Sunday, December 11, 2011

back in a winter climate

Ahhh, winter. It's been a long 6 years that I've lived without it and only gone to "visit the snow". So, with one housemate away (leaving behind Q, the dog), one exam and one final report left for the semester - a plan of "exhaust the dog so that majorly productive studying happens" was concocted.

A snowy night hike followed by a sunny x country ski the next day occurred and all participants had a great time, however the dog exhaustion only seemed to last the one evening/night. As I type this post (not studying) she is whimpering for "more skiing! more snowshoeing! more! yay!" which is just not going to happen today.

mountains in my backyard

behaving herself to pose for a photo... moments before tearing off after a deer or something

the snow here is ridiculously deep and dry powder, I hardly know what to do with it... but I am pretty sure that my snowshoes will be of inadequate size to contend, and I will sink like a stone when I use them...

"yay! I'm a dog! I'm bounding through snow nearly as deep as I am tall! wheeee!"

...And then, a couple of days later, we tried a real challenge: 4 dogs, 3 girls, 2 skis (each), and 1 Honda Element. We skied into Idaho- it was fantastic!


Sunday, November 13, 2011

meet my lab

For my media tools class I needed to learn how to use InDesign, and with it, make a poster or flyer of a biographical nature. I used my lab as inspiration, and now we have a 3 foot version of the poster on our door (it's also been handed in for my class, I'll let you know what I got on it later).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

my life as a math word problem

Part A. If a PhD student runs a trickle of water overnight into a flume that isn't draining:
  1. how many gallons of water will spill over the top of the flume onto the geology department floor?
  2. how many gallons of water will leak out the flume seams onto the geology department floor?
  3. how many gallons of water will the PhD student have to bail out of the flume the following morning between classes?

Part B. If the PhD student is bailing the flume with a 4 gallon bucket that doesn't have a handle at 4 gallons per minute, and the janitor is bailing the flume with a 5 gallon bucket that does have a handle at 2.5 gallons per minute, how long will it take for them to clean up the flume?

I had raked out the flume to set up a braided stream system, onto which I will plant sprouts in order to create a meandering stream system, and accidentally set up a Lake Bonneville system. Amazingly enough, despite the epic mess on a Friday morning, I did end up with a lovely braided stream, and as an added bonus, a lovely "flume delta".

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Catch up 3: Podcasts about canyons and then rafting them.

Field work officially began last week, and my labmate (let's call him OSL) and I took off for the Moab area to do some scouting before our adviser joined us. The first thing we did was score a super sweet base camp location and important supplies.

Image of super sweet base camp location and important supplies.

Our adviser arrived with our field vehicle, and we got set to start sampling. Rough life, eh? Well actually, trying to "steer" that thing is not what one would expect. Especially considering one (me) began rowing 2 decades ago. Let me just clarify for you, this inflatable rubber thing is not svelt like a rowing shell, and those oars are not sleek and lightweight. But I digress.

One could have a worse field area to sample in.

One's challenges could be worse than finding a living tree to dock at.

A conveniently located outcrop of Cutler formation on the river's edge... now where did I put that GPS?

This one is not griping.

Wildlife bums.

Related only because of canyons and things, I had a podcasting assignment for my media tools class, and that resulted in this. It's not any of the following: good, complete, interesting. But I'm sharing it with you anyway.

P.S. I oared that raft over 2 sets of rapids and only got stuck on one rock and no one died and nothing/no one went overboard and lots of stuff/labmates/advisers got wet.

Catch up 2: Geology, Awards, and Stuff

Almost immediately after I returned from my sister's wedding in Canada, did I have to get on another plane and head up to Minneapolis for the Geological Society of America's Annual Meeting. This meeting is pretty much always awesome for many reasons:
  1. free beer
  2. reunions with geology nerd friends/colleagues/GSA buddies from last year/profs/friends who are the authors of the textbooks from your u-grad education
  3. field trips
  4. making new GSA friends
  5. meeting the program director for the exact NSF grant you intend to apply for over free beers

I started this meeting off with a geology field trip called "cycling the Mississippi Gorge", it involved learning local geology, riding bikes, eating really yummy yogurt, making new GSA friends, and learning local "fun facts" like: when Minneapolis was emerging as an up and coming mill city it was also the biggest producer of prosthetic limbs, and no, not peg legs (I asked), real jointed top-of-the-line-for-the-early-1900's prosthetics. There was also this random park with giant polished slabs of hematite in it. And giant mirrors glued to other rocks. It was a little weird...

