Northwesterners: Don’t Forget Dawkins!

Tomorrow afternoon, people: Working Together for a Secular Society, A Celebration. I want to see a horde of ETEVers there. Doors open at 2pm. It’s the last time I’m getting out of the house before my life explodes into chaos for a while, and the Northwest Free-Thought Alliance would be happy to see lots of people turn out, so these are excellent reasons for showing up. Directions to the venue here. I’ll be wearing my usual blue jacket, so I should be relatively easy to spot. Let’s celebrate reason, shall we?

The Bat Signal! In a Thunderegg!

I have a habit of looking for geology-related stuff when I’m in the little shops attached to parks. Usually, I’m disappointed. Geology gets very little mention. But you’d expect Lava Lands Visitor’s Center to have a little something, seeing as how their whole thing is the volcanoes. They had a nice bin full o’ bits of the rock types you find round Newberry Crater, collected from the area, which was awesome. They also had Oregon’s state rock, the thunderegg.

It’s amazing what rhyolite gets up to. In this case, little nodules have formed within the lava flow and filled up with all sorts of delicious chalcedony. The Ore Bin has a nice PDF on how it became the state rock and what a thunderegg is.

The patterns within can be wild. And these weren’t expensive, so I decided I might as well get one. I went through several, looking for a pleasing pattern, before this one caught my eye, and I knew it was The One:

Bat Signal Thunderegg

No self-respecting Batman fan and geology addict could possibly pass that up, amirite?

I couldn’t decide whether russet or navy set it off best, so I took a photo of both:

They’re amazing little things. Look at the outside, and you’d never suspect what’s inside:

Thundereggs exterior

Then you cut ‘em open, and bam! Beauty. Also, Batman.

Beauty and the Bat

Fun with rhyolite, people. This is how I spend my evenings. I’m such a geek.

Unidentified Flying Dinosaur

At last! Trebuchet requested mystery birds, and I finally got one of the bastards to hold still long enough for a good shot. We’d have had this long ago if crows, robins, seagulls, red-tailed hawks, cormorants, bald eagles, and blue herons counted, but if they’re easy enough for a clueless git like myself to identify, they don’t quite count as UFDs.

I’ve been on the lookout for unknown birds ever since Trebuchet’s request, and I’ve seen a few, but the fuckers never hold still. I’ll be like, “Ooo, mystery bird!” and swing my camera round, and the bird’s all like, “Ha ha ha fuck you! You’ll never photograph meeeee!!!” as it flies into places my camera can’t reach. This one at Seward Park tried the same nonsense, but it went and hid in a tree with lots of gaps in it.


It’s got speckles! That’s so cool. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen one of these round here before, but then, I’ve usually got my eye on rocks and landforms and flowers and insects and other such things that are easier to take photos of.


I spotted this little dude on the ground under the fir (?) tree first, and I got super-excited. But of course, it flew up into the branches before I could bring the camera to bear. I might have startled Ryan and Ryan a bit with the vehemence of my cursing. And I’m all trying to shoot it through this tiny little gap in the greenery, and my camera’s going, “Oh, neat! You want a macro of the needles!” And I’m going, “NO I DO NOT WANT A MACRO OF THE DAMNED NEEDLES YOU DUMBSHIT! I WANT THE FUCKING BIRD!!” I finally persuaded it to understand, terrified all the while that the bird would catch on to the fact I could see it and would head for a location up near the crown, or perhaps across Anderson Bay. After a few hasty shots through the tiny gap, I decided to risk it all and ducked beneath the branches, circling round to where I had a clear, unobstructed view of the UFD – only to discover the bastard was backlit.

Thank the programmers for photo editing software. Otherwise, all you’d get is an amorphous black blob.


Right. So there you are. Our very first Unidentified Flying Dinosaur. Woot! I shall be terrorizing the avian community all summer in the attempt to get you more, my darlings. Because I love you, and I want you to be happy.

