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of current things off of, but they haven't arrived yet - meanwhile I'm perusing some gems of finds that are so far out of date that plate tectonics is not even a glimmer in the eye of geologists at the time they were published.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: