Monday, 21 December 2009


My poster was on display on Thursday. I put it up in the morning, and then, since the schedule listed it as being up in the afternoon, spent the morning looking at other people’s posters (most of whom were not present at their posters, since they were also scheduled for the afternoon). I spent the afternoon standing by my poster, watching people walk past, many of whom didn’t slow down enough to really look at any of the posters in my area. A few people did stop by to chat—several who were from other disciplines but curious as to what I could tell them of my research, and one of whose name I recognize from papers he’s published. Since I’d read so many posters when the authors weren’t present, I tried not to mind that there were chunks of time when no one was looking at mine. However, having stopped by a poster of a fellow geoblogger and seen how swamped she was with adoring fans did cause me to spend a wistful thought or two on the topic of popularity. It also caused me to recall a conversation I overheard before the start of the Bowen lecture on Tuesday, when one man commented to another “Last year I arrived five minutes before the start of the Bowen lecture, and it was standing room only”. His companion looked around at the empty seats still available 10 minutes before the start of the talk and commented that Metamorphic petrology just isn’t as popular as some of the other fields of geology. This caused me to join the conversation, commenting that if I am interested in a topic it is a sure sign that it isn’t “mainstream”.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

some highlight of today’s poster session

Since my poster isn’t scheduled to be attended until this afternoon, I spent part of this morning looking at other people’s posters. Alas, for most of them I didn’t get to converse with the authors, since they are in my session, and so the authors aren’t expected to be with their posters until this afternoon, when, presumably, I will be busy discussing my poster with interested parties.

Some of the posters which particularly caught my eye today include:

Poster #V43E-2322: A new garnet, {(Y, REE)(Ca, Fe2+)2}[(Mg,Fe2+)(Fe3+,Al)](Si3)O12, and its role in the yttrium and rare-earth element budget in a granulite, by E.S. Grew; J.H. Marsh; M.G. Yates; A. Locock. They’ve named this particular type of garnet, which is very rich in yttrium (up to 17%), after Georg Menzer (1897-1989), who was a German crystallographer who first solved the structure of garnet.

Poster # V43D-2297. Subduction/exhumation of UHP rocks in Silurian-Devonian continental collision, northern WGR, Norway, by P. Robinson & M.P. Terry. They’ve got some wonderful photos of some spectacular outcrop in Norway which reinforces my desire to move to Scandinavia one day.

Another poster is a bit different—it is a Monday poster, but he’s brought it back every day, finding a bit of blank wall to display it each day. When I saw it just a bit ago it was in the Volcanology section at poster slot #2305, but if that spots turns out to be needed by someone else he will move to another open spot. He is collecting signatures on a petition to have a park boundary in New Jersey extended by 200 feet, to protect a lovely outcrop in a quarry wall. Apparently the old quarry is slated to become the site of condominiums, and if that happens the outcrop will be lost. He has lovely photos of some of the significant features of the outcrop, including dinosaur tracks and a variety of volcanic features. His goal is to collect 1000 signatures, so if you are at the conference, please stop by his poster, have a look, and if you think the outcrop worth preserving, sign his paper. Having seen the outcrop that Hutton had preserved from the quarry workers in what is now Hollyrood Park in Edinburgh, Scotland, this summer, I can attest that it is neat to visit a significant outcrop a couple of hundred years after someone had intended to destroy it, but another rescued it.

Stop by my poster session this afternoon

My poster is part of the session: V43D. New Insight Into Ultrahigh-Pressure Metamorphism and Rheology in Collisional Orogenic Belts I, which is on display today, Thursday 12/17/2009 1:40 PM Poster Hall (Moscone South) (though my poster is already on the wall). Come on by and meet me if you are at AGU, mine is poster #2308 Constraining the garnet-talc join for metasedimentary material attaining eclogite-facies conditions. If you aren’t at AGU and want to see my poster, search the web page for my name and click on “talks”, a copy of my poster is available there. (If you do that, please let me know in the comments what you think.)

