Another Day, Another Blog

August 8, 2007

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Filed under: bright ideas, curiosities, science — iamza @ 10:31 am

Eidetic memory, here I come!

or possibly not.

Funny thing is, I remember studying for a history test when I was fourteen, and attempting to make a mental photograph of a critical page. When it came time to take the test, I found I could call up an image of that page in my mind, showing the overall shape and lay-out of the text (paragraph indentations, where the paragraphs went in or out on the unaligned left margin, how many lines of text there were, etc). Even though I couldn’t read all of the text, just having that image in my mind enabled me to answer the questions.

Alas, it was a one-time event. I’ve never been able to repeat that trick — a fact I found highly annoying when it came time to revise the three ginormous folders worth of work for my third year earth sciences course…


Last night, I was watching a repeat of a programme in which researchers attempt to recreate Stonehenge. It’s astounding to think that 4000 years ago, there were people who, armed only with buck antlers, logs, and stone axes, managed to move 40-ton stones with relative ease. I was especially intrigued by Gordon Pipe’s stone-rowing technique for moving giant slabs of rock. Never say you can’t learn anything of use from TV; if I ever accidentally travel back 4000 years in time, I now have a valuable piece of information to share with the locals, which should ensure that I live long enough to escape back to the future. Thanks, Mr. Pipes!

May 1, 2007

Wherein hammers collide with rocks

Filed under: science, the joy of life — iamza @ 7:00 am

The soil in the garden beside the front door has hardened to the point of resembling concrete. I spent forty minutes on the weekend hammering at it with the pick end of a geological hammer, and managed to loosen about one square inch. Seriously, I’m beginning to think the Moh hardness scale needs another entry just above diamond…

Once on a field school, we ran across this dolerite dyke. Part of the joy of a geology field school is that you get to hit a lot of rocks really hard with a hammer — all in the name of science, of course. So, there we were, twenty-odd students getting ready to hammer away at a dolerite dyke that had done nothing to nobody in two hundred million years, all so we could get some fresh (unweathered) samples to confirm that said dyke was, indeed, composed of dolerite.

For your future reference, dolerite is extremely hard. If ever you hit a rock with a hammer, and it rings like a bell, and your ears ring like bells, and your hands won’t stop shaking, and you have reverberations ringing through to the tips of your hair? Chances are that rock was dolerite. Just so you know.

Our instructors laughed and laughed. Until later that night, when we all got drunk and brought home a couple of road signs and some very unimpressed officers, but that’s a story for another time.

Geology field school was also the first time I got to see our German lecturer’s sense of humour in action. He dragged us up this hill in the middle of a rainstorm, and when we got to the top, we were standing in what looked like a graveyard.

Thick tombstones of whitish coloured rock stuck up all over the place, and with the grey clouds and the mist and the isolation, I suddenly had this vision of every horror movie villain ever crouching behind the rocks, waiting for our lecturer’s signal to pounce upon the largely unsuspecting student populace. Fortunately, being forewarned, I had my escape route planned: it consisted mostly of using my jacket as a sort of flexible sled, and sliding down the muddy hillside faster than anybody else could run.

Anyway, once we reached the graveyard, the lecturer turned to us and asked what we thought the rocks were composed of. Even the brightest guy in the class — the one who could identify a rock or mineral even when blindfolded, and with his taste buds seared by a year’s supply of Jalapeno peppers, and his fingers numbed by a century long blizzard — even he was stumped. Still, nobody wanted to admit defeat outright, so we thudded away half-heartedly with hammers for about five minutes, and then called it a day.

The lecturer grinned. “Ah,” he said, “I’m not surprised you didn’t know this rock. It is a rock that all geologists eventually encounter, but most do not like to admit it. I call it Fubar-ite.” 

March 20, 2007

Worlds lost in time

Filed under: science, the joy of life — iamza @ 1:21 pm

When I was at university, we’d spend one Saturday a year ensconced in a tent stall in the town’s central park. The outreach program was aimed at kids of middle school age, and tried to embue them with an interest in earth sciences. To this end, the graduate students would take over the Grad Club for weeks on end, and, over a jug of beer or three, try to come up with a winning display.

One year, the palaeontologists got together, and came up with a jigsaw puzzle, which tried to show how the Earth’s surface has changed over the past 180 million years. This, together with a giant ammonite fossil (complete with tooth marks from a prehistoric shark), went out on the table in our stall, and we were all feeling justly proud.

The kids seemed to like it — the puzzle gave them something to do for three seconds, and the highlighted tooth marks on the ammonite shell made for suitably scary stories. “Have you seen Jaws?” we’d ask, and their eyes would widen, round as dinner plates.

There was a young mother who was not so enchanted. She waited, frowning, as her daughter and friends did the puzzle, and exclaimed over the shell, and then, a minute or so later, ran off to the stall next door. When they were gone, the young mother pulled me to one side.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked.

“I’m sorry?” I was a little confused.

“You’re teaching these kids all kinds of junk!”

I hastily thought back on all that I’d said, trying to remember where I’d screwed up. “I, uh…” Eloquent as always, yep, that’s me. Fortunately, the blank incomprehension must have shone through.

“Like plate tectonics!” she said, and pointed down at the puzzle. “Everyone knows that the Earth was created by God, and not 180 million years ago, either.”

To this day, I cannot think of a single witty retort.  

March 19, 2007


Filed under: science — iamza @ 12:42 pm

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