Sunset Bay: Pacing a Puzzle

Planed off into two dimensions by erosion, geological features can be confusing. Some folks are talented at reconstructing the original three dimensions. I’m not one of those folks. I can build a world from scratch in my head, populate it with multi-dimensional people, but ask me to pop what amounts to a natural diagram out into the third dimension, and I’ll just stare blankly at you. I don’t even know where to begin.

This is why getting out with Lockwood is such a boon to my brain. He’s good at getting this stuff to pop. And Sunset Bay, Oregon*  provided an ideal example. Observe:

Seriously Bent

My first question was, what the hell bent that strata? That looks like a pretty sharp curve there. You can see it a little better in this next photo:

Really, Seriously Bent

This area’s been stood on end, it’s riddled with faults, and the rocks have been placed under a good deal of stress. But Lockwood took one short look at that curve and said, “Look again.”

I looked. I had no idea what he was seeing. But he asked me to visualize it, imagine the strata not in two dimensions, but three. Cue blank look.

“It’s straight,” he said.

Cue blanker look.

“Imagine a sheet of plywood set against that layer,” he said.

Visualize Plywood

We took a walk across the bay to verify. That’s the neat thing about being out in the field: you can work this stuff out. It’s not abstract. All you have to do is follow the strata.

Across the Bay

You can walk a problem out, which helps you reconstruct it in your mind.

Pacing the Puzzle

The more resistant layer remained visible, with just a few places where it had been planed down and covered by sand, all the way across. And at the end…

Ah-ha Moment

We’d reached a place where the standing strata hadn’t been completely planed off by the waves. Here, you can see in three dimensions, that one resistant layer standing out tall and proud, and demonstrating that while it was tilted, it wasn’t kinked.

Another View

Sometimes, you don’t even need to visualize plywood sheets. All you have to do is walk a few hundred yards. And then it all becomes clear.

Looking Back

This was a nice little demonstration that nature, like art, can sometimes present a trompe l’oeil. You have to imagine in three dimensions to see the trick. And if, like me, you don’t carry around sheets of plywood and have trouble with seeing the third dimension, you can always just use yourself.

Be the Plywood

The more of this sort o’ thing I see, the easier it becomes to recognize illusions and visualize the way things really are. It’s just a matter of training ye olde brain. This stuff may seem impossibly difficult at first, but with practice, it gets easier, until you can, like Lockwood, tell at a glance when things are really bent and when they’re merely just fooling around.


*Edited to add the state and the link.

Sunday Song: Anger (with a Tim Minchin Chaser)

Actually, I’m not angry at all today. I’m a happy atheist. I did have to go in to work, which was annoying, but only for two hours, and then I was free to enjoy a mild, somewhat sunny day… by arranging the storage shed and renewing my lease. I’m telling you, the excitement around here would be too much even for Evel Knievel.

But I’ve just spent the last several hours watching snippets from the Reason Rally and old school Doctor Who whilst arranging rocks. Rocks make me happy. Having the rocks out where they can be seen and enjoyed and picked up and exclaimed over makes me happier still. And I’m going to see Tommy again tomorrow. That, also, makes me happy.

So why “Anger”? Because of Greta Christina’s book, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? Which, actually, made me very happy indeed. It settled my anger at religion into a nice, constructive hum.

In the future, when I feel like I’m about to be devoured by outrage over the appalling shit people do in the name of faith, I’ll have Greta’s book to turn to. It has suggestions for what to do with that anger, ideas and resources for building a better world. Of course, I’ve also got FtB, which is also an excellent outlet.

Greta’s book has already made a difference in my life, I’ve noticed. It’s made it easier to calmly tell people that religion is, in fact, nonsense, and not quite so harmless as they think. I’ve always been open about my atheism, but sometimes shied away from difficult discussions when I just didn’t want to contend with the inevitable justifications. Maybe I was afraid they’d accuse me of being just another angry atheist. Now I’ve got a book I can refer them to rather than spending the next several hours explaining why I am, indeed, an angry atheist when religious bullshit gets heaved at me. It explains the case much more clearly and calmly than I could manage.

So no, not very angry today. A little sad, though, that I missed the Reason Rally. I hate enormous crowds, navigating said enormous crowds in large cities I’m not familiar with, and standing round for hours in the rain, not to mention there are never enough toilets. But it looks like the whole thing was a blast, and you could actually see and hear what was going on, and I’d probably have enjoyed myself.