I was not presenting at GSA this year, but instead going to enjoy the meeting and be flashed momentarily on the 2011 Hall of Fame screen.

Oooh - there I am! Don't blink or you'll miss it! Really there was a big fancy (and extremely nerve wracking) luncheon with presentations and speeches and things. The 4 of us getting awards and our "citationists" (the people introducing us) all had to eat lunch awkwardly on stage while everyone in the audience got to eat their lunch while NOT sitting on stage, which would have been far more preferable.

There was an amazing quilt that someone had (painstakingly) made of the geology of Minnesota. Unbelievable!

I finished off the event with another field trip, although I completely FUBARed the original plan. I was supposed to go on a relevant field trip, but stupidly scheduled my flight back in the middle of the trip. Amazing. So, since I realized this exactly 1 week before the meeting I could not get a refund and changing plane/hotel would have been too expensive, so I traded trips. Unfortunately this other trip involved much less learning and cool geology and fun facts. I did find a handful of fossils, which I gave to a guy from New Zealand who couldn't seem to find any himself and was far too excited about these run of the mill crinoids and brachiopods.

Catch up 1: Pomp & Circumstance

At the beginning of the month my "little" sister (can't remember how long ago it was that she surpassed me in height exactly - not that it's difficult to do...) got married. It was a big country club whoop de do involving taffeta and such. My favourite 3 photos of the event from my camera (operated by Becky) are as follows:

My fantastic cousin Fred.

My fabulous friend and camera operator; Becky, and my fierce cousin Amelia (can I actually limit myself to only "f" descriptors in this post?

The fiesty bride and fervent groom thoroughly enjoying their fancy speech. Ha! I did it!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Scenes from FOP Rocky Mountain, 2011

FOP stands for Friends of the Pleistocene - I've been a "friend" of much much older geology for all of my geological career, so this was a new experience for me. Somewhere between 75 and 90 geology types from the USGS and various Universities gathered in southern Idaho for a 3 day geology and camping expedition. The characters, as one would expect, were diverse.

Naturally, despite the focus on the Pleistocene, I was drawn to the older, consolidated and crystalline rocks. There were lots. Unfortunately, they were all the same. Fortunately, they were cool columnar basalts from the Snake River Plain, which I happen to thoroughly enjoy.

These are holes left by a few plucked hexagonal columns from a "strath terrace" of the Snake River.

This is the view down Box Canyon, which was spectacular. Columnar basalts from numerous flows line the steep head-walled canyon, and there are two plunge pools filled by a natural spring sparkling in the center.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

stratigraphy THIS!

Sooo... first "real" lab in geomorphology: sketch the outcrop, identify stratigraphic units, and interpret depositional event history.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

great illustration

My new field area is bits and pieces of the Colorado Plateau... it's pretty big, and not even remotely like any of the geology I've ever studied before. Consequently I've been gathering materials to help me study and read up on on the area. Mostly I've purchased a bunch of current things off of, but they haven't arrived yet - meanwhile I'm perusing some gems of finds that are so far out of date that plate tectonics is not even a glimmer in the eye of geologists at the time they were published.

