Interlude: When Vehicles Become Part of the Geologic Record

The conversation might have gone something like this:

Geologists: “Hey, boss person, we need to order vehicle parts and then destroy them. For science!

Boss person: “Ummm… okay.”

The thing is, things happen to vehicles when they’re caught up in a directed blast. What the volcano did to them can tell us a lot about what was taking place inside that blast cloud. Vehicles in the blast zone at Mount St. Helens sustained all sorts of damage. See if you can figure out what this is without looking at the caption, which I will cleverly not put directly under the photo: [Read more…]

A Survivor’s Tale: “Half the mountain exploding over our heads”

One thing I love about blogging is hearing from readers, especially readers who have intriguing tales to tell. A bit ago, Timo5150 left a tantalizing clue that one such tale might prove extra-intriguing:

I was living just outside Randle Washington when it erupted, 20.2 miles from it. From there it was more of a low rumble that you more felt than heard. The ash got so thick even indoors that for awhile we thought we would suffocate. I wrote about our experience on Squidoo if you would like to read about what it was like. Just search for surviving Mt. Saint Helens.

And so I did, and promptly ended up perched on the edge of my chair: [Read more…]


Happy Belated Solstice! Twas yesterday, that day when the year reaches its extreme. In this hemisphere, it’s the shortest. We’re deep in the dark and cold.

Hoarfrost on my car's side-view mirror. It made the whole car look fuzzy and adorable. This close-crop makes it look silvery-dark and a bit grim.

Hoarfrost on my car’s side-view mirror. It made the whole car look fuzzy and adorable. This close-crop makes it look silvery-dark and a bit grim.

Seattle celebrated early with a bit o’ snow, the day before the darkest day. [Read more…]

New at Rosetta Stones: Why Geologists Aren’t Worried About Ending Up on the Naughty List

Some of you may remember when I originally discussed why naughty geologists have no fear of what’s in their stocking, but you may enjoy it again – especially since there are added bonus pictures!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to do something naughty so that Santa will fill my stocking with coal. Yay!

The Cataclysm: “A Boiling Mass of Rock”

For most survivors of Mount St. Helens’s catastrophic lateral blast, the devastation was nearly silent. You would think that a wall of ash, hot gas and rock hurtling at a minimum of 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph), mangling vehicles and ripping down every tree in its path, would be loud, incredibly loud – but only one witness reported hearing much more than a rumbling sound. Some said it sounded “like a freight train,” others that it was similar to a prop plane or jet. Some said the rumbling was loud, a roar: others described it as soft, “barely audible.” This close to the mountain, the cloud seemed to destroy even its own sound. In the debris-laden cloud, “sound was attenuated more than 10,000 times as rapidly as in clear air.” Witnesses described the approaching cloud as a “wall,” and like a wall, it served to mute sounds, leaving no more than an eerie rumble to audibly signal its approach.

MSH Eyewitnesses

Map showing the area devastated in the directed blast, and locations of witnesses interviewed by USGS geologists. Modified after Figure 35, Rosenbaum and Waitt 1981, in USGS Professional Paper 1250. Image courtesy USGS.

It did not look so calm as it sounded. [Read more…]

The Cataclysm: “I Was Just Instantly Buried”

A falling tent heralded catastrophe.

Until the summer dry season comes, things in the Pacific Northwest are perpetually wet. Edward Smith and his companions, camped 18 kilometers (11 miles) north of Mount St. Helens, had set their tent on its side to dry out. At 8:32 am, an unusually strong wind gusted, again, and again: the tent tumbled, and a sound like a trio of rifle shots sounded. The surrounding pressure seemingly changed; they found themselves forced to the ground. And then the leading, black edge of the blast cloud soared overhead. Chunks of juvenile gray dacite fell like hail, some as large as golf balls. In the rock rain, Edward and his companions watched the cloud rush to the north before abruptly pulling back to the south. Blue sky appeared, briefly, though the black cloud never completely left his sight. Then the interlude ended. The blackness roared back. A cedar fell; seconds later, he told geologists, “there were no trees left.” They tumbled in eerie silence, in eerie stillness, no sensation of the blast that ripped them down. “Whatever happened,” Edward said, “it happened over our head.” [Read more…]