Life is wonderful

After a nice lunch with the geobloggers I met with an old friend of mine who works in the area for desert, and returned to the internet to find a kind letter from the colleague whose poster I managed to temporarily misplace assuring me that it is only a poster, and requesting that I bring it back to Italy if possible to hang in the department. I believe that I’ll ask to store it with a friend here in SF while I do my Alaskan adventures and pick it back up on my way back to Italy. Unless I decide to post it back, along with mine.

It was very interesting to hear what each of us bloggers had to say by way of introduction, and amusing to note that we were all long winded enough that the lunch went longer than scheduled.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The highlight of the AGU meeting (so far)

Yesterday’s highlight for me was, without a doubt, the Bowen lectures. Tim Holland & and Roger Powell have been recognized for their contributions to Metamorphic Petrology for their efforts in the creation of their internally consistent thermodynamic data set and their Thermocalc program which uses that data set to do a variety of thermodynamic calculations and were invited to speak on the history of their research and the directions they see the science going from here. The titles of the talks they presented are: Calculated metamorphic phase equilibria. Applications and strategies for equilibria in high pressure rocks (presented by Tim) and Activity-composition relationships in the forward modeling of metamorphic phase equilibria (presented by Roger). While I found the science part of the talk useful and fascinating, the part I’m going to write about today is my reaction to passing comments made during their talk. Tim shared a photo of himself doing field work for his PhD project in the Alps in 1979, and commented that this award is generally awarded to “mid-career” scientists. By my math that means their career should continue to be active through the year 2039. Roger’s talk included the fact that the bulk of the creation of the internally consistent data set is, by necessity, the work of a single individual (Tim), while the coding for the programs they’ve developed is, likewise, primarily the work of a single individual (Roger), but that both tasks are immensely facilitated by the many hours of discussion on the topics they’ve shared over the years (I’m seriously paraphrasing here).

The combination of these comments prompted me to wonder what arrangements they’ve made for the continuation of their work when they are no longer able to continue. Are they training their students to continue to expand the data set? Is there someone out there who is able to continue to refine the coding of the programs as new information is available that suggests potential improvements? Since I didn’t actually get to meet either individual, I didn’t have an opportunity to ask, nor, do I think, would it be the most appropriate of questions. I do know that they’ve delegated the maintenance of the Thermocalc web page therefore it wouldn’t surprise me if they have other collaborators working with them to keep their tools growing and accessible into the future, even if they decide to retire at some point.

how nice it is to enjoy a morning with no crises needing to be solved

Today, the third day of the AGU meeting is a nice, mellow day for me. I have no crises I need to solve, and the schedule of talks/posters I wanted to see happens to list only posters for today, so no time constraints this morning. As a result, in addition to going to look at the posters I’d added to my schedule, I also made time to go look at the Exhibits. I picked up a couple of free AGU colouring books as gifts for my nieces, and thumbed through a few books I choose not to add to my already over-full luggage. Possibly the most interesting exhibit, to my eye, was the one with the large (~ 1 m diameter) globe which is a 3-D movie screen playing an animation of Earth’s tectonic history. I have longed to see such a thing ever since the first time I saw an animation of plate tectonics in action. To me one can have continents moving about on a flat screen as much as one likes, but it is not until one curves the screen into a globe that the spatial relationships are really accurate. How delightful that someone has done it. I spoke briefly with the man at the booth, who said that museums often purchase their technology simply so that they can display that particular graphic. I believe him. Alas, if museums are his target market, I somehow doubt that many universities will bother investing in his globe for their undergraduate classes at this time. I didn’t ask what they sell for, but it looked like the price would probably exceed typical budgets.

I am very much looking forward to the geoblogger’s lunch today, and have arranged to meet a friend who works in the city for desert afterwards (good thing my plan for the day is posters only!)

Today’s tribulations brought to you by my own carelessness

Once upon a time, when on my way to Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia for the Deformation in the Desert conference, I exhibited an unfortunate tendency towards absent mindedness, when I left my poster tube on the bus from the airport when I got out at my hotel. Fortunately, the hotel staff was willing to call the bus company, and they dropped the tube off for me on their next loop around, so no harm was done.