Scenes of the Plateau Lands and How They Came to Be is fabulous because it is filled with hand drawn pencil sketches that I absolutely adore. Here's my favourite:

It's good for so many reasons, but I think what I appreciate most out of it is the random herd of dinosaurs about to drown in the river. At the far left is probably an Albertosaurus, judging by size, especially in comparison to what must be a T-Rex drowning in the foreground. To the right of Albertosaurus is an unlikely companion, almost certainly Vulcanodon, because it can't possibly be a Diplodocus or any other giant sized sauropod, unless it stumbled into an incredible shrinking machine or something, which is only slightly less likely than Vulcanodon, Diplodocus, or a Titanosaur herding along with Albertosaurus and/or T-Rex. The most obvious character is the Stegosaur dog-paddling along in the river, who also seems quite an unusual companion in this motley crew. Look closely and you'll see the only capable swimmer of the lot is watching, bemusedly, from atop the log.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

apparently it isn't over yet

For reasons that are likely rooted deeply in incompetence, I am still receiving e-mails from my former employer. For reasons that are entirely selfish and for entertainment/vindication purposes, I continue to read said e-mails.

Start from the bottom and read your way up.

1. I would not (mot?) have cared one way or the other if student was not (mot?) "feeling too hot" (or "to hot") and would have preferred to not (mot?) have that clutter my inbox even if I was there.

2. I'm not (mot?) there.

3. It's week 3? 4? there and this student still does not (mot?) know who his professor is? Awesome.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Field Vehicle?

Last Friday my grad geomorphology class went out on a field mapping excursion -- new to me:
  • geomorphology
  • mapping geological deposits younger than the preCambrian (this was Quaternary)
  • mapping units (that are covered in grass) from afar
  • antidunes

There are two incredibly awesome things in this picture; I challenge you to identify them.

This is Cutler Narrows, where we went mapping. We were on that darker pointier hill, mapping that lower slumpier unit across the Narrows.

My geomorphology posts will become more coherent once I learn more stuff about geomorphology... probably...

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Charm School for Bloggers

Media Tools blog assignment #2 was to find some blogging best practices/etiquette -- and I've gone ahead and broken one of the best "rules" I found already in this sentence.

Unless you're now intrigued to find out what I'm on about... are you?


Who's still reading?

Well, anyway, echoditto has a nice list of suggestions, the second of which is:

Engage from the beginning. Blog readers generally pay attention to the title and the first two paragraphs of any given post, and then decide whether to read the rest. This means your title, and your first two paragraphs are your chance to entice them to read the rest of the post. Humorous, playful, and even whimsical titles are OK because they catch readers' attention. Sometimes, if it concerns a particularly hot news item, a straightforward title will do the same. Posts with compelling titles get read more often, and get more comments.

In the first two paragraphs, try to give the reader an idea of what you're talking about, what you think about the subject, and — towards the end of the second paragraph — a teaser to get them to read more.

This is obviously why my blog is named "toilet training a furry cat with frictionless paws". Not really. Actually, that is why I went and changed the title of this particular post from whatever boring version of "blog assignment #2" it was to my incredibly creative "Charm School"...

Seriously though, if I actually wanted to ensure that people were consistently reading this blog, and perhaps even gaining something from it, I'd be sure to make an effort to consistently be creative with my titles and try to draw you, the reader, in. As it stands, this is more like a public-online-diary that I established to record my adventures (for me) and take care of that pesky "communicate with people about stuff" thing that I prefer to do via handwritten letter, but really that just takes far too long to be able to communicate everything to everyone so I do this instead. offers helpful, and (from my perspective) humorous, advice on writing blog titles. It seems to me that point number 2, avoid "bait and switch", comes somewhat out of left field. I'm not sure what blogger wants to lure someone in to reading their own personal opinions and commentary on, say... apples, only to find out somewhere in the first paragraph that they have in fact been reading about, heaven forbid... oranges!!! Unacceptable.

Image from, you can still get the T-shirt! (This ties in nicely with item #2 from My Beak Social Media's lauraleewalker although this particular image really is quite irrelevant to the content of this post. It is cute though.)

Actually, strolling around campus lately I've found quite a bit of "bait and switch", when I first started writing this I naively thought, "why would anyone bother?", then I got schooled. By school. I got drawn into a "join our bible cult" table because they had stacks of pizza boxes and I thought they were selling pizza and I was hungry so I wandered over there. Boy, was I ever disappointed. I promise I won't do that to you readers ever. Except with my blog title. I probably will not be discussing toilet training cats ever on here. But there will be lots of hiking and stuff.

