Some things are better left unsaid

(I’m currently on a plane, en route to Florida for the STS-134 NASA Tweetup.)

A British couple behind me are looking out the window and ask a flight attendant if that’s the Grand Canyon below us and to our left. She says yes, so I look out and see that it’s actually Valley of the Gods in Southern Utah (neeeeerd). I turn around to say something, right as the husband says, “Oh, that is so great! I’ve always wanted to see the Grand Canyon!”

Alright then. Just smile and turn around, Dave. 🙂

Good grief, we geologists can (nearly) be assholes sometimes!

Christchurch – Then and Now

EDIT: The Big Picture is featuring powerful and scary photos of the damage.

We’re just starting to find out how bad today’s M6.3 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand was.

A former professor of ours when we were in New Zealand in 2006 dropped us an email this evening and let us know that it was going to be bad. He also informed us that the iconic Christchurch Cathedral in the center of the city was destroyed.

It was an absolutely beautiful building – originally built in mid-1800’s and completed in 1904.

As we saw it in 2006:

Christchurch Cathedral - 2006

Christchurch Cathedral - 2006


And as it lays today:

Chch Cathedral 2011 Quake

[via TwitPic]

My heart goes out to everyone in Christchurch. This is going to be fairly bad.

Choo choo!

We were supposed to take the Amtrak Coast Starlight train down to Southern California, but it was severely delayed due to bad weather in Oregon and Washington. Changed trains, taking San Joaquin to Bakersfield and then a bus to Los Angeles.

Here we go!



Man, wouldn’t it be nice to have a high speed rail system in California?




Sneak attack!

We’re 3/4 the way through a bottle of wine when we hear over the intercom, “Remember folks, you’re not allowed to drink your own alcohol on the train, or we’ll remove you and your alcohol from this train.” Crap!

On another note — the Central Valley is a lot more fun to look at when you aren’t driving through it.




TSA Checkpoint Sign


Oleg Volk created this TSA checkpoint sign in 2008, which is now getting attention due to recent abuses by the organization.

Interestingly enough, the social location service Loopt is offering 10 iPod touches to people who check in to an airport using the app on November 24th, and tweet about being pat down by the TSA.

As a slight gift to opt-outers out there, Loopt is giving away 10 iPod Touches for TSA touching. Just check into your airport on Loopt* on Wednesday, November 24 (with iPhone, iPod Touch or Android), share a bit about your experience, push it to Twitter with the hashtag #touchedbyTSA, and you can win an iPod Touch. That simple.

Another TSA problem? Data collection

Another problem with the TSA? Lack of data collection. A former assistant police chief writes on the potential for passive discrimination, due to the TSA’s lack of data collection:

Over the last fifteen years or so, many police agencies started capturing data on police interactions. The primary purpose was to document what had historically been undocumented: informal street contacts. By capturing specific data, we were able to ask ourselves tough questions about potentially biased-policing. Many agencies are still struggling with the answers to those questions.

Regardless, the data permitted us to detect problematic patterns, commonly referred to as passive discrimination. This is a type of discrimination that occurs when we are not aware of how our own biases affect our decisions. This kind of bias must be called to our attention, and there must be accountability to correct it.

One of the most troubling observations I made, at both Albany and BWI, was that — aside from the likely notation in a log (that no one will ever look at) — there was no information captured and I was asked no questions, aside from whether or not I wanted to change my mind.

Given that TSA interacts with tens if not hundreds of millions of travelers each year, it is incredible to me that we, the stewards of homeland security, have failed to insist that data capturing and analysis should occur in a manner similar to what local police agencies have been doing for many years.

[via Mr. Alan Cooper on Twitter]

Fort Wellington, near Korcula, Croatia

Korcula Panorama from the top of Fort Wellington

Click here for larger size.

In 2008, a number of friends and I traveled around the Adriatic Sea on a sailboat, visiting various islands off the coast of Croatia. Toward the end of our trip, we stopped by the small coastal village of Korčula (map).