Go, Evelyn!

My dear friend and fellow Geokittehs blogger Evelyn Mervine is finishing her thesis tonight. She defends it on Friday the 13th. It’s been a long georney, and she could certainly use all of the support and encouragement we can muster. Give her your love, my darlings, and if you can fill this thread with really bad geology puns, so much the better!

I’m going to attempt a small cheer, although I haven’t got an outfit, and I suck at cheerleading.

G is for Georneys,

O is for Ophiolite.

GO Evelyn! GO Evelyn!

Finishin’ your thes

Gettin’ PhDs

Will be really gneiss

And we’ll be shouting twice:

The Doctor Rocks!

The Doctor Rocks!

You’re the schist! Woo!

In Which I Play the Geological Host

There’s this place in Seattle called Seward Park, where, after an easy amble up a nicely-paved walk, you dodge off onto a wee little trail and come bang up against a fault scarp.

Mah Boys with Fault Scarp

I did a wee write-up on it a bit over a year ago. Good thing, too, because I keep missing the geology walks they do there sometimes, and when you’re showing off the local geology, it helps to know a little something about it. I dusted off ye olde research and read up a bit to refresh ye olde horrible memory, so there were a few moments during which I could answer questions. Such as, “What’s a fault scarp?” Which is answered at the link.

I’ll be doing a more in-depth write-up soon, once I’ve drilled down a bit. There’s so much more to this park than just one fault scarp, although that’s bloody awesome.

So I had Ryan Brown and his friend Ryan with me, and we babbled about geology and looked at geology, and there was the wonderful interval when all three of us were walking along the pebbly beach with Lake Washington roiling under gray skies, and plucking out particularly beautiful rocks. I could even identify some of them. We found a nice porphyry, and a variety of granitic rocks, and quartz of course, and some fragments of migmatites, and gneiss, and some rocks so green they probably had a lot of epidote in them. And I found a piece of smoky quartz that is extremely special because it’s the first bit of smoky quartz I’ve ever found in the wild. Woot!

Then Ryan (no, not Glacial Till Ryan, the other Ryan) spotted the tiniest baby slug I’ve ever seen.

Baby Slug!

And no, I don’t know what kind of rock he’s on – I was too occupied with the slug to look closely. It’s kind of quartzy, I think. Um. Yeah. Hey! Slug!

So Cute Slug!

And there were fruit trees flowering:


I took about a billion photos of fruit trees, including the whole tree and the bark, and I’ll be posting them for your pleasure soon. I know some of you like identifying such things. Not many wildflowers out yet, alas, but I also got some unidentified birds, so the ornithologists in the audience will soon have challenges of their own. Yes, I think about all of you constantly while I’m out adventuring. I want to make you happy, my darlings!

One of my goals for this outing, besides showing Ryan and companion some fun geology while they were in town, was to get a photo of my Glacial Till with some glacial features. And I succeeded! I’ve got Ryan, aka Glacial Till, riding a glacial erratic:

Glacial Till with Glacial Erratic

We ended up in bits of Seward Park I’d never been in, and saw things I rarely see, like breaking waves on Lake Washington.

Breaking Waves

And we found an outstanding outcrop of the Blakeley Formation.


Yes, I squealed when I saw this. There are other exposures up by the art center, but this one, round the tip of the peninsula, is utterly gorgeous.

And dere were bald eagles! Which probably explains why there’s a trail named Bald Eagle Trail.

Bald Eagle

Soaring majestically, although from some angles, they actually look kinda like they’re upside-down.

Upside-Down Eagle

Then all back to majestic again.

Eagle Soaring

Ryan’s studying meteorites, so his forte is space rocks more than Earth Rocks. He’s my very own Meteorite Man. And so I gave him a little fragment of the Canyon Diablo meteorite, which is the huge-arse iron octahedrite that created Barringer Meteor Crater. I just discovered that this meteorite, my home-town meteorite, helped date the age of the Earth to 4.55 billion years. How awesome is that?