Along the aforementioned line of drawing readers in is item #4 from My Beak Social Media's lauraleewalker:

Use bullets, italics, and bold font. This makes for an easier read. Using bold font allows the reader to quickly scan your post.

Of course you'll have already noted that I instead make the font smaller, and a weird colour, and spell words Canadian-ly. I do believe that when I make fonts smaller it draws your attention in, though admittedly, it's more of the "squint and lean forward" attention than the "wow, that's super awesome and I want to read more of it" attention. I should probably work on that.

On a more serious note, there is something else that I feel is definitely worth discussing in terms of blogging best practices, and that is ethics. describes some of these as well (note how I've referenced my sources by providing links directly to them in my text? That's part of it). Having taught for several years now, and having seen some epically bad cases of plagiarism, source citing is definitely of importance, even if you're "just blogging". Let's say I was to use blogging as a mode for assignments for my students instead of turning in super cool meganeura papers, I would still require that the sources from which their information was obtained be referenced! In fact, in the same class as the meganeura report, I had a student who created a facebook profile for Troy Pliocene, the mastodon with an attitude, and she had made an effort to cite her sources within Troy's notes. Brava.

Meanwhile, here I am stating this and while I went ahead and linked to woot for the apples/oranges T shirt image, I sure didn't ask their permission to use it first. Bad blogger.

web addresses for blog references:

Friday, September 02, 2011


Most of you who read this little blog of mine know that I started it when I embarked on my transitional journey from student to professor... over the years I've shared my adventures with you, and, of a more entertaining nature, my horrific (and occasionally impressive) students' work. If you need a refresher on any of these, I'm listing a couple of classics below for you:

Now I find myself back in a transition... from professor to student again - which is admittedly a little odd, and since I'm not a TA, I will be unable to share such educational gems for the next few years.

Currently I'm taking an instructional technology - media tools course, for which I have a couple of blogging assignments. This is blog assignment # 1 -- the blog as a pedagogical tool.

I was instructed to find and read a few educational blogs, and since my experience and my aspirations lie in higher education, I started with where I used to work and with the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is where I actually found that former job back in early 2005. Where I used to work brought me to two blogs that I previously knew about, but upon closer examination I found that one was not particularly useful in this context, and the other, on assessment, was relevant, but not even remotely appealing. The Chronicle proved a better resource, and I found myself drawn into a post that related hiring new faculty to planting fruit trees in the yard... I think it was the weirdness of the analogy that drew me in in the first place. While the article isn't so much about teaching or pedagogy per se, I can definitely relate to the roots (ha. trees. roots. ha) of the concept, in that, like a biologically active and growing forest ecosystem, the faculty of a college or university need to be diverse, filling the various academic, collegial, administrative, etc. niches in order to generate a complete functioning institution that is also inspirational to the student body.
somewhat crappy doodle I did of a rainforest run by evil forest monkeys during another class while thinking about this assignment and playing with my livescribe pen

This naturally reminded me of where I used to work and how unlike a rainforest it was... or if it WAS like a rainforest, it was one where the evil forest monkeys (chancellor and chancellor minions/puppets) were building an unsustainable reserve factory on top of the forest canopy and fueling it with the non-renewable lifeblood of the forest understory... anyway... surely that sort of system is one that generates the uninspired student body, the students that are represented in my horrific examples above. The students that prompted me to routinely read a blog that shut down last year, called "Rate Your Students". While it was primarily composed of rants, they were rants I could easily relate to based on similar experiences I had with my own students, like this one, and that made me feel like I wasn't alone in my dying rainforest. Every once in a while, however, a post would appear on Rate Your Students that had a valuable teaching lesson, genuinely inspiring to a young college professor, and that's the real bummer about the end of Rate Your Students.

