was known to humans and quite possibly by our hominid ancestors like Homo habilis as well. This was due to a property known as conchoidal fracture - from the Greek κογχε (konkhē) which means "mussel" after the ridges on a mussel shell.  Obsidian, being a glass, is amorphous which means it doesn't have an underlying crystalline structure and will typically break along a curved, ridged fracture surface (similar to other natural materials such as chert or flint).  The edges of these fractures can be sharper than surgical steel scalpels.

Obsidian is widespread and associated with certain types of volcanic eruptions where it forms by the fast cooling of silica-rich (rhyolitic) magma.

One model for the emplacement of obsidian by Fink, J.H. (1983) GSA Bulletin 94 (362-380)

Obsidian is found in many areas around the world including most of the Western U.S. states.

Obsidian Cliffs in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

One interesting fact about obsidian is that each eruptive occurrence is slightly different with regard to trace amounts of various elements in the source magma. This provides obsidian from a specific locale with a unique chemical signature and allows archaeologists to trace obsidian tools to specific quarries which, in many cases, reveals ancient trade routes.

Obsidian is typically 70% or more amorphous SiO2 (silicon dioxide) with smaller amounts of other elements.  These elements form microscopic minerals wihich color the obsidian black but there are variations of brown, gray, green, gold, and even reddish (mahogany obsidian).  This leads to another interesting property of obsidian in that it breaks down over time by a process called devitrification which is caused by hydration - the absorption of atmospheric water vapor. 

Mahogany obsidian from Mexico

Because obsidian alters over time (dependent on temperature and water available), this process can be used to roughly date obsidian samples and artifacts.  It also means that it's rare to find obsidian over 20 million years or so ago and there is no obsidian in the geologic record older than the Cretaceous Period (65-145 million years ago).

Tomorrow I'll talk about what forms from devitrified obsidian.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Local Hike

It was such a nice day today (around 82° F with low humidity) that I decided to take an afternoon hike with my family to a place called Duck Pond on the Monhonk Preserve (I have a membership).

View Larger Map

It's a pretty, man-made (although a long time ago so it's hard to tell it's not natural) pond nestled on the shoulder of the northeastern Shawangunk Ridge.

It's a short easy hike and nice for kids since you can sit on some log benches next to the pond and see some wildlife.  No ducks, but last time we were there we saw a large, ancient-looking snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina).  Not around this time but we did see a lot of small fish (we fed with crumbs) and a northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon) with beautiful patterning.  The snake swam completely across the lake and looked to be about 4 feet in length.

Lots of common white tail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) around (among others).  They were having aerial sex (my kids thought they were fighting each other).

There are also some huge snails (Bellamya chinensis) amongst the algae at the edge of the pond.  Thousands of them, actually.  The snails are an interesting story, they're introduced "Chinese mystery snails" originally brought to the San Francisco prior to 1900 by Chinese immigrants as a delicacy.  They then became popular as aquarium snails and were first seen in the northeast around 1940.  Here's a paper on them.

Also saw some creepy-looking doll's eye (Actaea pachypoda) plants.  I've written about them before.  Later on, the berries will turn white and they're highly poisonous.

I also carry a copy of Trees of New York Field Guide by Stan Tekiela (Adventure Publications, 2006) in by backback and try to learn a new tree every time I'm hiking.  I found one that had compound, toothed, opposite leaves with a fruit divided into three segments.  I think it's American bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) even though the fruit was still small and hard, not bladder-like (hence the name) like it gets in late summer/fall.

The nearby trails (carriage roads, really) wind through forests and meadows with nice views of the Wallkill/Hudson Valley to the east.

There are also nice views of the iconic Mohonk Tower atop the northern Shawangunk Ridge.

A nice day in the woods with my family (even though my son complained a bit about walking, ticks, mosquitos, other kids near the pond, his sister, hurting legs, the sun, etc.  Then at the end, he seemed to have enjoyed himself - I just have to tune out the bitching and moaning).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Anthropocene?

Geologists divide up the 4.6 billion year history of the Earth in Eons, Eras, Periods, Epochs, and Ages of geologic time - this is referred to as the Geologic Time Scale.

We are currently in the following:

• The Phanerozoic Eon which began 542 million years ago.  Phanerozoic means "evident life" which refers to the Cambrian Explosion, a time when life diversified and, more importantly, developed hard parts (like shells) which were readily preserved in the fossil record.