Thankfully, modern technology and the kindness of strangers posting on YouTube means those of us who missed the event can live it vicariously. I’m going to give you Tim Minchin’s wonderful “Confessions,” because it made me laugh.

You know what, after that song, I love boobs, too. Even mine, which I have to live with and therefore get annoyed at.

All right, one more. This is fucking brilliant.


Atheist Goggie, Evul Kitteh, Mah Name on a Book Cover, and the Most Depressing Video Ever

Sorry, folks, I’m wrecked. Got three hours of sleep last night, on top of three the night before, and couldn’t sleep this evening, probably because my body’s forgotten how it’s done. So I’m spending the night watching old school Doctor Who and cleaning out the storage shed. Yeah, I know how to par-tay.

I haven’t got any awesome geology ready. No profound thoughts on atheism. Just some random stuff I’m throwing into one post and calling conglomerate.

Cujo decided to get in on the whole A-Week thing. It’s disgustingly cute is what it is.

A-Week Puppy. Image Credit: Cujo359

For balance’s sake, I present to you the greatest poem about cats ever written. I know the link looks like it goes to a t-shirt. Indeed, it does. But there’s also a poem there, and when Nicole sent it to me, she knew she’d found a poem that perfectly describes the relationship between myself and my cat. It begins thusly:

You always hurt the one you love.

The cat’s behind the chair
The cat’s behind the chair
Hi-ho the derry-o
The cat’s behind the chair

And goes on to become ever more accurate from there.

The cover for Open Lab 2012 (which isn’t actually named that. It’s called The Best Science Writing Online 2012) is out. My name’s on it. This feels somewhat weird.

Open Lab 2012 Cover. Design by Jason Heuer.

If you’d asked me last year, before it happened, whether I thought I’d ever in a million billion years end up inside a book with a set of science writers this good, I’d have ruptured something laughing. Now there’s a book cover, and it has got my name on it, which makes it somewhat difficult to deny that this is a real thing that is actually happening. I keep looking at names and thinking, “I’m in a book with X,” X being whichever science writer I’ve admired for years whose name my eyes happened to come to rest on. I’d ask how the hell that happened, but I actually know how. I’m looking at you, Chris Rowan. Who is also in this book. Who I’ve admired for years. Yegawds.

I will need some of you to come sit with me the day the physical copy arrives. I’ll be walking round in a daze and will probably need to be guided around obstacles, and prevented from doing things like putting the cat on to boil and making sure the spaghetti’s litter box is clean. I might be able to manage an autograph or two, but I also might stare blankly at the page, pen in hand, and drool gently on the title page. I hope they chose an ink that’s not prone to running, along with a paper that can withstand dribbling authors. Bring one of those pens that’s capable of writing underwater, just in case.

Finally, the most depressing video ever. It’s depressing because I haven’t been to Circus Mexicus for years, and I bloody well miss it. Thanks, Ed. Thanks so very bloody much (no, really, thanks).

I still have half a bottle of Roger’s Mexican Moonshine. It still tastes delicious. I may have to go drink the entire thing right now. Then I can plot how I’m going to sell a publisher on the idea that they should send me to Mexico round about Circus Mexicus time with a political blogger so we can do a book on drunken geology (believe me, there is no staying sober in Mexico during Circus Mexicus) somehow tied together with the Peacemakers, poker, and politics. Trust me. I will find a way.

Last Weekend for Tommy

So you’ve missed the Reason Rally, you’ll be AWOL at Rock Beyond Belief, and you’re stuck in the Pacific Northwest with nothing to do. If you’re near Burien, you could console yourself with some rock opera. This is the last weekend for Tommy. Grab yer chance before it’s gone.

And enjoy a little St. Paddy’s Day madness with some of the cast.

“On St. Patrick’s Day some of the cast from Tommy met at Bison Creek with the local band Gear Driver.”

Last two shows, people. If you meant to go, get on it.

Stuck in the Northwest While Everyone Parties at the Reason Rally and Rock Beyond Belief?

Well, I haz just the event for you! Reader Brad notified me the Northwest Free-thought Alliance is having its conference on March 30th – April 1st. It’s just south of Seattle, which is easy-peasy for many of us Northwesterners. It’s got freethinkers and food and lots of interesting talks. It’ll be a blast! You should totally go.

I, alas, can’t go. I’m buried under a super sekrit project which won’t be sekrit for much longer.

