Tuesday, December 28, 2010
And below, a few close-ups where you can see "strata."
One last one, slightly enhanced so that it has that icy blue color of glaciers in Antarctica on National Geographic photos...
The front yard and part of driveway after the snow stopped falling.
We filled the birdfeeder too, but no birds came out today. Maybe they will come out tomorrow, and hopefully the bluejays won't be bullies.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
And here's a photo of morning fog in a meadow in Yosemite:
OK... more posting later, time to finish some revisions on a paper almost ready to submit!
Friday, November 12, 2010
Anyway, I wasn’t much of a runner then nor am I now. I usually came in almost always last at meets, but for some reason I liked going to them. Maybe it was because of the quietness of running through the woods. We ran in the hills behind a big cabbage farm and the smell of it was interesting mixed in with the crisp, sharp smell of forest dirt. I think that farm is gone now. There’s not much empty land like that left on Long Island.
I miss autumn so much this year. It’s a deep, wrenching yearning rooted down in my soul somewhere. I’ve always felt a sort of sadness when the seasons change. Why is that, I wonder? The time between the seasons is like a gear is shifting somewhere in the Earth, transitioning into the next lull, the next period of sameness and constancy. Take spring for instance. Out of the long quiescence of winter, one day the snow begins to melt a little. A crocus bud peeps meekly out of the earth. It is followed by several other tender green shoots, and then blossoms – the first blossoms of spring. Then early buds on some of the trees come out. The snow is all melted by now, and we have cool, wet days. The earth is uncovered and you can smell it in the air, you can definitely smell SPRING – just like you can smell the rain before a big storm. Then on the fringes of the woods, like on Northern Parkway on Long Island, the dogwoods unveil their delicate white flowers, like floating saucers amidst a forest of thin, black boughs. But this is all a transient state. Soon the buds mature, the days become warmer and warmer, and before we know it the lethargy of summer is upon us again with its weight of heavy ripening fruits and dense foliage. So heavy and dense, it just stays that way until fall comes, when everything changes again in preparation for the long, dull winter.
Back in September, I was walking back to my car in the neighborhood around Rice and found a few scattered autumn-colored leaves on the sidewalk. Of all trees, it had to be a Chinese talo, which is an invasive species down here in the South. Anyway, because my path had not crossed a maple that was probably sheddings its autumn foliage at the same moment, I picked up the talo leaf and kept it – the first piece of autumn! I pasted it right under an “Indian blanket” I had pressed in my notebook months ago… in spring.
And here are a few flowers from the last of summer (Texas-wise) - collected in early October during the department's new grad student field trip. These were collected on the side of the road somewhere just south of Enchanted Rock, when we stopped by to look at a Cretaceous chalk bed.
And finally... I have to put this here because the morning light shining through this morning glory was just so beautiful. When we were last up at Llano just this past weekend, all the morning glories had stopped blooming. So I'm glad i was able to catch them before the winter.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
OK and back to the Llano trip - here is a very interesting river cobble I picked up.
You never know what you might find in a river.
On a final note, I like Daylight Savings Time more this year than last. I feel somewhat more in tune with the seasons than a few weeks ago, when I was feeling completely discombobulated.
Friday, October 15, 2010
I just checked my email, and saw that Adam Buchanan, a sales rep of some sort for PROBAR, sent me a message. He said that I sounded like a serious fan and that I had won a bunch of free PROBARS! It is true, I am a huge fan of these bars. I suppose this was all prompted after I sent the PROBAR people a message via their Facebook wall, after an interesting incident:
I've eaten a Pro Bar (Art's Original Blend, my favorite) every morning for almost a year now. I left to go into the field for about a week, and when I came back I noticed that a tiny green sprout had shot up, of all places, right in my bathroom sink! Perhaps it was one of the flax or other types of seeds in Pro Bars, I don't know, but I like to think that all the ingredients in Pro Bars are so minimally processed so that this could happen! (I haven't ruled out the possibility that the sprout sprang up from a seed that came from a salad or something, but, one of the ubiquitous things in Probars are the flax seeds). Anyway, I love Pro Bars (just ordered another box from Amazon). They really start my day perfectly, along with some sips of a double espresso Americano... mmm.
I've never "won" anything like this before. I remember one time in college I wrote a (hand-written, snail mail) letter to Entenmann's, a bakery company up North that makes the most amazing soft chocolate chip cookies. I asked them whether they were considering expanding their cookies to the South. They actually wrote back, in what seemed like a form letter, but I didn't win any free cookies. Not that I was hoping too. Their cookies are so good that everytime I go home I buy a box.