While there, I decided to take off for a bit and go on a hike outside of town. I stumbled across an old fort hiding in the woods.

Fort Wellington, near Korcula, Croatia

Curious about it, I walked inside to explore it for a bit. I’ll admit, it was kind of dark, dusty, and rather creepy. But also pretty cool!

Fort Wellington, near Korcula, Croatia

Fort Wellington, near Korcula, Croatia

I even found a way onto the roof of the structure, where I took the awesome panorama that you see at the top of this post.

As I was falling asleep a few nights ago, I thought about this trip and this structure specifically. I still didn’t know anything about it and random internet searches over the past two years revealed nothing.

I had the idea to load up Google Earth and view a layer of Panoramio, which shows photos embedded at where they were taken. While viewing the area near Korcula, I noticed a number of photos near the fort I had stumbled across. And they were named!

The mystery was solved: Fort Wellington!

This is the English tower Fort Wellington that was built in 1813 on the place of the Venetian fortification of the open type from 1616. It is located on the hill above Korcula Old Town, about 20 minutes walk along the steps from Plokata – the main square.

This building is currently deserted and is dangerous to climb the staircase inside the tower, as they are old and unreliable. Forteca tower is also devastated by horrible mobile phone network cables and transmitting masts that are placed there by Croatian mobile phone company.

Built in 1813, dangerous to climb, but awesome views. So fun! Interestingly enough, when I visited in 2008, they had actually taken the transmitting masts off the top of the building and moved them to a structure located near the building.

Anyway, it was a fun mystery to finally have solved! I’m glad I took the chance to go exploring for a bit. Bonus: the views on the hike back down to Korcula was top notch as well!

Hiking to Fort Wellington from Korcula

Civ V and OS X – A mark of desperation

I’m currently somewhere over New York state, flying Virgin America back from Boston (where we had our gdgt live event last night). I only brought my iPad with me on this trip. Which is painful, because Civilization V is currently out!

So, I wanted to see if it was even possible to play. Are you ready for this mark of desperation?

Civ V running on Windows 7. In a Parallels for OS X virtual machine. Via a VNC client on my iPhone. What?! So, what happened? Screen shots below!





In search of Paul Bunyan

This weekend, I went camping and canoeing on the Russian River with friends. Near the town of Guerneville, I had an interesting case of real life deja vu.

Standing in front of an RV park near town was a giant statue of Paul Bunyan. How giant was he? I am standing in front of him, for scale.

You might be wondering why this is notable, or why anyone would even care.

I actually grew up near another large Paul Bunyan statue, located in the small town of Mentone. It was the strangest thing to see, heading to school or back home every day. A large statue of the infamous lumberjack, just sitting in front of someone’s yard. It’s still there today!

Here’s a photo I took while visiting my parents a few years ago (yes, that’s also a Statue of Liberty head sitting on top of a roof). It’s nearly identical!

Mentone, California

What sort of madness is this? A flaw in the matrix perhaps?

Dislike for Corona saves geologist from death.

I’m sure Corona’s marketing department is thrilled about this.

[H]e returned to his residence in Kabul to find it had been burgled. The intruder took money from a drawer and left behind a bottle of Corona beer. The Corona bottle sat on his counter for the next two weeks Yeager says, because Corona is one of his least favorite beers. He finally opened it during a going away party as the other drinks began to run low.

“I pulled it out and when I popped it there was no fizz and the cap was loose,” says Yeager. “Because this one didn’t have fizz you wonder if it went rancid or not, and I just kind of sniffed it and I went ‘Oh, that doesn’t smell like beer.’ “

Yeager, a geochemist familiar with acids, realized it smelled like sulfuric acid – otherwise known as battery acid. He called a friend over who had the same reaction to the smell. Yeager poured the “beer” into the toilet and it foamed and fizzed, leaving “no question” in his mind it was sulfuric acid.