Dana’s Super-Gargantuan Guide to Atheist Books Suitable for Gift-Giving (Part I)

It’s about that time when we perpetual procrastinators begin to feel each grain of sand dropping through the narrow bit of the glass, innit? If you’ve left gift-buying a bit late, never fear! Books are easy, Amazon and other online retailers are quick, the local bookstore may even be stocked, and you can get someone in your life a gift that will give them more than a moment’s pleasure.

I’m here to help you pick just the right one. Many of these, I’ve read. Some, I’ve only read bits of, but heard much about from other sources and thus feel comfortable recommending. I’ve split things into categories, so you can more quickly make a match between gift recipient’s interests and the right book. And, of course, these will also give you ideas as to how to spend those nifty gift cards you might end up with.

If I’ve reviewed the book, I provide a link to said review. If I haven’t, I’ve provided a brief synopsis to assist you. As always, feel free to add any favorites of your own in the comments – the more, the merrier!

Let’s go!

Photo of a cat lying atop books on a shelf, biting one. Caption says, "I am looking for a book I can REALLY sink my teeth into."Religion

In this section, you’ll find books on religion, wherein religion decidedly does not come out on top.

An American Fraud by Kay Burningham.

Anyone interested in Mormonism, and wanting to know if there’s a legal case for it being a big fat fraud, will love this book. You’ll also love giving it to Mormons.

Not the Impossible Faith by Richard Carrier.

I read the online version, and it was fascinating. In this book, Richard takes on and crushes the “common apologetic argument for the truth of [Christianity] that its origins were too improbable to be false.” This is a thing amongst some fundies. One of them is J.P. Holding, who pretty much recited All the Tropes having to do with this argument, thus painting Richard a maclargehuge target. By the end of this book, everyone will know why Christianity could succeed despite being utter bullshit. If fundie Christians could feel this particular type o’ shame, they’d be ashamed to try these arguments ever again. And the book not only crushes their pathetic apologetics with relentless precision, it also introduces the reader to amazing bits of ancient history, religion, society, and culture, which is an added bonus and great for history addicts.

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.

Suitable for gifting to those who want a no-holds-barred look at what religion really is. A book that has made many an atheist.

Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett.

If you need to give someone a book that gives religion no quarter, and yet doesn’t seem like one of those merciless New Atheist books, this is an excellent start, especially if the recipient likes philosophy.

The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion: the Mormons by David Fitzgerald.

An excellent introductory guide to Mormonism for those who don’t actually know that much about it.

50 Simple Questions for Every Christian by Guy P. Harrison.

Ha ha ha, simple. Also a good book to innocently slip your religious relations. Tell them you thought it would help them argue with atheists. Heh.

The Skeptics Annotated Bible by Steve Wells.

The only Bible that has ever made me want to go to church as an atheist, this is a fantastic gift for atheists and believers alike. Give one to your fundie friends and relations! They can’t complain – you are, after all, giving them a nice King James edition. With, um, some extra footnotes…


Leaving Religion

Here we have books that are mostly about getting the fuck out of faith.

Godless by Dan Barker.

Fascinating tome by a man who used to be a born-again evangelist who was really on fire for the Lord, and is now an atheist champion.

Why I Believed by Kenneth W. Daniels.

So this is a book by a former missionary that is extraordinary in its ability to really get to the nuts-and-bolts of believing, and then losing that belief. Suitable for gifting to friends and family members who just can’t understand your atheism in the least.



Here’s the meaty atheist goodness! Not that the above wasn’t, this stuff has just got more atheism in it.

The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas edited by Robin Harvie and Stephanie Meyers.

This book is snarky as hell, and I fell in love with it instantly. That was while I read the table of contents. It’s an excellent resource for atheists at Christmas, and safe for leaving near religious grandmothers. It includes all you need to know, really: the history, philosophy, science, and how-to of Christmas. Royalties from its sales go to charity, and our own Jen McCreight is in it, so if any atheists out there need some help with the holiday, give ’em this.

