Sunday, February 26, 2012

Captain Kirk and Object Oriented Programming, According to my Dad

I’m taking a Java class right, and having a little bit of trouble wrapping my head around the concept of object-oriented programming and how to implement it. So, I asked my dad for some advice, and this is how he responded:

"Object oriented thinking:

Imagine a planet, any planet. How do you describe a planet? These are the properties.
The planet has it's own gravity,
It's own sky color,
It's own funny looking, sexy locals - if it is a 'star trek' type of planet
It's own monsters.

What do you do on the planet? These are the methods.
Look at the sky,
Chase the women
Run from the monsters

So Capt Kirk lands on Boiseity, what does he find?
Gravity - normal
Rainfall - dry
Local women - nice clean cut Mormons
Local monsters – chipmonks

These are the unique properties of the Boiseity planet.
Now Capt. Kirk lands on CapitolHillia, what does he find?
Gravity - .95 earth normal
Rainfall - wet
Local women - grunge
Local monsters – panhandlers

CapitolHillia and Boiseity are both unique objects of class Planet.”


Fighting aliens makes so much more sense than withdrawing funds from a bank account.

Hilarious, right?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ten Things I Love About Studying Geology

There’s a wee bit of a geomeme going on about what one likes most about one’s geologic field of interest. It started with Erik Klemetti’s post on “10 Thing I Love About Volcanoes,” and was quickly followed up by Siim Sepp’s post on “The Top Ten Reasons I Love Sand,” Callan Bentley’s post on The Tope 10 Reasons I Love Structure,” Silver Fox’s post on “Top 10 Reasons I Love Detachment Faults,” Hollis’ post on “Top 10 Reasons I Love Wyoming Geology,” and then Garry Hayes's post on “10 Reasons I Love Teaching Geology At Community College.”
Since I’m a geo-baby, I thought I’d talk about what I love about being a geoscience student!
I originally studied classical literature, philosophy, math, and science at a liberal arts college. While that experience has deeply shaped me, the most important thing it taught me was what I really want to study – the world! Geology is the best way to study the world that I’ve found, so I happily switched majors!
Woo, rocks! My excitement face shortly after switching majors.
I’m just getting into upper-division coursework, and I decided to take a geophysics major, so I have quite a challenge ahead of me! But I’m excited to have the opportunity to study so many cool things, for the following reasons:
1. Real facts.
2012-02-21 23.17.54
The movement of Mars, over 16 years, according to the folks before Kepler.
The Earth revolves around the Sun.
Atoms exist.
The “heavenly spheres” are the troposphere, the stratosphere, the mesosphere, and the thermosphere. Sometimes the magnetosphere and the galaxy come up. None of them play music, or have anything to do with the divine.
2. Whiteboards > Chalkboards
Chalk dust gets everywhere: in your nose, in your hair, on your pants. It may look hip and old-school, but it’s kind of a pain.
Whiteboards, on the other hand, only leave black smidges on your fingers.
3. Arts & Crafts Time.
Recently, I was talking to a computer science student about how much I like graphics. His response? “But I thought you were into, like, geology.”
But the geosciences are filled with pretty pictures! There are nifty geologic maps and psychedelic polarized thin sections. There are colorful charts and graphic graphs. And, of course, the “reference photos.”
Look at that rhyolite! Sunset for scale.
4. Interesting lectures.
I love listening to people explain things I know nothing about! It’s a great way to explore the field, learn more about the world, and make connections to things I’m studying. I’m most comfortable when I’m a little bit confused.
5. Fancy equipment.
Or not so fancy equipment.
I can’t even properly pronounce magnetometer, but I’ve used one (briefly.) Seismometers are currently blowing my mind, and I’m really excited for the vibrating trucks while studying active seismology. I also love using fancy technology like remote sensing satellite data and excessive computing power. The toys are awesome.
6. Fieldwork.
Homework for a liberal arts major:
Homework for a geoscience major:
One of these will result in a Vitamin D deficiency.
The other will result in a cold beer.
Tough call, right?
7. The people are nice.
Pretentious, me? Never.
Being pretentious is a prerequisite for a philosophy scholar. Sometimes, they’re lovely, fascinating people. Frequently, they’re mean as snakes, twice as funny looking, and think they’re the coolest thing to wear tight pants.
Geologists are good-natured, helpful, and handy in a pinch. Also, they’re generally gorgeous – the men are handsome and handy, the women are beautiful and highly competent. I think it’s all that Vitamin D.
Plus, it’s just tough to be pretentious while “examining the sagebrush.”
8. The scope.
From isotopic changes in the range of parts per billion, to the rise of immense mountain chains hundreds of kilometers long; from the earliest creation of the planet, to the future movements of continents; from the relatively slow movement of water through a watershed, to dramatic pyroclastic deposition over the course of a few minutes; from the glacial moraine in my parent’s backyard, to Arizona-sized volcanoes on Mars – geology encompasses all of these.
How is that not awesome, in the truest sense of the word?
9. Real-life applications.
I LOVE the thought that, someday, I’ll be qualified to search for oil, reconstruct the tectonic history of the planet, understand hydrological changes in caves, analyze earthquakes to see the structure of the planet, make discoveries about cryovolcanism on Enceladus, or help predict volcanic eruptions.
Or even just be able to pick up a rock from the river, and know what it is, and where it’s been. That’ll be pretty cool too! 
10. The fine line between “work” and “vacation.”
Exploring a’a lava at Craters of the Moon.
Doing cave monitoring for the BLM at Craters of the Moon.
Learning about multi-colored lava underground near Mt. St. Helens.
Examining glacial geology and learning about Idaho geology at Redfish Lake.
11. New things to learn. Everyday.
Today, I learned how to analyze stress and fracturing in rocks using a wacky thing called a “Mohr’s Circle Diagram.” Then I learned about constructing three-dimensional objects just using calculus. Then I learned how to make Java applets. Then I learned how to find different rock types via satellite. Then I came home and read about ocean islands and mantle plumes.
In one day. Who knows what crazy business we’re going to learn tomorrow?
I’m sure it’s going to be incredible.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