As a result of this history, I resolved to print my poster for AGU here in the US, rather than bringing it with me from Europe, as I knew there would be any number of opportunities between departing and arriving at my final destination to misplace an important item. This decision came with two additional advantages 1) more time to complete the poster and 2) not needing to worry about the recent tendency of the airlines to severely restrict how much carry-on baggage their clients may bring with them. However, this plan, as so many do, encountered a minor change. While my poster is still being printed on this continent, one of my colleagues called me on the Wednesday before I left asking if I would be willing to carry a poster to the meeting for them, since I was not flying until Friday, and the others on my research team were leaving on Thursday. I agreed, and the poster was delivered to my office on Thursday evening.

I successfully carried the poster with me to California, managing to keep my hands on it through customs and the change of plane in New York, and when disembarking in San Francisco. I kept it with me for the trip to the Santa Cruz Mountains, where I stayed with friends, and kept it with me for the trip to Berkeley for a Medieval Event. I even kept it with me when transferring to another car in Berkeley for the journey to San Rafael, where I transferred to yet another car before heading on to Petaluma on Saturday evening, though I managed to leave my pillows in the car in Berkeley. Unfortunately, after adventuring on Point Reyes on Sunday with friends I failed to put the poster back into the car before heading to Oakland for a Hanukah party (Judaism optional, our host said) at another friend’s house. We didn’t realize the mistake until they dropped me off in San Francisco on Sunday evening. I told my friends that the poster in the tube needed to be on display on Tuesday, and they assured me that they would bring it to the city on Monday.

Relieved that the problem would be solved in plenty of time, I wished them a good night and sent them on their way. However, on Monday I received a Facebook message from my friend letting me know that it was cheaper to send the poster tube to me via FedEx than to drive back down to the city again, so they did, and it should be delivered the next day. I thanked her, and didn’t really think about the timing issues, until later that evening, when I looked at my schedule, and realized that the next day was Tuesday, which is when the poster needed to be on display. Unfortunately my friend was no longer on line, I didn’t have a phone number for her, and she hadn’t given me a tracking number for the shipment.

I went to sleep Monday night hoping that FedEx would do the delivery first thing in the morning. They didn’t. I checked Facebook to see if she had replied to my request for a tracking number. She hadn’t. I tried calling another friend, for whom I did have a phone number, to see if I could get the number of the friend who had done the shipment, but he wasn’t answering. I consulted my schedule, and realized that there were two talks on Tuesday morning that I really, really shouldn’t miss (post on them later, I hope), starting at 10:20. Since it is an hour walk to the conference venue from where I am staying, I decided to leave at 9:00, and then return after the two talks (which meant canceling a lunch meeting with another friend). Accordingly, after the talks (which I enjoyed), I took a cab back to the house, in hopes that it had been delivered and I could rush it straight back to the conference. No poster tube. I checked Facebook. No reply. I called the friend whose number I had, he answered and gave me the phone number for the friend who had done the shipping. I called her. She couldn’t find a tracking number on her receipt, but she could find some other numbers, and she had a number for FedEx. Called FedEx. They managed to find the shipment without the tracking number, and told me that it was in Sacramento and hadn’t been sent to San Francisco yet. He also said that the sender could change the delivery address, but I couldn’t. I called her back and asked her to call them to arrange delivery directly to the conference, which she did. It still hadn’t been delivered in the time it took to return to the conference and type up the following, which I posted on the poster board. It is a sorry substitute for the poster they worked so hard on, but it is better than a blank wall, I think:


A Public Apology

Poster # V23C-2074, The basal fallout and surge deposits of the mafic ignimbrite-forming Villa Senni Eruption Unit, (Colli Albani volcano, Italy), was hand-carried safely from Italy to California on behalf of its authors. However, do to carelessness on my part, was inadvertently left behind in Petaluma on Sunday. The problem was discovered as I was dropped off in San Francisco that evening, and my hosts agreed to bring the poster tube in to the city during the day on Monday.