So here we have glacial geology (note the drumlins and the glacially-carved lake) with meteoritics (note Ryan’s hand holding his meteorite) and a very pretty fruit tree.

Meteorite and Drumlin with Fruit Tree

I can’t tell you how much I love this picture, but I think you can guess.

Within the next few days, I’ll have lots of lovely photos for you: mystery flora, mystery avian dinosaurs, skunk cabbage for the skunk cabbage lovers, daffodils for the daffodil lovers… We’ll dig in to the Blakeley Formation, and visit with some more glacial erratics, and revisit the fault scarp. Then we’ll head back down to Oregon, because I should really get off me arse and get some of that delicious geology posted for ye.

And there are some exciting announcements coming up. Things round here are gonna change. Stay tuned!

Something struck home during this visit, and it’s the thought I want to leave you with: geology is something anyone can do. You do not have to be an expert. Here I am, a freaking amateur, and I can walk folks round the local geological delicacies just fine.

It’s okay to not know everything. It’s okay to not know all the terms. It’s okay to admit you’re stumped when you are, in fact, stumped. But after doing some reading, both books written for layfolk and the scientific literature, and getting out there to bang on some rocks yourself, you’ll be surprised by how much you’ve learned. And it’s a total delight when you revisit a place you’ve seen before, and realize how much more you know and understand.

What I’m saying is, don’t let anything keep you off the rocks. If you love them and want to know more about them, you don’t need an advanced degree, an expensive education, and higher maths to hear what they’re saying. You just need the passion. It’s kind of like amateur astronomy that way. Layfolk can get involved, and have a damned fine time doing it. That’s true for all of the sciences, of course, but some are easier on the mathematically-challenged than others. This is one.

There’s nothing like being on the rocks. Nothing at all.

We Can Haz Geokittehs Stoar!

Yes, a store! And you can get stuff with Geokittehs on it! Evelyn is amazing – we kicked this idea around for about twenty seconds, and the next thing I knew, it was a reality. While she’s busy with her thesis, no less. And I haven’t even posted a Geokitteh in ages!

I am so lame. Thankfully, Evelyn is not. Neither is the first offering: a Stalacatite.

The proceeds will be used to fund those geology field trips Evelyn and I keep meaning to take and never quite get round to, us being on opposite sides of the world and stuff. But that’s not all! 10% is going to fund no-kill kitteh shelters. And what do you get? Awesome geology with cats on, that’s what.

This is a very much a work-in-progress. So, what sort of geokitteh-themed stuff would you guys want? And do you have any geokittehs you’d particularly like us to include? Let us know!

I Will Hold On to Life Like Grim Death… No, Wait, That’s a Horrible Metaphor

I’m jonesing so hard for the Doctor right now. Oh, sure, I’ve got classic episodes I’ve never seen, and I’m enjoying those quite a lot. They help fill the void. But, and I hope long-time fans of the show forgive me for saying this, it’s like having a margarita when what one actually wants is a straight shot of El Caballo Estrella Tequila Añejo. Or possibly El Jimador Tequila Añejo, but while it’s reputed to be “an extraordinary sipping tequila,” it wasn’t named after a horse and bottled by a family who had a dairy farm in a place called Volcancillo. A geology and horse lover must opt for El Caballo Estrella, unless given two shot glasses, in which case there is no need for sacrifice.

Where the fuck was I? Oh. Right. The Doctor.

See, I’ve been suffering. I’ve denied myself anything but classic Doctor for a while now, because I’m trying to avoid burning out (like that would be possible). And I’m loving me some classic Doctor Who. But the new series quite often echoed the old, deliberately, and when I come across those moments, I start sniveling, “I want my David Tennant and Matt Smith, damn it!” And still I’ve denied myself.