It's a Branch, It's a Pothole - no, it's an Earthquake!

For December’s Accretionary Wedge, (#41!) Ron Schott has asked us to describe the most significant or memorable geologic event we have personally experienced. The first thing that sprang to my mind was the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake.
This is the seismograph from Wupatki, Arizona. There weren't many closer, and I quite liked how clearly the P-wave and S-wave showed up in this one.
In February of 2001, I was 13 years old. At that time, I was half-homeschooled – I took a couple classes at the junior high in the morning, and then my mum picked me up for some homeschooling. (Reality: I’d wait until she left on some lawyer-ly errand, and then make grilled cheese and watch Wheel of Fortune. What a rebel.)
On February 28, at 10:54 am, I had just been picked up from school, and we were driving in my mother’s 1870s powder-blue Camaro towards The Big Swoopy Hill. All of a sudden, the car swayed back and forth, the dashboard tilting up and down. It looked like that One Time My Dad Took the Car on the Potholed Forest Service Road Where People Go Mudding.

“Mum, do we have a flat?” I asked.
“No, I don’t think so. We might have run over a downed branch.” My mum looked in the rearview mirror. “Although I don’t see anything behind us…”
“Mum, look at the lady parked on the side of the road!”
“She’s getting back in her car, she’s ok.”

After we got back home, my mother worked on some legal briefs, and I worked on my report on deciduous trees. After an hour or so, the phone rang.
My mum picked it up. “Hello?”
“Are you ok? Is the house ok?” my dad asked, frantically.
“We’re fine… Are you?”
“There was an earthquake!”