• The Cenozoic Era which began 65.5 million years ago at the time of the demise of the dinosaurs.  The three Eras of the Phanerozoic Eon are Paleozoic ("ancient life"), Mesozoic ("middle life"), and Cenozoic ("new life").

• The Quaternary Period which began 2.6 million years ago when the most recent Ice Age kicked off.  Quaternary means "fourth" and refers to an old four-fold division of geologic time no longer used.

• The Holocene Epoch which began only 12,000 years ago with the retreat of the last great ice sheets.  The name derives from two Greek words meaning "entire" and "new" and refers to modern times.  The Holocene is not subdivided into Ages since it's so short.

Some scientists are now advocating for a new division of geologic time - the Anthropocene Epoch from the Greek word for "man" - ἄνθρωπος (anthropos).

According to Wikipedia, the term Anthropocene was first coined by University of Michigan professor of biology Eugene Stoermer (1934-2012) in the early 1980s but didn't get much notice until it was popularized by Dutch Nobel prize winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen in  International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme Newsletter 41 (2000) where he wrote, along with Stoermer:

To assign a more specific date to the onset of the "anthropocene" seems somewhat arbitrary, but we propose the latter part of the 18th century, although we are aware that alternative proposals can be made (some may even want to include the entire holocene). However, we choose this date because, during the past two centuries, the global effects of human activities have become clearly noticeable. This is the period when data retrieved from glacial ice cores show the beginning of a growth in the atmospheric concentrations of several "greenhouse gases", in particular CO2 and CH4. Such a starting date also coincides with James Watt's invention of the steam engine in 1784.

In other words, they date the start of the Anthropocene to the Industrial Revolution.  Others, like retired University of Virginia paleoclimatologist William Ruddiman have proposed a start date for the Anthropocene around 6,000 BCE to coincide with the earliest movements from a hunter-gatherer to an agrarian society

Anyway, the basic idea of the Anthropocene is that man (and woman, let's not be sexist) has altered the Earth enough to make a mark in the geologic record.  It's become a fashionable term, even the Geological Society of America titled their 2011 annual meeting Archean to Anthropocene: The past is the key to the future.

Much of the advocacy for the term Anthropocene seems to come from environmentalists.  It's clearly a catchy term, is used by an increasing number of scientists and scientific organizations, and fosters awareness of humanity's effect on the natural world around us (usually a negative effect).

There are some dissenters, however.  A recent article in GSA Today (the newsletter of the Geological Society of America) titled "Is the Anthropocene an issue of stratigraphy or pop culture?" by Autin and Holbrook, argues that the term may not be all that useful as a formal stratigraphic term for geologists.

The boundaries of the geologic time scale have some reality in that they're based on some type of signature in the rock record - typically fossils but they can be lithologic (rock type), mineral, chemical, or geophysical signatures. At these places, we place what's metaphorically called a "golden spike" to mark that boundary.  Technically, it's called a Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP).

Here's a bronze plaque marking the GSSP for the base of the Ediacaran Period (630 million years ago) which is located in the bed of Enorama Creek in Brachina Gorge in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia (31° 19' 53.8" S, 138° 38' 0.1" E).

So, Autin and Holbrook argue, where should we put that "golden spike" for the base of the Anthropocene?  While it's a neat term with pop culture appeal, how exactly are we going to define this scientifically?  While humans leave a lot of traces on the Earth - cities and roads, Earth works, changes in soils, not-biodegradable materials, mining of Earth materials, extinctions of plants and animals, alteration of ecosystems, radiaoactive signatures in the environment, chemical signatures in the environment, changes in atmospheric chemistry and climate, etc. - one has to imagine how these things might or might not leave a lasting impression in the stratigraphic record of the future.

Therefore, while Anthropocene may survive as a pop culture term or a concept in environmental science, it may not be appropriate as a formal geologic time scale Epoch.

Here's an article titled Enter the Anthropocene - Age of Man from National Geographic if you'd like to read more.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dinosaur Skin?

The roadside outcrop below, well-known to geologists in the Hudson Valley, has a prominant wrinkled appearance that makes it look, to the untrained eye, like the fossil imprint of dinosaur skin.  As a matter of fact, it's known far-and-wide as the "dinosaur skin outcrop."  There are various stories as to how this received its name, but I found a reference to it from a January 10, 1949 filler in, of all places, the Milwaukee Journal (which credits it to the Providence Bulletin)!