Now it’s reached the point where nearly every phrase I hear reminds me of a moment from the show. Random things happen, and a scene lances through my mind like a lightning strike, with the same electrified jolt, and I’m dying for new adventures, and then I get the news that the fucking BBC won’t be starting Series 7 until the bloody fall.

Did you hear me scream? Surely you did. You must have heard a howl of anguish that made your blood curdle and children and pets dive under the bed.

I meant to live anyway. I love life, and I’ve got lots and lots to live for. I’ve got friends and family and my kitteh and mah rocks and all sorts of other things that keep me eager for more. But it’s imperative now. I must survive. I will cling to life like grim Death, despite that being a horrible metaphor, so that I can see my Doctor again.

I’ll avoid questionable foods, cliff edges, untied shoelaces, texting while walking down stairs, and taking my eyes off the road for a single nanosecond. I will drive like the proverbial grandma. I will be at the clinic to verify that the headache/backache/otherache isn’t a tumor. I will scan the skies for meteorites and attempt to dodge any that look to be landing nearby. I will even, and this is hard, but must be done, deny my cat the pleasure of taking chunks out of my flesh, because there’s a non-zero chance that the wounds could become infected with a flesh-eating bacteria of some sort and land me in the hospital just about the time Series 7 premieres, and I’ll bet you they don’t have the BBC on the hospital tellies in this country.

I am now going to torture myself by watching the Series 7 trailer:

Apologies for that second blood-curdling scream that could be heard round the world. I will do a whip-round to help you pay for a qualified therapist for any children and/or pets traumatized by said scream.

There’s gonna be some damn fine geology in this series. Drool.

Speaking of geology, and so that I can pretend the purpose of this post was to tie in geology rather than rave about Doctor Who, here’s some at the 20 second mark:

So, there’s Rory on Glen Canyon Dam, in Page, AZ. That’s the Page Sandstone in view, and we’re right by the type locality for it. Also, Geologists as Time Lords. There you go. Doctor Who, geology, boom.

And we shall close with “I Am the Doctor” on a violin, which is almost as cool as the Doctor himself.

Now I have to make dinner. Gotta keep up me strength. Survival is paramount.


P.S. No spoilers in the comments, please. Some folks get extremely upset, and it upsets me to take comments down to avoid upsetting others. Argh.

What To Do If You’re Bored This Weekend

If you’re in the Seattle area, or don’t mind a bit of a drive from elsewhere in the northwest, you can head on over to the Northwest Free-thought Alliance Conference. Can’t attend the conference? No problemo! Join me afterward to see Richard Dawkins, Sean Faircloth and Elisabeth Cornwell. They’re doing a special appearance on Sunday called Working Together for a Secular Society, A Celebration. It’s $5, free if you attended the conference, and there’s been some talk of ETEVers arriving either on horseback or in Viking ships. You should absolutely join us. Here’s where to park the ponies (or dock the ships, whichever):

The main entrance (the one we are using) is on the west side (toward I-405) of the main building.

There is a parking lot on the west of the building as well, for the early arrivals.

If that lot is full, there is a bigger lot on the east of the building, but you’ll have to walk around the building.

To park in the west parking lot, turn east off 124th Ave SE.

If that lot is full, you can turn west off Factoria Blvd. SE. Walking around the building to the south may be less walking than going around on the north side of the building.

Doors open at 2pm on Sunday, April 1st, people. Be there. Also, they may still need volunteers for registering folk at said event – let me know if you hereby volunteer, and I’ll pass the word along to the proper peeps. Yahoo finds me at dhunterauthor.

There is an auction, by the way, and you could possibly be one of the ten lucky people who gets to have Richard Dawkins record your voicemail message.

But say you live on the opposite coast, near, oh, I dunno, Fort Bragg, NC. You can’t make it to this Northwest gig. You know what? There’s something for you, too. You may have heard a little bit about it.

And it’s free! So if you’re anywhere within driving distance, and you have nothing critical to do on Saturday, like get emergency surgery or spend the day with your dying friend/family member/pet, get your arse down there. Support our atheist troops by being enormously entertained for free. Also, it’s free, did I mention?