We walked around the house, and, sure enough, some of the vases on top of the piano had shifted a little. The dishes had moved.

The next day at school, my classmates regaled me with tales of crawling under their plastic-topped desks, all the while imagining the back half of the portable buildings sinking into the ground. One girl even declared that she’d thought it was the Rapture.
This is from a school near Nisqually. Our school only had a couple lights fall down, and was otherwise fine.
I tried to explain our harrowing tale to them, but even my best retelling didn’t convince them it was cooler than the Rapture.
Well, I tried.
The 2001 Nisqually earthquake only rated a 6.8, with a depth of about 52km, and is an example of normal faulting in a subduction zone – the Juan de Fuca plate was bending (and stretching) as it was forced under the North American plate. This is possibly due to increased warmth near the mantle heating up the subducting plate, dehydrating it and making it more brittle - kind of like baked potato chips.
A fault plane solution for the Nisqually earthquake. The little circles are dilatations, and the little stars are compression - so you can see how part of the plate extended, compressing the material to either side.
A path near the State Capitol. One fellow looks depressed at the thought of all the work he's going to have to do. The other fellow looks like this is the coolest thing to ever happen - definitely a geologist.
Luckily, only one person died (as the result of a heart-attack) and 407 people were injured. It did cause significant damage to roadways near the epicenter (in the Olympia and Nisqually area.)
Highway 101 - nobody really uses the right lane, do they?
Additionally, it caused significant damage to buildings both in Olympia and Seattle – including causing a large crack in the dome of the Washington State Capitol in Olympia.
The exterior of the State Capitol. You can see that some of the bricks are separating from the facade. The building was shut down for quite some time as it was examined for structural stability.
Looters run rampant in downtown Seattle.
These fellows actually just found a co-worker's purse amidst the wreckage of their van.

 "Pssh, I've got nine lives, I ain't scared."
It also damaged the Alaska Way Viaduct in Seattle, which led to a decade of plans, negotiations, and general strum und drang about replacing it, as well as this terrifying simulation. Apparently, they’ve now begun construction on a replacement. The earthquake resulted in $3.5 million in repairs to the viaduct, and construction of a replacement/refurbishment/tunnel/etc. is projected to cost $3.1 billion. It’s money well spent, I think, because that sucker looks like a car-sandwich just waiting to happen.
Some fellows braving aftershocks to repair the Viaduct so people can tempt fate.
There were also spots of liquefaction and sand boils in both Olympia and Seattle. Liquefaction is pretty nifty, and luckily didn’t cause much damage in this earthquake. (Many portions of Seattle’s waterfront are built on fill – liquefaction could be a huge problem for those areas.)
A sand boil in Olympia.
While much of the liquefaction seems to have been little sand boils, it also invaded basements. Additionally, there was a large mudslide in the Renton area, which also did significant property damage.
Worst sweeping job ever.
I’m really glad that I was able to experience a medium-sized earthquake, without my family suffering any damages, and without the region suffering many deaths. I do still kind of wish we had realized it was an earthquake when it was occurring – that would have been so much more terrifying and exciting! But it was still a very memorable experience.

In addition to the websites linked through the above photos, here are some websites with information on the Nisqually earthquake:
Some Observations of Geotechnical Aspects of the February 28, 2001, Nisqually Earthquake in Olympia, South Seattle, and Tacoma, Washington
Geodetic Information from Central Washington University
The Nisqually Earthquake Information Clearinghouse, housed by the University of Washington
GPS Analysis of Olympia Quake from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
The Pacific Seismic Network's Nisqually Earthquake Page
USGS's Preliminary Earthquake Report
Washington State Department of Natural Resource's Nisqually Earthquake Page
Identifying the Rupture Plane of the 2001 Nisqually, Washington, Earthquake
A Video Taken Inside Microsoft During the Earthquake
KOMO News Broadcast from February 28, 2001
Car image:

This video made me laugh so hard I cried. It's ridiculous!