Saturday, October 31, 2009

Attending AGU in December

While others in the geoblogsphere are still posting about their adventures at GSA in Portland, I’ve just booked my flights for AGU in December. Anyone else planning on attending that one? It would be nice to make it to one of the geoblogger meet-ups instead of reading about them from the far side of the planet…

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Extending the parameters of my “1000 words a day” challenge

Starting in June of 2007 I set myself the goal of reading 1000 words a day from the geologic literature. The reason I chose to do this was the fact that I had a huge pile of papers I needed to read, and hadn’t been making the time to read any of it. Since then there have been numerous days in which I forgot and had to start over. My count has ranged from a low of accomplishing it two days in a row before missing a day to a high of 118 days in a row (my current count is at 42 days, which is the record for the 113 day period since arriving in Europe to commence my first post-doc position). Last night as I was finishing up my evening yoga in preparation for going to sleep I realized that I’d not yet read my 1000. I further realized that my computer and all paper copies of journal articles and textbooks I currently have in my possession were across the street in my office (I love my 2-minute commute to work!). I considered walking back over to do my 1000, but then I thought about the spirit of the rule. The goal was go get me to read a little bit, every day, so that I actually made progress and stayed current with my self-learning.

One of the things I’m doing here, in addition to my experiments, is taking classes in the local language. I’m dutifully doing my homework each day before it is due, but I’ve not been making much additional effort towards actually learning this language. All of my colleagues are so fluent in English that I can speak at my normal high rate of speed, so I don’t *need* to learn the language to do my job. Likewise when at the market it is easy enough to use the phrase I’ve memorized for “half kilo” and point, and then look at the numbers printed on the cash register to work out how much to pay. Again, I don’t *require* the local language to live my life here. Yet, it would be nice.

Therefore, I have expanded my “1000 words a day” to now be either read (at least) 1000 words of geologic literature in my own language, or spend 20 to 30 minutes translating something. One of my favourite books as a child was Anne of Green Gables . I have read, and re-read that book on numerous occasions. I also own copies of it translated into other languages. I purchased the version in the local language soon after I arrived. Prior to last night I’ve only “read” it—by which I mean open the book and look at every word, forming the sounds they make (either in my head or out loud, depending on if another is present), and looking for words which I can understand due to their similarities to the English equivalent. There are just enough of these that I am able to tell where in the story I am based on my memory of the original text. However, while doing this helps me to get a slight feel for the flow of this language, I’m not learning much. Therefore last night I went back to the beginning and actually took the time to write down each word I wasn’t positive I understood, and looked it up in my dictionary. The first two sentences of the story are long and complex and a half an hour elapsed while I looked up the 23 words I didn’t already know. I then read them out loud once straight through, then again phrase by phrase; pausing to state the English equivalent of each before reading the next phrase. It didn’t help me learn new thing in my primary field, but alternating this technique now and again with my normal 1000 a day will help me better fit into this country in which I’ll be living for another year and a bit, and so, I am happy with this change to the “rules” of the game I’m playing with myself.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Background learning has meant a reduction in posting

As the weeks slip by in my new job I find that I’ve not been making time to post. I do have a couple of draft posts which are waiting for photos to illustrate them, but they’ve been in a holding state for ages. Somehow the daily press of learning new skills, applying them, attending language lessons 6 hours a week, and doing the homework, combined with a half-hearted attempt to develop a social life in my new country has conspired me to feel as though I can’t spare the time for posting here. However, my log of manner in which I am spending my hours indicates that I have been making plenty of time for personal e-mail and reading the blogs I follow. In theory some of that time could have been spent writing instead of reading.

Ah, writing; it is such an easy way to communicate with people—simply enter the words into a keyboard at a time of your own choosing, and your audience will have the option to read it later, at a time of their choosing. No need to arrange a face-to-face meeting with them to share your information. No need to repeat yourself over and over—one typing session can communicate to hundreds of people, should you wish it to (and, at times, even if you don’t so wish, so it is always best to be careful what you commit to the written form, lest your words be shared in a venue unexpected).

So, what science have I been doing while I was busy not writing (or, in a couple of cases, not taking the photos to accompany the writing)? So far it has been simply learning the mechanics of setting up my experiments. #1 has been run, #2 is in progress, and #3 is approaching ready to go. Next week, I am told, we will look at the results of #1 in the microprobe and see what there is to see. It will be interesting to compare the two samples. My experiments are being run with about 5% H2O and a small piece of graphite sealed into the gold capsules with the powder. When sealing the capsules it is important to do the welding with the capsule bottom surrounded by water to keep it cool so that the welding process doesn’t boil off the water before it is sealed. I failed to do this with the first capsule I filled. Likewise, I am not certain that I actually managed to get the capsule completely welded shut. If there is a small opening in the capsule it is possible for the water to boil out of the capsule early on in the experiment, and so not be available for chemical reactions.

Given the huge difference in texture between the two samples which comprised my first experiments, this may have happened for one of them. Apparently when water is present in the capsules the result is an amount of porosity in between the grains of powder, despite the high pressure of the experiment, so the end product is soft and easily torn out of the capsule after the run, if one isn’t very careful in the polishing process. However, when water isn’t present the grains of powder are pushed more closely together, and the new minerals have a chance to interlock as they grow, resulting in a much more coherent sample. One of my two samples polished up without a tendency for powder to be plucked out of it, so it is likely that this one operated under “dry” or nearly dry conditions. The other required much more care as it was soft. It was necessary to coat it with additional epoxy before the final polish to keep it from being lost. It will be interesting to compare the results of the two samples. Are there any hydrous minerals at all in the one we suspect was “dry”? I will have to wait till early next week to learn the answer to this question.