Come prepared to donate some food, though. Y’see, unconstitutional evangelical proselytizing events on the military time and dime are allowed to do good works, but apparently atheists are not. That’s okay. We know how to subvert the system, don’t we just? And for those of us who can’t actually make it to RBB, there’s a handy little donate button at that link to ensure we can participate anyway.

Right, so there’s our weekend plans on both coasts all sorted. What’re you folks in the middle doing, eh?

Edited to add: Also, go read Cuttlefish’s poem.

The Mystery of Strike and Dip

There are things that remain somewhat mysterious to me. You can read about things like strike and dip for months, years even, but they’re words. You know dip refers to something tilting down. It’s right there in the word. Strike is more vague. I usually think of it as “striking out,” perhaps for parts unknown.

And if you’d asked me to demonstrate strike and dip in the field, I would’ve laughed in your face. The whole concept has a sort of je ne sais quois to it. I can recognize the words. I know it’s measured with a compass. I had absolutely no bloody idea how to see it.

Until now. Observe. Lockwood will show you in four photos of Sunset Bay, OR he posted on Twitter and gave me his kind permission to use, with the captions taken from his tweets.

#1: Oblique view of a single bed- rocks in sand lower middle right show up in 3 & 4 as well...

Now, experienced geologists and geology students will have no problem seeing what Lockwood saw. To folks like me, this is just some bent-looking rocks. And you might, like me, be too busy wrapping your head around the idea that apparently bent rocks are actually straight to even consider strike and dip.

That’s okay. Learning this shit takes time. And that’s why inveterate teachers of geology mess about drawing things on photos for you: to help you see.

#2: Annotations on #1...

POP goes the bedding plane. Okay. So we’ve got one bed in the strata to work with. Awesome! We can begin to see WTF’s going on. Remember, we can be the plywood, and see how that bedding plane has been scooped out by erosion – it’s like we’re standing inside an up-ended layer cake with a great big slice taken out of it.

As for strike and dip, we’re still at sea. But notice that the layer cake is, while raised from the horizontal, not standing straight on end. It’s leaning.

#3 Looking directly into strike; rocks in sand down the lower middle same as in #1...

Okay, so we’re looking into the strike. What strike? Harf?

#4 Annotations on #3. One can easily forget how abstract concept of strike and dip can be to beginners.

And I still can’t claim to understand it, but at least it’s beginning to pop out now. And the dip emerges with gorgeous clarity. This abstract concept is becoming something concrete. Someday, perhaps not too far in the future, I’ll be saying, “Oh, right. That is totally abstract when you’re first starting out. Forgot about that. Whoops!”

That day still isn’t here. But I found a nifty video that helped bring some of this stuff out of Abstractland into the town of Concrete (not the one in Washington), and a series of photos that showed how to measure it, and someday, when I at last have succumbed to the temptations of a smartphone, I’ll be able to somewhat intelligently, and perhaps even nonchalantly, walk up to an outcrop and begin using its nifty geologic compass app to measure strike and dip all by me lonesome. That’s one of the things I love about geology. Ordinary folk without advanced degrees can do it.

Especially when they have friends like Lockwood helping to make the abstract concrete.

Sign the Petition for Trans Rights

It infuriates me that we have to have discussions like this in the 21st Century. It outrages me that we have to beg people to give folks their basic human rights. Why haven’t we reached the point where it’s obvious to even the dimmest and most backward among us that it’s not okay to deny people jobs, relationships, safety and their lives simply because they’re transsexual?

Oh. Right. Bronze Age religious bullshit and the general population’s total inability to consider the humanity of people different from them.

We need to give society a push in the right direction.

First, read Natalie’s piece on the Canadian bill that would give trans folks a chance a regular, decent lives.

Then go sign the petition to make it happen.

We can make a difference. We must.