But you could go. Then you could give me the juicy details about Karen Mockrin’s “Current Separation Cases.” You can tell me “What’s Going On at MRFF,” because Akiva David Miller’s going to bring you up to speed. And you can hit me with the highlight reel from the keynote, “Waiter, There’s A God In My Language!” I’m sure Anu Garg will have you rolling.

You lucky barstards. *sniffle*

I’ll tell you what I’ll be doing my damnedest to get to, though: the after-conference shindig, “Working Together for a Secular Society, A Celebration.” It’s Richard Dawkins, Elisabeth Cornwell, and Sean Faircloth. It’s at 3pm in Bellevue, which is within spitting distance from my place as long as there’s not a stiff wind from the south. It’s $5. Unless, of course, you’re one of the lucky barstards who went to the conference, in which case, it’s free.

If you’re going, let me know, and we’ll form a horde. Probably not a ravening horde, because I’ll be too bloody tired out from super sekrit projects to raven or even seriously inconvenience, but still, a horde.

And if anyone has horses so we could ride to the venue in true horde fashion, that would be awesome.

Hey, Ophelia! I Gotcher Daffodils Right Here! With Haiku, Fruit Trees and Tom Lehrer

We’ve just passed the equinox, and things round here are getting ready to spring into spring. Not fast enough for Ophelia, alas – she wants her daffodils and wants them now. Well, she can haz. And so can you. There’s also bonus Tom Lehrer at the end, because spring isn’t complete without one particular song.

A Daffodil in Oregon

Next March, I should see about taking Ophelia to Oregon. There’s a long stretch of back road in the Willamette Valley where daffodils go on for miles. Lockwood and I didn’t get any pictures – the lighting conditions were teh suck for shooting from the car – but we marveled. You drive and drive and drive for what seems like a bajillion miles with this nearly unbroken hedge of daffodils along the road.

Daffodils in Bothell

Now I’m just cheating – these are from last year. It should only be a week or so before everything’s blooming in force again, and I’ll have the opportunity to unleash the power of my macro upon the local cultivated flora again. I’ll be paying more attention to daffodils this time.

Two-Toned Daffodil in Bothell

Daffodils had a particular meaning in my youth. When the crocuses came up, we’d bust out the plastic wrap and toothpicks, because it was guaranteed Flagstaff would suffer another snowfall. My mom and I always tried to save the little buggers with makeshift greenhouses, and it never worked. But when the daffodils came up, we knew we were through with winter. Sure, there might be a light dusting of snow, but the freezes and the significant accumulations were over. And there’d be plenty of mud to play in.

Daffodils apparently have a different schedule in Japan.

The first snow
the leaves of the daffodil
bending together.


Dos Daffodils

It’s actually a little difficult to get excited about daffodils here, for me, because about the time they’re in full swing, the fruit trees get showy. That’s one thing I love about this area. Driving in to work becomes a ride through fairyland.

Cherry Blossoms

The cherry trees start in first. The whole place turns rather pink, and for a while, it feels like being in a Japanese poem.

Cherry Blossoms II

A lovely spring night 
suddenly vanished while we 
viewed cherry blossoms


Then the plum trees turn into huge white clouds. At least, I think they’re plum trees. Maybe one of you will know for sure.

Plum (?) Blossoms

Spring too, very soon!
They are setting the scene for it –
plum tree and moon.


If you wish to sit quietly in serene beauty and contemplate the glories of spring, stop right here. Savor the moment. Do not go on. Because this song will shatter your ethereal mood.

Yet it is a springtime anthem.

(For the record: I haven’t poisoned a single pigeon, and don’t advocate doing so. I actually like pigeons. But I also love this song.)

Happy spring, my darlings!

“Religion Depends on Social Consent to Survive”

It’s been nearly a year since I clipped this snippet from Greta Christina’s “Live-Blogging the Rapture.”

Religion depends on social consent to survive and perpetuate itself. We have to deny that consent. We have to keep pointing out, at every available opportunity, that the Emperor has no clothes.

That, coming at the end of a super-snarky session waiting for the Rapture (which, much like Godot, never showed up), struck me hard. “Religion depends on social consent to survive…” The phrase resonated. I clipped it into a post draft, and I’d see it on the list occasionally, where it waited for me to do something about it, this fact that on the face of it seems so obvious and yet seems so often overlooked.

“Religion depends on social consent to survive and perpetuate itself.”