Unfortunately, it turns out that I failed to communicate the urgency of the need to have the poster delivered on Monday, and they chose to send it via FedEx that morning, rather than doing the drive back to the city themselves. As of 14:00 Tuesday, the day the poster is meant to be on display, FedEx has still not delivered the package.

I hereby apologize for the inconvenience to everyone who was interested in viewing this poster, and assure you that if the delivery is made before 18:30 I will put the poster up promptly. Unfortunately, FedEx gives their drivers the option to deliver at any time between 08:30 and 20:30, so it is possible that it will not arrive before it is time to remove it. The fault is entirely mine.


I signed the apology with my full legal name, but not the name of my University, as they don’t need their name associated with my failure to get the poster where it needed to be in a timely manner. I also printed a copy of the abstract and posted it, as well. If you would like to see this abstract, go to the AGU session planner and search for the poster number.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

some preliminary AGU impressions

(written Monday evening, posted Tuesday afternoon; which was the next chance I had to be line long enough to post)

Attending such a large conference (plus or minus yesterday morning’s trials and tribulations) caused me to revert to my childhood habits of not actually interacting with anyone other than those individuals in official positions with whom I needed to interact to achieve the goal of the day (actually being permitted to attend the conference). Once I had my registration in hand I took my computer to one of the handy tables with power points provided (certainly an advantage of a large conference!) and settled in to first check e-mail to see if anything important had come in (I managed to avoid the temptation to lose hours reading non-urgent e-mail and blogs) before finishing up my poster.

By the time I had it complete and e-mailed off to be printed it was well into the afternoon, and I, finally, consulted my schedule for the day. I lead something of a charmed life, in that the schedule of interesting sounding talks and posters I’d prepared before the meeting started contained nothing but poster sessions in the morning and early afternoon, and a couple of talks in the late afternoon. Therefore I packed up the computer and wandered over to the poster session room and spent some time learning the logic of their organizational system. It turns out that the letters in the names of the session are abbreviations for the full session titles, and there are large signs hanging above the posters, in a font so large that they can be read at great distances, directing people to posters relating to Volcanology, Geochmistery and Petrology (V), Tectonophysics (T), Education and Human Resources (ED) or whatever. In addition there are even larger numbers hanging above the posters, so that if you are looking for V13D-2056 the fastest way to find it is to look for the huge sign reading “2000” and head to that region of the (very, very large) room, and then start looking at the smaller signs at the end of each row.

After finding a few interesting posters (but not actually speaking with their authors) I returned to the other building, where the lectures were being held. Consulting the schedule and map revealed that the two talks I’d put on my schedule were scheduled to take place one right after the other, but in rooms on the opposite side of the building. The one scheduled for 17:15 is by a colleague of mine, so I opted to just go to the room in which he would be presenting, to be certain that I wouldn’t miss his talk. The talk which preceded it, while it hadn’t come up in my pre-meeting keyword search of the schedule as something I would wish to seek out, turned out to also be interesting, and it was nice to just sit still for a bit and listen to lectures while making some progress on the sewing project I’d brought with me. After my colleague’s talk I chose to slip out a bit early, because I was somewhat tired and worn out for the day, and went back to the home of my friends where I am staying this week, where I enjoyed some quiet conversation (and more sewing) before doing my daily yoga and going to sleep early for the first time this trip.

Monday, 14 December 2009

The trials and tribulations of attending huge conference

I am staying at the home of friends here in San Francisco; last night my hosts asked what time I needed to be at the conference this morning, and I looked at the handy-dandy schedule of posters and talks which I wanted to attend, saw that the first one I wanted to see started at 08:00, and reported that time to her. She replied that in that case I could take the bus with her in the morning, and she’d show me where to get off, since she works near the conference center. As it turned out, that bus got me to the center at two minutes till 8:00, which is probably not really early enough for one who wishes to attend things starting at 8:00, but I didn’t think there was any reason to stress about it, just go with the flow.