While it would be pretty cool if this were a dinosaur fossil, the age is entirely wrong.  This is a rock unit known as the Austin Glen Formation and it's around 450 million years old from the Late Ordovician Period of geologic time.  Dinosaurs didn't appear on Earth until 250 million years ago (the Early Triassic Period).  This outcrop formed 200 million years before the age of the dinosaurs.

So, if it's not a dinosaur fossil, what is it?  The short answer is flute casts - impressions of scours in the mud of seafloor sediments.  The longer answer is more interesting.

Let's travel back in time to 480 million years ago which was the early part of the Ordovician Period.  North America was smaller then, rotated about 90°, and straddling the equator.  Geologists refer to proto-North America as Laurentia.  What's now the Hudson Valley was a continental shelf on the south side of Laurentia in a sub-tropical climate zone (about 30° south latitude).  This southern ocean was called the Iapetus (yes, I know the figure spells it "Iapetos", just a variation depending on how you want to transliterate the original Greek Ἰαπετός).  Iapetus, mythologically, was the father of Atlas for whom the modern day Atlantic Ocean was named.

On this continental shelf seafloor that would later become the Hudson Valley, carbonate mud was accumulating much as it does today on the subtropical seafloor. This formed limestones in the Cambrian and Early Ordovician Periods (Wappingers Group carbonates here in the Hudson Valley).  South of this, across a stretch of ocean, was a chain of volcanic islands (called the Taconic Island Arc by geologists).  This chain of volcanic islands formed over a subduction zone - a place where two plates of oceanic crust collided, one slid down a seafloor trench beneath the other, and melting ensued providing magma for volcanic island formation.

In the ocean basin between the shelf and the island arc, there is a slow accumulation of clay mud, a rain of planktonic organisms, and the occassional influx of volcanic ash from erupting volcanoes (which is why we can radiometrically date these rocks).  Sedimentation is slow and gradual leading to shale formation.  Every once in a while, however, a larger influx of sand, clay, and volcanic rock fragments comes tumbling down into the basin in a submarine landslide known as a turbitity current.  These turbitidy currents were probably triggered by the shaking of volcanic eruptions and frequent earthquakes that are characteristic of volcanic island arc subduction zones.
Turbidity currents deposit thick beds of dirty sandstone (dirty, because it's not just pure quartz sand) called graywacke (from the German for "gray rock").  These graywacke sandstones often exhibit graded bedding where coarser particles are near the bottom of the bed and finer particles near the top because that's the sequence in which sediments will settle out of the turbidity flow (heavier, larger particles first, fine clays last).  Deposits of deeper-water shales interbedded with thick beds of graywacke sandstone are called turbidites and represent multiple turbidity currents over long periods of time in an environment.  An older name for turbidites are Bouma sequences proposed by geologist Arnold Bouma in 1962.
Turbidity currents, as they move downslope, also scour out depressions in the underlying seafloor mud.  These scours then fill with sand during the deposition of the graywacke beds forming bulbous projections on the bottom of the bed called sole marks (like the sole of your shoe).  One type of sole mark are flute casts which are interesting because they indicate paleocurrent flow directions (generally, the scours have a long axis parallel the flow direction and are deeper on the upcurrent side and taper out on the downcurrent side).

The image at right (from Teaching Sedimentary Geology in the 21st Century) shows some typical flute casts where the paleocurrent direction was in the direction the fingers are pointing.  The flute casts on the "dinosaur skin" outcrop are a bit more disorganized and sometimes referred to as mop structures because of their supposed resemblence to old string mops but formed in much the same way.
One other thing about the "dinosaur skin" outcrop.  When looking at the vertical face of the outcrop, you're looking at the underside of the bedding plane because everything was folded here.  This is because this rock, which once formed on the seafloor, was caught up in the mountain building event (called the Taconic Orogeny) when the volcanic island arc eventually collided with Laurentia.  The rocks were thrust westward (northward then) on large thrust faults and everything was highly deformed and folded.