The Portable Atheist edited by Christopher Hitchens.

This is a smorgasbord of freethought readings that includes many you’d never have considered freethought. I mean, The Rubáiyát? But yes, a lot of atheism and freethinking existed even during times that were deeply religious. This book covers ancient to modern times, includes a lot of different folks, and is a great place for a new (whether New, Gnu or not) atheist to begin.

Why I Am Not a Muslim by ibn Warraq.

This is rather like what Bertrand Russell did to Christianity, only aimed squarely at Islam. It’s also harsher and more thorough. It absolutely destroys the myth of the divine origins of the Koran, explores the horrifying political implications of fundie Islam, and rather murders that “Islam loved People of the Book!” trope. There are informative and infuriating sections on Women in Islam, taboos, heretics, Islamic skeptics, and more. For those leaving Islam, those of us wanting to critique Islam without sounding like raving right-wing assholes, and those of us who are terminally curious about being apostates from a religion other than Christianity, this is a fantastic book.

The Atheist’s Bible edited by Joan Konner.

A book full o’ freethinking quotes, arranged somewhat like a bible (beginning with Genesis, even), and eminently suitable for leaving lying innocently about where a non-atheist may encounter it, such as on a coffee table or in a bathroom. Perhaps they will pick it up out of idle curiosity, horrified fascination, or sheer desperation for reading material. Two things, if the moment is just right, may happen as a result:

1. They will learn that someone they admire and respect was, quite possibly, an atheist.

2. They will be prompted to think thoughts they haven’t before thunk.

And these are outcomes greatly to be desired.

Nothing: Something to Believe In by Nica Lalli.

I love how, in the intro, Nica says that she chooses “nothing” because it cuts out the god root (theos). She’s right: nothing can stand on its own. This is a journey of discovery about what it means to be nothing in a world swimming in religion. She spent most of her life “frightened or upset by religion,” and realized that not having a religious identity meant having no ammo when the religious freaks came gunning for her soul. She eventually learned to defend her beliefs, and also learned that being despised by the majority of the country is not equal to being despised by your own family, as she discovered when faced with an uber-religious sister-in-law. But there’s comfort to be found in “nothing,” and possibly some decent coexistence, too.

Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell.

This is one of the original New Atheist tomes, really. It’s a classic by a no-holds-barred philosopher, and while it’s a tiny little book, it contains pretty much everything you need to get started on a career of unapologetic atheism. Make sure all the new (and possibly New) atheists you know have got a copy. It wouldn’t hurt to slip one in the stockings of believers, either, should you feel the need to counter their typical religious gift schlock.

Here endeth Part I. Part II coming as soon as I can manage it.

Kitties Are An Enormous Help

My brain is bleeding. You know those times when you’ve read so much of so many different things that you can feel bits of gray matter edging their way toward your ears, clutching the metaphorical hat and coat as surreptitiously as possible, hoping the hostess won’t notice their departure? Yeah. That’s my brain right now. But you’ll love the result when you get it, you late shoppers who love to give books: I’ve got a post upcoming that will give you many ideas.

I’ve also got about five trillion emails to answer (eventually, I swear, I will do it), feedback to give for a book, calls to make for future posts, reviews to complete, and OH MY HECK I JUST WANT TO LIE ABOUT EATING PIE AND GELATO. And I just started typing reading pie. Whimper. At least B and I have plans to watch MMA – I could use some good, clean, people-beating-the-living-crap-out-of-each-other just now. And there will be kitties.

Here are the kitties last week, when I went over for fight night and also spent some time pinning B’s new scarf. Scarves are my thing at the moment, great for a bit of simple, mindless sewing whilst engaged in other things. Wait til you see the candy-cane scarf I made for Starspider. Anyway, there I was, laying out and pinning material for scarves for B and myself, and you know what trying to lay something flat in a household full of cats invites, don’t you? [Read more…]