Isn’t this why people get so upset when their religion is questioned or mocked? Why the idea that religion, any religion, is unnecessary or harmful and no more than imagination is not even allowed to cross people’s minds? Isn’t this why so much effort is expended on propping up the invisible and unknowable? Why the thinnest evidence will do for a believer? Why even the simple statement “You can be good without God,” why the very word “Atheists,” throws so many believers into a frenzy, and causes so much controversy?

Religion is a social construct. Nothing more. And if social consent is denied, if society refuses to shore up the edifice, down it comes. It can’t stand on its own. It will crumble and fall.

Knowing that is power.

“Religion depends on social consent to survive and perpetuate itself. We have to deny that consent.

If someone asked me to sum up the whole of New Atheism in two sentences, I’d filch Greta’s. That’s what we’re doing: denying religion the social consent it depends on to survive. As to why we’re doing that, the reasons are nicely summed up in Why Are You Atheists So Angry? I haven’t finished Greta’s book yet, but I’d determined by Chapter Three that this is the book I’ll suggest to anyone who asks me about atheism and why I’m the kind of atheist I am. Everything’s there, even an echo of those two sentences that made me sit up and go, “That’s it!” last year. See Chapter Two, under the heading “I’m angry, too. What can I do about it?”

Coming out is the single most effective political action a godless person can take. Coming out is how we counter the myths and misinformation people have about us. It’s how we become a political force to be reckoned with. It’s how we become a voting bloc. And it’s how we deny the social consent that religion relies on to perpetuate itself.

We’re still, even in the more enlightened areas of this country, at a point where people are startled by the very idea of atheists, much less being confronted with them. I live in one of the most liberal cities in the Pacific Northwest, where religion isn’t a constant presence, but people still do a double-take when religion comes up for various reasons and I announce I’m an atheist. There’s a little stumble in the conversational flow. Some of them incorporate that information effortlessly after a second: they may not have realized I’m an outspoken atheist, but the fact I’m an atheist fits very well with what they know of me and it’s just another of those factoids about Dana, to be filed away with her rock obsession and homicidal felid. Others seem to take a bit longer wrapping their heads around it. The fact of an atheist running around acting like a perfectly ordinary person, not raping and pillaging and burning down churches, doesn’t seem to have occurred to them.

The fact that religion can be dispensed with, that no religion is necessary for a good and fulfilling life, that one can get on quite well without gods of any sort, is a fact too many people haven’t even been allowed to consider.

And that’s why atheists who aren’t apologetic about their atheism, who aren’t standing outside with their noses pressed against the stained glass, wishing they could believe, need to make the fact of their existence known, wherever and whenever possible. The more people who see us getting along just fine without religion, the more people there are who will be able to imagine their own life without it. Not everyone’s going to become an atheist. It’s a bridge too far for some, and I’d never force them across that bridge. But at least they’re aware it’s an alternative. At least they can begin to imagine no religion as a valid option. At least they can see that dissent doesn’t lead to an empty life of pain and pathos and isolation. Which it certainly doesn’t – it’s fervent believers who want to make it so.

Unfortunately, there are still places in this world where being an atheist is a death sentence. Unfortunately, that’s sometimes right here in America. There’s always a danger in denying consent. Not all of us can risk coming out. But those of us who can, who can do so at minimal risk or who are willing to risk it all, loosen the stranglehold religion has on humanity. They make it safer for those who will come out later.

Religion will survive, at least for our lifetimes, without our consent. But we reduce its power every time we deny it the power it demands. And by denying our consent, we can lessen its danger. In a world where so many people are harmed and killed because of religion, denying consent is a critically important thing to do.

I Got Coal in My Stocking!

Remember when I mentioned geologists have an incentive to be naughty? I must have been very naughty indeed, because Santa (i.e., my mother) just sent me coal. Coal horses!

Wild Coal Horses

I have no idea where she found them. All she did, when she told me something was on its way, was snigger about how she’d found the perfect present for a coal miner’s daughter. And a horse fancier. And a geology buff.

You know what, she’s right. They’re awesome.

Wild Coal Horses II

Carved coal, people. So much more awesome than burned coal.

This is probably anthracite or cannel coal, either one of which can be used for carvings.

Wild Coal Horses Closeup

They squigged me out when I first took them from the box. I’m used to handling coal, but in its uncarved, rough state. Carved, it feels slick and slightly sticky. It’s more tacky than you expect a stone carving to feel. It’s also a bit strange to think you’re holding a flammable statue. “Yeah, you think your statue’s cool? Mine’s so hot it burns! HA HA HA HA HA.”