Anyway, the PROBAR people have it right! After 2 years of eating one of these bars pretty much every day for breakfast, I still love them. And they seem to take their fans' passion seriously!
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
On the other hand, this incident struck me a bit deeply on a more personal level. In the blink of an eye, I ruined something so perfect and beautiful! That's what upset me - not the scientific part, that, thankfully, is still intact in terms of the sample (it just doesn't look as it once did). I felt like I had cracked a treasured family heirloom vase, or torn a tapestry that took months to weave... Sigh! I'm normally extremely careful with things, and do my best not to be careless. This just goes to show that accidents happen, and lessons can be learned.
On a more philosophical note, this incident made me think of sometimes how fragile, how delicate are the objects we fashion in an effort to better understand the greater world around us. Take thin sections for instance: in order to plumb the mysteries of the deep Earth, we glue 30-micron thick slivers of xenoliths onto glass slides, thin enough so that just the right amount of light can pass through them for us to identify the minerals. These xenoliths are merely the tiniest bits of the Earth's mantle, which is unfathomably bigger than we can imagine. (We've barely So yes, in the grand scheme of science, what's the shattering of one little sample?
So... all in all, it was a sad day, but, life, and research goes on, and I'm done worrying about this. Blogging about it helped. And yes, I know, this is nothing compared to some of the much worse things that can happen in the lab. This was more of a personal upset, that I had ruined something so beautiful, by accident.
Monday, October 11, 2010
On a completely different note, I've been trying to do a bit of "leisure" reading, mostly before bed. Although sometimes it totally backfires and I stay up way too late because I get too into a book. I have been reading To A God Unknown by John Steinbeck, which, so far, is excellent. I've also been (re) reading parts of The Evolution and Classification of Flowering Plants, by Arthur Cronquist. I've actually had this book checked out from the library for over two years now. (I remember I checked it out pretty much as soon as I got to Rice because I had wanted to read it since I took botany, which was right before coming to Rice). Apparently, no one's wanted to check out this incredible book in all my time here, which I find kind of amazing (unless they require botany students to buy it or something). Although it is a textbook, it's actually a good read. For those of you who do not know who Arthur Cronquist was, he is credited with dividing the flowering plants into the two classes Magnoliopsida (the dicots) and the Liliopsida (the monocots), which is probably familiar to anyone who took intro biology. Cronquist wasn't the first to make the distinction, but followed in the footsteps of the "phylogenists" before him (Bessey, Engler), and ultimately from Bentham, de Jussieu, and of course Linnaeus (the "taxonomists"). But after Cronquist, there were no more classical taxonomists of his sort. Botany entered the "modern era" of cladistic methods and molecular DNA data. So, all in all, Cronquist's book distills centuries of botanical thought into an integrated taxonomy scheme for plants.
I haven't read the whole thing yet, but I do particularly enjoy reading the chapter on the Origin of the Angiosperms. When you think about it, angiosperm evolution is quite incredible, particularly if we believe that angiosperms evolved from cumbersome things like cycads. (Compare that to some of the incredible things flowers get animals to do in the quest for pollination, like bees and orchids). Cycads, ginkgo, and other primitive gymnosperms, as Cronquist put it, were "locked into a slow, perilous, and wasteful reproductive process." This is particularly evident in Ginkgo, wherein the entire seed, minus the embryo, is formed prior to it even being fertilized. Then it falls to the ground and hopes that some Ginkgo pollen will fly by and fertilize it. This is why male and female Ginkgos need to be near each other or else they have no hope of reproducing successfully. I also thought the theory that pollination by beetles is an ancient, primitive feature was quite interesting (think of the strobiloid flowers of Magnolia). Isn't it fascinating to think of giant magnolia-like flowers during the Cretaceous, being chewed upon and crawled over by giant black rhinocerous beetles?
Anyway, just reminiscing back on botany lab and drawing flowers of Liriodendron tulipfera (one of my favorite plants). Lots of new plants to learn, and old ones to remember.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
We took a long walk down Braes Bayou with Klaus, the ever inquisitive schnoodle. The City of Houston let the grass grow long and wild along the banks of the severe, industrial bayou, giving it almost a bit of a wild feel. I saw some herons piddling about in the water, and the grass was full of the song of crickets. Some small sunflowers grew along the banks too, but there were no other flowers. The heat of summer was only full of grass that had gone to seed.