Meanwhile, back in the current world of higher education, I stumbled across this blog and consequently this article -- which is right on the money. I can't even begin to say how many former colleagues I had that fit the "I'm perfect and I don't need to improve" mentality, and how little they did to serve the institution. I served on the Academic Senate Executive Board for 5 of my 6 years there, and in that forum was surrounded by fellow faculty who strove to do more do better do faster do bigger, and like me, were also the primary constituents of every other important committee at the College. Meanwhile, the bulk of the rest of the population ran their scantrons through the scantron machine for the billionth unchanged time and bitched about how little time they had for other things because they're teaching 8 identical scantron sections... I digress... you get the point. Thank you Dean Dad, it's nice to know that some Deans notice this sort of thing.

This is becoming a fairly lengthy ramble, and I'm not sure that I've even touched upon the relevance of blogging with regard to education, or its use as a tool in education. To some degree I've used this blog to educate you all about a few random/historical/geological places I've been-- and I can certainly see the applicability of this, say as assignments for students to show their comprehension of subject matter -- like my former student Terisaurus Wrecks demonstrates in this vlog:

In fact, posting their reflections on subject matter, to be graded, in the context of a publicly visible blog might just get a few more students to proof-read their work so that it's not an incomprehensible pile of misspelled words bracketed by capital letters and periods. Maybe.

Or, in the context of geobloggers like Garry Hayes and Silver Fox who use their blogs solely to share their geological experiences and knowledge with the general public. With a subject like geology, where the hands-on field experience is so crucial to learning the material in context, blogs like these provide a sort of "virtual field trip" that allows the reader to passively "travel" with the author and "share" their experience.

web addresses for blog references:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

my other backyard

While there is quite a wilderness in my actual backyard, my neighbourhood backyard has a lot to offer as well. Just a short drive northeast of campus brings you to the Mt Naomi Wilderness. On Friday all the new geo grads went on a field trip to the High Creek area and looked at Gilbert deltas then hiked/scrambled up to some Cambrian carbonates and shales and found teeny-tiny trilobites. Then on Saturday, my roomie and another new grad and I went for an 11.5 mile hike up Mt Beirdneau, along the ridgeline, and down Green Canyon.

Gilbert delta. I'm being immersed in soft rock geology now!

Super small trilobites! 0.9cm long!

View looking down into Green Canyon (aptly named)

Where the trail vanished, we found an airplane wreckage, and commenced bushwhacking. I think I'll be asking for a scythe for xmas...

Surprise! Mama moose! Moose baby! Moose??? YES! Moose! Awesome.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Hello Utah

A new chapter begins: I resigned, accepted a fellowship at Utah State University, and moved to Logan, Utah. So in 2 weeks I'll be a student again, now trying to earn a PhD, but not before maximizing my time on numerous unnecessary projects.

The solar oven was the first one. With some insulation added and mirror extenders, a max temperature of 290 Fahrenheit was achieved. I cooked some pretty random concoctions with that, but then the picture frame glass cracked. I'm guessing that it wasn't exactly meant to be dealing with that sort of temperature range...

So rather than fix the solar oven, I naturally moved on to unnecessary project number 2: chickens.

There was already a coop in the backyard, so it just needed some repairs, cleaning, bedding and fencing. Several hot and sweaty days later:

Then all it needed was chickens:

They are mighty impressive composters!!! This is a FAR better place for my veggie scraps to go than a) in a pile, b) in the garbage disposal system, or c) just flat out in the garbage. I got older, less productive, hens - so not so many eggs. But I really didn't want to deal with baby chicks until I had some idea of how chickens would work out.

Then I needed to fly back to Canada and get my student visa to re-enter the US as a student. I got an awesome view of the Grand Canyon on the flight there.

Then I met up with some long-time friends and their new offspring for the only part of my summer that's truly resembled a vacation. Lots of good times catching up and hanging out!

First stop: the refrigerated Canadian beer section.

Greatest cut bank ever. I'm convinced these are a flood deposit that has since been cut into by this river channel.

Beautiful Kananaskis country - and the sign even held true to its promise.

Finally, I wrapped up another knitting project between flights, layovers and buses - so here's the Charvet pullover.