These are the perfect gift ever for a geology buff. There’s a ton of coal sculptures for cheap on Ebay, by the way, so if you’re inspired to do a little early shopping for the geologist on your list, there ye go.


Not Mystery Flora: Western Skunk Cabbage

At least, I’m fairly certain it’s Western Skunk Cabbage*. It’s skunk cabbage, anyway. Lockwood and I saw bunches of it at Sunset Bay.

Very Probably Skunk Cabbage

The reasons I’m treating you to a gallery of skunk cabbage are two-fold: I’ve been busy with a project all weekend, so I’m not prepared for writing up delicious geology. Also, Bug Girl posted this on Twitter:
found a bunch of skunk cabbage today! Hurray for spring! #signsofspring
Bug Girl
It's entirely possible I am the only person excited about finding skunk cabbage. But really, important early pollen source. #notthatstinky
Bug Girl
And then Bora said,
@ OMG, I LOVE skunk cabbage!
Bora Zivkovic
And I suddenly found a use for ten billion photos of skunk cabbage. Look, I was excited. Normally, I see the stuff at the end of its life cycle, when it’s all manky. And it was about the only wild blooming thing we found. Now I come to find out there are people in the world who love skunk cabbage.

Field o' Skunk Cabbage

This little marshy area near the beach was skunk cabbage central. Despite the name, you’d not have known it was there if not for the bright yellow flowers – it wasn’t smelling up the place. Yet.

(Suspected) Young Skunk Cabbage

I like the way it pops up through the soil in those sweet little spirals.

Young Skunk Cabbage

And then this demure little fold, before the big spiky inflorescence thingy happens. The entry on skunk cabbage in my Cascade-Olympic Natural History book says Walt Whitman “named a book of suggestive poetry after a similar species, Calamus.” Somehow, one is not surprised.

Skunk Cabbage is rather, er, suggestive

Our variety of skunk cabbage uses bees and beetles for pollination, and matches its scent to the pollinators’ preferences: different temptations at different temperatures. Evolution is bloody clever, people.

Skunk Cabbage Trio

Later in the season, apparently, these beauties will sprout maclargehuge leaves. I’ll have to look out for them. But, despite the fact the leaf bases and roots are edible, I don’t think I’ll be eating any. I’d prefer looking to lunching.
It’s quite pretty, and I’m glad I finally got to see it in its glory. I’m even more glad other people actually like it enough for me to post the photos.**
*I think we’ve established by now I’m teh suck at botany. So don’t take anything for granted.
**And if you like skunk cabbage enough to want a photo for yourself, please do feel free to download – Creative Commons with Attribution and all that. I should put an icon thingy up to let everyone know, as that subject’s come up a few times. You’re free to filch any photo unless it’s marked as belonging to someone else, and use for whatever purposes you like as long as you mention where you got it. Enjoy!

Not Just a Week, but “A” Week

Visitors to my Facebook page will notice a change to ye olde profile photo:

Scarlet A Over Ruby Beach Sea Stack

It’s A Week on Facebook, y’see, and since I had other, more pressing concerns having to do with getting my crap together for a rather exciting upcoming event which I can’t announce just yet but soon will, I decided to spend an hour in Corel trying to plaster a great big atheist A over a sea stack at Ruby Beach. Don’t talk to me about working with layers in Corel. I suck at it.

I’ve had the scarlet A in my sidebar for some time now, and I like it. Atheists shouldn’t need to hide away. And that’s why campaigns like A Week are worth spending an hour wrestling with Corel for: the world gets to see a lot of out-and-proud atheists going round doing atheist things like geeking out over teevee shows and gawking at cute animals and drooling over some particularly tasty science and rooting for sports teams and bragging about their kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews and reading books and getting ready for Rock Beyond Belief. Which I regret not being able to go to, so if you’re going to be near Fort Bragg, NC on March 31st, you should go (it’s free!) and then drop by to tell me what a great time I missed. Go ahead. Rub it in. Pour some salt on, too.

If you’re an atheist on Facebook, and you want to create your own super-awesome Scarlet A profile pic, you can grab an A with a transparent background here, and have at. If your Corel/Photoshop/other program skillz are even worse than mine, you can choose from a wide selection of wonderful A designs here.

And now I’m going to stop babbling. I must get back to the work I’m avoiding. Which involves Corel. Sob.