Even though we're so surrounded by industry and buildings and concrete here in Houston, there's still little pockets of the natural world to find in the city. You just have to look!
Saturday, September 25, 2010
The coolest sunflower ever - it's like a sunflower mum. Spotted in a garden at the Mondavi Institute at UC Davis.
I think this is a species of Delonix, saw this along the River Walk in San Antonio.
Brugmansia, trumpet flower.
Malvaviscus drummondii, which is everywhere down here. Almost got a photo of a green anole on this plant but by the time I noticed it and tried to get a picture of it it flicked away. Sigh!
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
That bat was cool. I followed its flight for as long as I could, and then it disappeared. How cool would it be one day to see a bat catch a moth in mid-air?
Then tonight, after a huge rainstorm, tons of toads starting bursting into song. But lately I’ve also been noticing this different sound amongst the usual toad choir. It’s a series of short pipsqueaks, in 2’s or 3’s, sometimes more, and sometimes irregularly paced. I’m hearing it right now. The sound doesn’t have the same feel as a toad’s, with that membraney, vibrating, drone quality. It sounds much more guttural, almost like a bird, or some tiny mammal squeaking. Plus it has none of that regularly paced character of a toad, like if the toad were just blowing air up and through his throat, as mechanical as flapping on a drum. I searched around on the net and I think the pipsqueaks that I’m hearing may be the chirps of a big brown bat. It sounds very similar to Sound #2 I found on this site:
As I’m writing this, the toads are reaching an almost deafening crescendo, and the bat, if it is indeed a bat, is squeaking above it. Maybe I’m wrong and the noise I’m hearing is just some other species of frog or toad, a lonesome one calling to a chorus of turned ears. Perhaps now that the rain stopped, there are billions of mosquitoes about for this bat to eat. I would love to see where it roosts in the daytime. I wonder if it roosts by itself under a tree, or does it join hundreds of other bats somewhere? Bats are so mysterious!
Thursday, September 2, 2010
I actually love the water. Perhaps this originated from my mother, who was born on a houseboat, and who learned to swim by being tossed overboard into Victoria Harbor with a rope tied around the waist. Not having a pool of our own, from the earliest age we swam in several of our neighbors’ pools. We also went to the beach almost every day in the summertime, thrashing about in the cold Atlantic, risking as far as we could go before our feet wouldn’t touch the sandy bottom any longer. Swimming lessons were also an integral part of our childhoods. Although I took swimming lessons from “real” instructors, the best instructor I had was my mother, who had such an eye for detail and would correct our every stroke, making sure we were breathing right, and most importantly, instilling in us love and appreciation – and a healthy fear – of the water.
Humans, from the earliest of times, have both loved and feared the water. Fear of water is rooted in our collective primeval fear of those indomitable elements of nature – the darkness and unknown-ness of night, the unpredictability of storms, the raging of wildfires, the brooding silence of the vast and mysterious forest and its beasts. But knowledge of how to live with and in the water – as with all of nature – is the only way to ease our fear. Of course, I think all humans still have within them a grain of the primeval fear – and those who don’t, or who ignore it, are reckless (just watch some of the idiocy on TV, notably people who play with pilot whales and expect them to play back, etc.)
There’s something indescribable about jumping into a pool on a hot summer day. Especially now that Rice has built this fantastic new Olympic-sized, outdoor competition pool, swimming has taken on almost a whole new dimension. I cannot describe the feeling of the plunge into the coolness of the water. At this very moment, I am savoring that sensation, how instantaneous and almost shocking it is, like warping through a tunnel into another medium. And the other best part is plunging down and watching the sunlight wavering on the pool bottom, then coming up for air, observing the tiny ripples on the tranquil surface of the water, and the plunge back down. There are so many visual things about swimming that I enjoy. One may ask, don’t you ever get bored just swimming back and forth in a straight line? (The same question, then, should be asked of runners). The answer is no! Not when you approach swimming in the same way you would approach carrying out careful labwork or painting a picture – where every stroke counts. I need to continually be mindful of my stroke, to pay attention to every thing my body is doing and to maximize efficiency. That takes 100% observation and mindfulness. Especially when you swim a stroke like the breast stroke, which can get sloppy fast if you don’t pay attention. I notice that when my mind strays or if I’m not fully devoting 100% of myself to the swimming at hand, I swim less laps than I would if I were more attentive. I believe this approach has paid off, slowly but surely. The adage “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is quite appropriate for swimming. You start to realize that if you keep at it, even pushing yourself to do one more lap each swim pays off in the end. The reward after a good swim is also another indescribable feeling – that of every single molecule and muscle fiber in your body vibrating, stretched, worked out, like the sprouting of tiny seeds in the soil after a burst of sunlight, but a millionfold. It is absolutely such a great feeling.