As I reached the conference center there was no mistaking I’d arrived, since there is a row of AGU banners outside. I went into the building, and the first thing I saw was three booths set up just inside of the entrance, one whose sign indicated that one could pick up one’s posters there, one whose sign I’ve forgotten, and one labeled “exhibitor’s registration”. There was a short line for that one, so even though I wasn’t certain if it was what I wanted (does exhibiting a poster at the poster session make one an “exhibitor”?), I stood in it nonetheless. Once I got up there I found out that my hesitation was well founded, “exhibitor” refers to businesses with booths, and I needed to go to the other building, across the street, for registration. Off I went, and soon entered a huge hall, with booths along the wall facing the door labeled “on site registration” and booths to the side labeled “pre-registration”. Guessing that “pre-registration” actually meant “people who have pre-registered”, I found the line for the correct section of the alphabet, and stood in it. Many minutes later it was my turn, but after much searching through her stack of cards she was unable to find my paperwork.

So then I went and stood in the “registration help” line. Many minutes later it was finally my turn and I explained that they couldn’t find my name. She looked in the computer and couldn’t find me there either. I explained that I remembered registering, that I was presenting a poster, and was a recipient of a student travel grant. She let me know that many students were having the same problem—that when we did the abstract submission we should also have gone to a separate part of the web page to register for the conference itself, but there was nothing on the web page prompting us to do so. However, I had memories of filling in forms on the web indicating that I wouldn’t be doing the conference dinner, that I am a vegetarian with an allergy to wine/vinegar, and so on. Assuming that this memory is both correct, and attached to this conference and not some other conference, I should be registered. So I briefly turned on my computer and checked my records, but of the e-mails I’d received from AGU I could find only the abstract submission and acceptance, and I quickly turned it off again, before the battery went flat. Sigh. I’d *thought* I’d registered, and certainly the web page at the time I did the abstract submission led me to believe I’d done all of the necessary paperwork to attend the conference. So, how to pay for it now? I couldn’t remember if I had sufficient cash in my Alaskan bank account to cover the cost of registering, and my “visa” card there is only a debit card, so I didn’t wish to risk using it. My European “master card” is a pre-pay card, and, again, I couldn’t remember how much cash remained on the card (I keep all of these records on my computer, not in my brain, but I didn’t wish to tax my inadequate computer battery by turning the computer on again without plugging it in). In addition I don’t really care to pay the fees associated with using a European card in the US. Therefore logic says to pick up the travel grant check, cash it, and use that cash to pay the registration fee. The lady at the registration desk didn’t know where the travel grant checks were located, but thought that it might be at the education booth just over there. Off I went to that booth, where there was no line at all (yay!). The nice lady there was sympathetic to my plight, and thought that the checks would be in the other building. However, without a badge showing I’d paid, she didn’t think I would be able to get into the room. So she called the person in charge of educational related stuff, who said that she’d come to me, and soon thereafter I had my travel grant check in hand. I found out where to find the bank upon which the check was written, and walked the few short block there, where, again, there was no line. The nice young man there cashed my check, and then told me that since I don’t have an account with them there would be a five dollar fee. Oddly enough, that announcement was enough to push me over the line in terms of stress levels, and I promptly burst into tears, which made the poor boy feel very bad for charging the fee. If I had been able to stick with plan A (take check with me to Alaska and deposit it into my account there), I would not have been charged the fee. However, not wanting to use my “credit” card, cash was my only option, so I let him charge me.

Back to the conference center I registered. While I asked nicely, they were not willing to let me register with the fee that would have applied on the day I did the abstract payment, even though I would have happily registered on that day, had there been any indication that I needed to do so separately. This entire process took over two full hours, but I am now properly registered, have my badge, and am free to attend lectures and poster sessions. However, I still need to put the finishing touches on my poster and print it, so it could be a while before I have any science to report from my conference attendance experience.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

schedule printed

Thanks to the schedule planner for AGU, I’ve just printed my schedule for the event, showing all of the talks and posters I don’t wish to miss. I now have a plastic sheet protector for each day, with page one of each container showing a summary of the talks/posters I want to attend, and the other sheets showing the abstract for each. Having limited my key word searches to such concepts as metamorphism, experiments, garnets, etc. it took only 39 pages to print the schedule and abstracts (after deleting the title page and the one nearly blank page which happened to contain only the contact details for one of my co-workers here—I guess his abstract was longer than normal if that part wrapped onto the next page). Reading my 1000 words of geologic literature will be easy for the next few days, till I’ve worked my way through this pile of abstracts. Now, back to putting the finishing touches on my poster, so that I can pack this evening and fly in the morning…

