Wednesday, May 29, 2013

new camera

It is time to declare my camera dead.

I have always been hard on cameras. They're dropped on pavement, they live in field bags populated with hard/heavy objects, they spend long days outside in the sun/rain, they get grit in their innards...

I got this camera in early 2008, right as I was starting my thesis fieldwork. Considering what it's been through, it's sort of miraculous it's lasted this long. And technically it's still useable even though all the silver paint has worn off the corners, most surfaces are scratched, the flash only works with fresh batteries, and it no longer communicates with my computer so I have to take out the memory card and put it in another device to download pictures.

My dad is a photographer and has Ideas about what sort of replacement camera I should get. Ideally, I'd ask for a new camera for Christmas, but I'm not sure I can wait that long.

I have a few major camera requirements: must be durable, must be easy to turn the flash on/off, and must have good optics/a decent optical zoom range (for a point and shoot model). At this point in technology, the number of megapixels available is sort of beside the point.

I know that at least a couple of my readers are fairly serious photographers. What's your current gear, and what do you like/dislike about it? Do you even still have a dedicated camera, or do you just use your cellphone?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Oh, spam

I need to apologize to my commentators. I only realized that I had a spam comment tab recently, and I found a bunch of great comments buried there - some from 2011!

About half of the comments flagged as "spam" were legitimate, which is only slightly higher than the proportion of spammy comments that aren't flagged. I didn't see any trend, except that comments mentioning salary were flagged at a higher rate.

So now I know to keep track of spam. I appreciate all the new features that have been added to blogger - I guess I should poke around the available features more often.

Friday, May 10, 2013

first experiment

I came across this post recently and it reminded me of one of the "games" that I played as a little kid.

I think I was probably 8 or 9 - old enough that I didn't need to be watched constantly, young enough that I wasn't allowed to wander too far afield. I roped my younger neighbor into a long-running study whereby we waved enthusiastically at every single person who drove by and dutifully recorded whether they waved back, did a weird non-wave acknowledgement of our existence, or ignored us. For maximum coverage, I would station my neighbor by her house (she wasn't allow to go as far as I could) and then position myself at a crossroad at the end of our street to capture anyone who didn't pass her. I couldn't do this for long, because she would get bored and wander off. She also didn't care about confounding variables (what was the difference between strangers vs. people you knew?). Quite frustrating.

I'm pretty sure I made up this little study entirely of my own volition. Science at my elementary school was more along the lines of "fill in this worksheet" and if we were especially lucky, "build this thing according to very specific instructions."

I don't remember how the actual tallies ended up. As I recall, they filled several pages - pretty impressive considering how few motorists actually rolled through in any given time. I'm sure my parents came across an old notebook filled with hatch marks in columns entitled "Yes" "No" and "Other" years later and chucked it without a second thought, so my epic First Experiment has been lost to history.

Monday, May 6, 2013

yep, it fits

This is one of my occasional random posts that doesn't have anything to do with the geology or the environment or writing...

I've been thinking about getting a Large Object for a while now. About a month ago, I noticed a shabby little storefront with a prominently placed Large Object near my place. I'd been keeping an eye on it ever since.

I was running errands yesterday and feeling particularly productive, so I stopped by. The price on the Large Object was on the high side, so I dickered with the owner and ended up with an agreement for a slightly lower price. Cash only. Since I hadn't originally planned on this little shopping expedition, I didn't have enough cash on hand. I also had a bunch of bags from my shopping earlier that day, so I told the owner I'd clean the car and come back for the Large Object.

My visit had attracted a small crowd of bored retirees/nearby shabby shop owners.

One of the guys asked, "Isn't your car that (color) hatchback?"
Yes, it was.
"Oh, there's no way that Large Object will fit."

So there was nothing for it but to open up the hatch and show them that the seats did fold down, and if I moved all my stuff out, I would indeed have room. I left them to mutter about bungee cords and rope to hold Large Object in with the hatch up.

I came back an hour later, having more or less cleaned my car (threw out the accumulated junk like the horseshoes, stuffed the important field stuff and the grocery bags in the footwells of the back seats, pushed the shovel, ice scraper, and umbrella to the front of the cargo area), put the back seats down, stuffed the cargo cover in the front seat and gotten the cash. I'd also done a quick internet search to confirm that my price for the Large Object was indeed reasonable.

The crowd (still there - this was apparently the most exciting thing they'd seen in a while) was dubious. But the Large Object fit in my car with no problem at all.

After he received the cash and was relieved of the Large Object, the owner was in an expansive mood. He was also quite impressed with my car. He wanted to know how many miles the car had, how reliable it was, etc. How old was it, anyway?

The car's about 10 (give or take) years old.

So how long have I had it?

Um, I got it new, so 10 (+/-) years.

He sort of boggled at that, and I realized that (as usual) he'd thought I was at least 15 years younger than I actually am, and was trying to figure out how the hell I'd bought a new car at such a ridiculously young age.  I wasn't as annoyed as I would usually be, because I had a new acquisition... and my hatchback had proved itself yet again!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

MOOCs and geology

Janet Stemwedel has a new post up regarding the use of massive open online courses (MOOCs) in (replacing) university classes. Would MOOCs work for teaching geology?

I doubt it.

Geology is an applied science of observation, of going outside and looking at stuff (rocks, soil), and trying to piece together what happened. Often, you need to use most of your senses (ok, don't try tasting stuff in the environmental biz). Taped lectures will have examples of what to look for, but you really need to be given a bunch of samples or to go out and ponder road cuts and learn how to figure things out on your own. Is that a natural fracture, or did someone manhandle the sample? Which direction is "up"? How did those rocks get smushed together like that? How can I get a reliable indicator of fracture orientation in this mess? Being a good geologist is only partly about learning facts, and is more about developing an eye for important observations.

And being a successful environmental consultant is about more than just knowing your facts. It's about being able to use different lines of evidence to determine what's going on out there, and to evaluate other folk's theories. It's about writing reports that don't actively piss off the target audience. I've harped on this before, but the critical evaluation and writing skills I got from my small liberal arts college (SLAC) were what allowed me to progress quickly from where I started as a field tech. And my expensive, labor-intensive SLAC must have done something right according to my management, because my office hired a succession of new grads from that same program for years after I paved the way.

If I had no ability to access good teachers and relevant samples, then a MOOC would help to get some of the basic science down. So would a good textbook. But I'd have a serious deficiency in my understanding of geology if I didn't have someone to call attention to my bad habits and show me where my interpretations were going astray.