I think this story is just as interesting as the mistaken belief that this outcrop is a dinosaur skin impression.  If you'd like to  view this feature yourself, take the New York State Thuway to exit 21B for Coxsackie.  Turn right onto Route 9W and about 1 mile up the road, on the left (west) side, is this outcrop (42° 24.348’ N, 073° 49.478’ W).  There's plenty of room to pull over on the opposite side of the road.  Please don't damage the outcrop, generations of geology students have stopped here and continue to do so each year.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Geology of the National Parks

During Summer Session 2 at my College, which runs from July 5 through August 15, I'll be teaching an online course on the Geology of the National Parks (ESC-114).  It uses the text Geology of National Parks (6th edition) by Harris, et al. (2003, Kendall Hunt).  Three credits and it's a State University of New York (SUNY) natural science general education elective - meaning it should transfer as a non-lab science course to any SUNY school (and many others as well).  Plus, it's damn interesting!

Here's the course description:

Designed for the non-science major, this course provides an introduction to geology and the geological evolution of North America through a detailed examination of selected U.S. National Parks and Monuments. National Parks studied include the Grand Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands, Petrified Forest, Badlands, Mammoth Cave, Carlsbad Caverns, Acadia, Yosemite, Mt. Rainier, Crater Lake, Hawaii Volcanoes, Yellowstone, and Death Valley among others. In addition to learning about the geology of North America's National Parks, students will also gain an appreciation for the scenic beauty, natural resources, flora, and fauna preserved in these unique areas.

I'll be travelling during part of the time I'm teaching this course, logging in from various places out west and posting updates, hopefully, from the Badlands, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks (among other places as well).  You don't need any previous geology to take this course, just a willingness to learn.  It is accelerated since it covers in six weeks the same material covered when it's offered as a 15 week full-semester course.  The course is fully online, you can take it from anywhere you have Internet access.

I look forward to teaching it!

Send me an email (button at left) for more information (I can email the course outline) or call all the Registrar's Office at (845-687-5075 or 1-800-724-0833) to register by phone or ask questions about costs, registration, etc.).

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Callan Bentley over at Mountain Beltway (great blog, by the way) had a post on 101 American Geo-Sites You've Gotta See.  He suggested other geobloggers do what he did, bold-face those sites you've seen already.  Here's my list...

1. Wetumpka Crater, Alabama
2. Exit Glacier, Alaska
3. Antelope Canyon, Arizona
4. Meteor Crater, Arizona
5. Monument Valley, Arizona
6. Prairie Creek Pipe, Arkansas
7. Wallace Creek, California
8. Racetrack Playa, California
9. Devils Postpile, California
10. Rancho La Brea, California
11. El Capitan, California
12. Boulder Flatirons, Colorado
13. Interstate 70 Roadcut, Colorado
14. Florissant Fossil Beds, Colorado
15. Dinosaur Trackway, Connecticut
16. Wilmington Blue Rocks, Delaware
17. Devil’s Millhopper, Florida
18. Stone Mountain, Georgia
19. Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii
20. Borah Peak, Idaho
21. Menan Buttes, Idaho
22. Great Rift, Idaho
23. Valmeyer Anticlne, Illinois
24. Hanging Rock Klint, Indiana
25. Fort Dodge Gypsum, Iowa
26. Monument Rocks, Kansas
27. Ohio Black Shale, Kentucky
28. Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
29. Four Corners Roadcut, Kentucky
30. Avery Island, Louisiana
31. Schoodic Point, Maine
32. Calvert Cliffs, Maryland
33. Purgatory Chasm, Massachusetts
34. Nonesuch Potholes, Michigan
35. Quincy Mine, Michigan
36. Grand River Ledges, Michigan
37. Sioux Quartzite, Minnesota
38. Thomson Dikes, Minnesota
39. Soudan Mine, Minnesota
40. Petrified Forest, Mississippi
41. Elephant Rocks, Missouri
42. Grassy Mountain Nonconformity, Missouri
43. Chief Mountain, Montana
44. Madison Slide, Montana
45. Butte Pluton, Montana
46. Quad Creek Quartzite, Montana
47. Ashfall Fossil Beds, Nebraska
48. Scotts Bluff, Nebraska
49. Crow Creek Marlstone, Nebraska
50. Sand Mountain, Nevada
51. Great Unconformity, Nevada
52. Flume Gorge, New Hampshire
53. Palisades Sill, New Jersey
54. White Sands, New Mexico
55. Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
56. Shiprock Peak, New Mexico
57. State Line Outcrop, New Mexico
58. American Falls, New York
59. Taconic Unconformity, New York
60. Gilboa Forest, New York
61. Pilot Mountain, North Carolina
62. South Killdeer Mountain, North Dakota
63. Hueston Woods, Ohio
64. Big Rock, Ohio
65. Kelleys Island, Ohio
66. Interstate 35 Roadcut, Oklahoma
67. Mount Mazama, Oregon
68. Lava River Cave, Oregon
69. Drake’s Folly, Pennsylvania
70. Hickory Run, Pennsylvania
71. Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania
72. Beavertail Point, Rhode Island
73. Crowburg Basin, South Carolina
74. Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
75. Mammoth Site, South Dakota
76. Pinnacles Overlook, South Dakota
77. Reelfoot Scarp, Tennessee
78. Enchanted Rock, Texas
79. Capitan Reef, Texas
80. Paluxy River Tracks, Texas
81. Upheaval Dome, Utah
82. Checkerboard Mesa, Utah
83. San Juan Goosenecks, Utah
84. Salina Canyon Unconformity, Utah
85. Bingham Stock, Utah
86. Whipstock Hill, Vermont
87. Great Falls, Virginia
88. Natural Bridge, Virginia
89. Millbrig Ashfall, Virginia
90. Catoctin Greenstone, Virginia
91. Mount St. Helens, Washington
92. Dry Falls, Washington
93. Seneca Rocks, West Virginia
94. Roche-A-Cri Mound, Wisconsin
95. Van Hise Rock, Wisconsin
96. Amnicon Falls, Wisconsin
97. Green River, Wyoming
98. Devils Tower, Wyoming
99. Fossil Butte, Wyoming
100. Steamboat Geyser, Wyoming
101. Specimen Ridge, Wyoming

Some of these sites I've been very close to at one time or another but unable to stop for whatever reason (Devil's Postpile, for example, when I drove to Yosemite from Death Valley and it was just too late in the day).  Some I've never heard of before and had to Google (Crowburg Basin, SC, for example).  Others are places I've always wanted to see but just haven't had the opportunity yet (Checkerboard Mesa in Zion is one).

Here's a few others I'd add off the top of my head...

- Champlain Thrust, Lone Rock Point, Burlington, VT
- Whaleback Anticline, Bear Valley Strip Mine, Shamokin, PA
- Rialto Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA
- I was much more impressed by Glacier Point in Yosemite rather than El Capitan
- Similarly, Harney Peak in SD is much nicer than Mt Rushmore
- All U.S. National Parks & Monuments (too pedestrian for this list, but all are really must see!)

I'm going out west later this summer, maybe I can hit up a few of these.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Quick caving trip

Took my 11-year-old daughter on her first wild caving trip Tuesday (she's homeschooled so available on weekdays for fun trips).  Pomepey's Cave is a few miles down the road from my house and I needed to scout it out (I hadn't been there in a year or so) for a group I'm leading in on Friday.  The entrance to Pompey's is in the middle of a dry creek bed.

In the middle of the creek is a hole, about 12 feet down with a wooden ladder.  Here's me on the way down (you can tell it's not the way up since my sweatshirt isn't muddy).  Dorky-looking caving helmet but given that I frequently bang my head underground it saves some brain cells (I don't have many left after 30 years of hard living!).

Not many pictures from underground (I didn't really have the lighting for it).  The cave is a passage which follows an underground stream (the one that once flowed on the surface).  The ceiling is mostly high enough for walking upright and the walls are about 12 feet apart in places.  The only "problem" is that you have to walk in the stream (shin to knee height water) and you're getting wet.

My daughter underground.  No helmet for her (she's young and has extra brain cells to spare).  She did great in the cave, and showed no fear, which means I'll have to get her gear too since I'll be taking her to others now.

Twigs and leaves wedged up in the roof of the cave.  This cave has no bats because it completely fills with water after heavy rains (which is why I went caving this week - it hasn't rained for a while and the water level was relatively low).  If you dawdle in a cave like this during a heavy rainstorm you will die a miserable death.

Neat flowstone.  The occassional flooding means that stalactites don't get a chance to form.

Me underground (not very photogenic, am I?).  My daughter was up on a ledge looking down on me.  The only real tricky part of the cave was negotiating up (and then back down) a 5 foot high block.

Lots of breakdown in this cave to climb over.  My mind always starts thinking about those car-sized blocks of rock and wondering when the next one will fall from the ceiling.  Hopefully not when we're in the cave climbing around.