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

preparations for AGU winding to a close

I have always been one of those people who prefers to complete tasks well before their deadlines. Alas, recent events have been teaching me to push deadlines harder than I would like. I fly out Friday morning for AGU, and have only just completed my first draft of my poster to be presented. Fortunately, my poster session isn’t until Thursday, so I can print my poster after I arrive, so it isn’t a problem that it isn’t yet in its final, complete form, but I am a tad bit uncomfortable with the fact that it isn’t perfect yet.

So, what factors conspire to make it take longer than I would like? There are several; learning to use Mathmatica, which program, while very powerful, is also very fussy about the format of the data one presents it, having had time to run only three experiments thus far, and, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, having some of them run water-undersaturated, resulting in very small grain sizes, making it difficult to obtain good analyses with the microprobe, and taking a couple of days off last week to fly to Stockholm for a symposium on Medieval music and dancing in the way of a pre-birthday celebration. (Note: when I purchased the tickets for that adventure I didn’t know yet if I’d be able to attend AGU or not.) Now that I’ve (finally) got my data into the correct format and graphs have been produced I am feeling much better about my prospects of completing everything on time. However, I am highly amused at the fact that I’d long since decided to print my poster after I reach California, in part so that I wouldn’t have to carry a poster-tube with me in these days of severe luggage restrictions, and just now I received a phone call from a colleague who asks if I would be willing to transport his poster to the meeting for him. So much for that reason to delay. However, I still have another fine reason: so that I can speak with the printer in English about what I want done, rather than trying to use the local language to place the order. (Never mind that I successfully printed a poster for the conference in Edinburgh back in July even though the clerk at the print shop spoke no English whatsoever.)

Thursday, 3 December 2009

the transition zone has its advantages

As so many people do, I submitted my PhD thesis and promptly started working a “post-doctoral” job whilst the examiners looked it over and the wheels of University bureaucracy processed the paperwork necessary to eventually grant my degree. As a result I am both a “full time student” and a “professional geoscientist”, at the same time. Based upon the various e-mails exchanged with the university, I am on track to have my degree awarded with the December 2009 graduating class (so, basically, I get the degree for my birthday this year). However, since I am still, technically, enrolled as a student, when I filled out my AGU abstract submission forms I also submitted a request for student travel funding, letting them know in the forms the details of my status and the fact that while the degree isn’t yet complete, I have moved on and commenced employment. Much to my delight, my request for funding has been approved.

Today I found out that the way the AGU funding works is that we pick up a check when we arrive at the conference, and we have until the 15th of January to turn in all of our receipts for the expenses. Apparently if our total expenses are less than our accumulated expenses we need to then give back to AGU any funds we didn’t need. If I had opted to stay in a hotel during the conference my total expenses would easily exceed the total amount of the available funding. However, a very good friend of mine happens to live in the city, fairly near the conference venue. Therefore, instead of staying in a hotel, I’ll be staying with friends. Because I managed to find a very good deal on my air fare (as one does when one has to front the money oneself and one’s budget is tight just now) I strongly suspect that I won’t actually accumulate enough additional receipts to use up all of the funding available to me. (They won’t fund more than $45/day for food, so don’t suggest going to really high end restaurants to use it up.) Therefore, so that I don’t feel like giving their money back is an expense, my plan is to record both the influx of the advance, and, on the same day, enter in the outgo of the change I owe them. Initially, I’ll record the value of that “change” as the difference between the total funding available and the cost of the air fare. Then, each time I spend money on food or public transit during the conference, I’ll change the number in the “unused funding” entry. I don’t expect that I’ll manage to reduce that number all the way to zero, but it will be interesting watching it change as the expenses accumulate.