Not to mention, exercising in a medium 400 times denser than air and 30 degrees colder than the average Houston summer day would seem to reap much more bang for your work-out buck than running. Whenever I see some poor fool running and panting for breath, pelting with sweat, red-faced and miserable – I silently think to myself what they’re missing in a pool.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
As I was slowly (but earnestly) toiling through a paper on melting in the pelitic system, this incredible, cheerful tidbit popped up in the middle of a phase diagram:
I'm probably not supposed to reproduce it... but I couldn't help myself. This was almost as good as the time I found a monkey in one of Francis Albarede's figures in his Geochemistry textbook.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
This sample is just a near-perfect thin section. I was lucky in taking this photo because most of the minerals in the field of view were oriented so that none of them were at their extinction positions. Thus we get a nice spectrum of the interference colors of olivine and clinopyroxene here.
Saturday, July 31, 2010
At 400X magnification.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Here is another neat one of the Bandelier filling in a paleovalley:
Sunday, March 7, 2010
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Large bent OPX grain in spinel-garnet peridotite, 40x magnification, crossed nichols.
Olivine grain showing beautiful undulatory extinction. Grain is right on the edge of the section. 40x mag, crossed nichols.
Anyway... next time I'm going to use a tripod and a flash. It took me MANY tries to get these to expose properly!
Image from Dr. S. A. Nelson's petrology notes online at Tulane Earth & Environmental Sciences Mineralogy 211
From when I took this class at Tulane, I remember a big emphasis on this diagram (which can also be found in the lecture notes at the above link):
Of course, this is the 2 front faces (Ne-Di-Fo and Fo-Di-Qz) unfolded, projected from Plagioclase (Pl). I decided to investigate all the binaries that make up the ternaries of these two faces. Here's what I spent my Sunday afternoon making:
(A) Blue circles represent 1 atm experimental natural basalt liquids. The two front faces of the basalt tetrahedron (Di-Ne-Fo and Di-Fo-Qz) are plotted projected from Plagioclase (Pl). The Pl vertex has been projected onto the Di-Fo join (the low pressure “thermal divide”).
(B) and (C): Blowing up the back face of the tetrahedron (Ne-Di-Qz) elucidates some more mysteries involving the "thermal divide" (although technically the join Di-Ab is not the true thermal divide, but Fo-Ab is. Still don't really understand exactly why, but that's for another Sunday afternoon...). I highlighted the back face in green, and in (B) show the 2 binary eutectic systems (Ne-Ab and Qz-Ab) that comprise this face. Ne-Qz is just a binary system with an intermediate compound, Ab.
But the presence of Ab is the whole reason why the thermal divide exists in the first place. On the Ne-Qz, Ab melts at a local maximum, forming a shape that looks like a skateboarding "halfpipe" (or half a cylinder). If we parachute down onto the Ab surface (a thought exercise we were all variably subjected to in Intro Petrology), we can only go one way - either to E1 (and ultimately evolve to a phonolite) or to E2 (and ultimately evolve to a rhyolite). So that little halfpipe of Ab is responsible for the fact that no Si-undersaturated basalt can give rise to a critically Si-undersaturated basalt. It's actually more complicated than this when you consider the system Fo-Ne-Qz, which according to Morse (1981) is the ternary where you can find the "true" thermal divide.
Of course, we all know this already, but it's still a fun (and frustrating but ultimately rewarding) exercise to look at every face of the tetrahedron. Next time: the inner tetrahedron Di-Ab-An-Fo?
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Top photograph, courtesy Michael Rasser, Einführung in die Paläontologie (An Introduction to Paleontology):
Bottom drawing: inspired by tree shapes, spores, pollen, algae, plankton, web of life.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Saturday, January 16, 2010
I wandered down a mainly bifurcated literary path in the past year and a half - scientific journal articles most of you would fine obscure and boring; and poetry, something I have always enjoyed, and read bits of here and there. Early in the morning sitting at the kitchen table is a fertile time, before the sunlight comes fully into being and prompts me to realize I must be getting on with the day's activities. And sometimes in the bathroom, during prolonged stays. I have no time or energy to read novels anymore, but I can still read poetry and glean those most precious of tiny, shining literary kernels, those that we store up inside for a day when they unexpectedly resurface again.