The cave has some neat geology, and there's a lot I could write about karst, but that's for another time.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Frogs & Trees & Homeschooling

A fellow homeschooling father led a neat tree identification outing for a number of homeschool kids (and parents - we all asked plenty of questions and enjoyed it too!).

Anyway, my daughter, the naturalist, found a sleeping (they're nocturnal) gray tree frog (Hyla versicolor) she picked up.

Cute little guy.  It's amazing how well camouflaged it is to blend into lichen-coated tree trunks. 

I was also thinking about the tree identification experience.  The kids were taught how to tell the difference between single and compound leaves, simple and lobed leaves, opposite and alternate leaves, etc. in narrowing down the type of tree.  The phrase "dichotomous key" was mentioned several times (the kids were mostly 12 and under).  We talked about how to identify some other things (especially poison ivy!).

It was all an exercise in critical thinking.  A much better educational experience than sitting in a classroom reading about trees in a textbook.  I love homeschooling.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Half of Americans reject science

The latest Gallup Poll shows, once again, most Americans are creationists.  It hasn't changed much over the past 30 years, although there has been a slight uptick in creationism versus theistic evolution (hopefully not a trend).

So, of course, the question is "Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings?"  There are three responses you can choose.

The response - "Human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of like, but God guided the process" - is termed theistic evolution.  This is what you have to go with if you're religious, and want to believe in a personal God, but don't want to throw out science.

The response - "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the past 10,000 years or so" - is the strict creationist position and is completely unsupported by modern science.

The response, "Human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life but God had no part in the process" - is interesting.  While thought of as the atheistic response, I suppose there are certain forms of theism where one can believe in a completely hands-off type of God when it comes to the evolutionary history of humans.

Not surprisingly, these positions correlate rather well with educational level.  It's obviously easier to reject science if you're not well educated (although 25% of the creationists had postgraduate degrees, I'd be willing to bet money that virtually none of those degrees are in strict science fields!).

Also not surprisingly, these positions also correlate well with church attendence:

and political affiliation:

So, if you're a Republican who attends church every week and only have a high school diploma, you're very likely a creationist.   Tell us something we don't know Gallup.

As a geology professor, who does cover human evolution (albeit briefly) near the end of my Historical Geology course, these results are disheartening.  I think it's even worse than it appears because 10,000 years is generous with most creationists who still hold fast to the early 1600s Archbishop James Ussher date of 4,004 BC for the creation of the Earth and man. 

In reality, most U.S. creationists don't just believe humans are recent, which is bad enough, but that the entire universe, galaxy, solar system, earth, and all life is recent.  This means virtually all of science (physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, biology, etc.) is utterly rejected.

I've also never once met a creationist who also wasn't a religious believer.  In other words, their creationist beliefs were never developed by a study of science, but from their initial belief in Christianity, Judaism, or Islam and then trying (poorly) to fit science into that faith framework.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Stealth Ads

In my last post, I mentioned how I don't have ads on my blog.  This doesn't stop scummy people from trying to insert ads into the blog via the comments.  As anyone who has a blog knows, you are forced to moderate and approve comments because otherwise your comments area will be overrun with advertisements for penis enlargement pills, fake Rolexes, and various types of get-rich schemes.

Lately, however, I've been seeing a different type of attempt.  It's a comment submitted that looks OK at first glance, but contains an embedded link to a commercial (usually sketchy) website.  Here's one I just received.

Amazing article! I originally discovered your blog a week or so ago and I bookmarked your site the very next day. - Daisy Charmaine

Looks like a nice compliment.  The name, however, was a link (which I removed) to a website that sold knockoff clothing in the UK (I'm not giving this asshole free advertising).  What they're hoping for is that it will slip through the comment approval process and get posted so they now have a chance to get a click through to their commercial website.

I have to admit, as a blogger it's nice to get a compliment in your comments.  That just makes it all the more annoying when you know it's a lie designed to trick you to advertise their spammy business.

I have no problems linking to another legitimate blogger's website, but if I chose not to advertise on my site for fees, why the fuck should I give you an ad for free?  I call in parasite advertising.  They can't do it legitimately so so try to sneak in and attach like a fucking tick sticking to your ass where it hopes you won't notice it sucking your blood.

Here's another I got yesterday submitted to my past post about asbestos.

I've been browsing on-line greater than 3 hours as of late, but I never found any attention-grabbing article like yours. It is beautiful price enough for me. In my view, if all web owners and bloggers made good content material as you probably did, the internet will likely be a lot more helpful than ever before. Feel free to surf my blog - Posted by

Yes, his real blog name wasn't but that's what he was.  Guess they didn't teach grammar at his law school either.

Tomorrow I'll go back to more science-related posts for a while.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Blogging whores

You may have noticed, I don't have advertisements all over my blog.  There's a reason.  I hate them.  Of course, I'm just a small-time pissant blogger so I wouldn't make much money from ads anyway, but I did make a conscious decision when setting it up a couple of years ago that I wouldn't "Monetize" my blog.

Most other bloggers, however, do advertize.  It's their choice but I do sometimes find it annoying.

One of the worst offenders in this regard is the blogging community over at FreeThoughtBlogs (FTB). There are a number of people over there that I love to read - P.Z. Myers of Pharyngula, Dana Hunter of En Tequila es Verdad, and others (even some I often politically disagree with, like Ed Brayton of Dispatches From the Culture Wars, I still read occassionally).

Problem is, they're all a bunch of fucking whores.  A couple of ads on a sidebar are one thing, but this website (which I believe was set up by Ed Brayton) is wall-to-wall advertising.

- An ad at the header under the title of the blog (and just as prominent).

- Five to ten ads on the sidebar interspersed with useful stuff like Links to Other Bloggers, Recent Posts, Recent Comments, etc.

- Ads randomly inserted between posts.

- Occassional pop-up ads (including some that make it difficult to close the page like the infamous "Viruses were found on your computer!" lying sack of shit webpage)

Some of the ads are also animated which slows down page loading.

While some of these ads are for things I'm sure the bloggers support, like Secular Student Alliance's call for contributions or ads for the Convergence 2012 (science fiction & fantasy) conference, other ads are for things I know some of the bloggers despise.

Many of the bloggers on FTB seem to be pro gun control yet ads routinely appear for a Gunsmith school website.  A little hypocritical?

The bloggers at FTB are also, for the most part, atheists (some of them quite militant - P.Z. Myers is infamous for publicly desecrating a Roman Catholic communion wafer).  Yet ads routinely appear between his blog posts like the following:

This ad links to, a Christian evangelism website.  What next, ads from Answers In Genesis?  Anyone else see this as unethical or do I just have weird moral qualms about taking money for advertising things I completely disagree with?

Some of the bloggers on FTB write frequently about feminism and their support of women in the free thought community.  They rail against the objectification of women and wrote thousands of words condeming some poor schlub who clumsily tried to hit on a girl in the elevator during a recent conference .  Yet ads routinely appear on their blog of big-titted, barely legal, submissive-looking girls selling tee shirts (I haven't seen the one with the girl with half-unzipped jeans lately, but that was a favorite for a while).

Not that I don't like looking at well-endowed, attractive, young women, I do, but then again I don't write posts about how much of a feminist I am - I hold to the Neanderthal belief that women and men have differences (she sure looks different from me!).

Another ad from FTB.

I live in a rural town of 700+ people, I know damn well "Stephanie" isn't down the road from me wanting to chat with a 50 year-old married man (I wish).  Do you guys really think this is an ethical advertisement for your blog?

Why do I care?  I don't really.  It's a minor annoyance in a daily life filled with annoyances.  Just a topic for a blog post and an explanation for why my blog isn't littered with crappy ads.

So, even though I really like some of the bloggers over at FTB, they are fucking whores (just like Stephanie, above, who says she wants to chat with me but really just wants my hard-earned money).

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I should act my age

So today I'm all sore since Sunday I was crawling into some holes in the side of Joppenbergh Mountain in Rosendale looking for a possible entrance into some old mines that had collapsed over 100 years ago (not recommended - it's dangerous and blocks of rock larger than cars are highly unstable in places).
Joppenbergh in late 1800s from Rosendale Trestle

Front face of Joppenbergh today - Mines are buried

Then I went home and mowed my lawn and my in-law's lawn for several hours in the heat of the afternoon.  Yesterday, I go to a caving grotto meeting and spend a couple of hours practicing climbing a rope (frog style ascending, if anyone's interested).

Today I wonder why my back and quadriceps (thighs) hurt.  I'm doing this stuff with people 20 years younger than me, that's why.  I refuse to act my age.