AfricaArray Field School – Day 2

This morning we got visitors’ cards, which led to a large amount of laughter, especially regarding the photos that people were having taken. Unfortunately, this took longer than planned, so we were running a bit behind for the rest of the day. After getting cards, we had a basic introduction, before some sneaky geochemists who have tagged along split off to do geochemistry stuff. The rest of us got a quick overview of the considerations that go into planning a geophysical survey, which brought back memories of Ground Africa days planning geotech investigations. We then spent the time until lunch productively by getting a short familiarisation session with the methods that we will need to use next week, in the field. Usually the fieldwork happens on the Bushveld Complex‘s eastern limb, but there are currently some concerns regarding safety, so this year we are going to be working in the Vredefort Dome, near Parys. The methods we will be playing around with include magnetic, gravity, resistivity, seismic, and electromagnetic. For my part, I am most interested in the magnetic survey, even if the ground-based nature of this survey will be quite different to my own dataset. The session today looked […]

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AfricaArray Geophysical Field School – Day 1, Vredefort Dome

I am currently attending the AfricaArray field school, hosted by [http://wits.ac.za](Wits University). The first day was a relaxed one to allow for the international students to recover from jetlag. Accordingly, we wandered off to visit the Vredefort Dome. This is one of the largest, and the oldest impact structures in the world, so we are very lucky that we can wander around it. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site. This is a world famous site and it was good to get an over view of the area. We started by getting an overview of the area, and the basic geology. Some of the most significant evidence is the presence of pseudotachylite within the basement granites of the Witwatersrand Basin. These formed under frictional melting due to the impact causing nearby rocks to move extremely rapidly. These are spectacularly exposed in some of the quarries in the area: These quarries are abandoned now, since the current fashion is for the use of very fine-grained, black facing stone, rather than textured rock. After that, we stopped next to the Vaal River for lunch, which was pretty idyllic. The work did not stop, since we worked out that the quartzite rocks […]

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Mushroom Hunting, a geologist’s view of

Today my partner went out mushroom hunting. Apparently this is something that some microbiologists do. However, to my surprise, this does not entail serious expeditionary setup. Imagine, they (my partner and her supervisor) just went out to look for mushrooms. Annually, mushrooms seem to kill a handful of people a year in the USA, with more in Europe. These numbers are about the same as sharks. Now, I am completely baffled by why lab-based microbiologists would engage in such a dangerous activity without getting properly kitted out. The following would seem reasonable recommendations as starting kit for mushroom hunting. I would assume that something like via Wikipedia would be the bare minimum required for hunting mushrooms. That is the elephant gun once owned by Henry Morton Stanley, and should provide enough stopping power to put a mushroom on the ground in a hurry when needed. However, if there is a group of mushrooms, such as a fairy ring, then more stopping power would probably be required. Something along this scale could be employed, with sufficient planning and a forward observer: via Wikipedia This would be enough to break up fairy rings and prevent one from getting swarmed by group of […]

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Borehole Grapher/Mapper

As part of AEON‘s baseline study in the Karoo, a group of my colleagues are undertaking a large scale hydrocensus in the area near the Western Cape/Eastern Cape boundary. At the moment, this entails visiting a large number of boreholes, recording some general information about them, and, where possible, recording the electro-conductivity of the borehole. They are also going to be doing other tests. The ultimate goal of this is to narrow down which boreholes we will be monitoring on a recurring basis. This has lead to a large amount of readings, associated with a given depth, being recorded. Excel is painful to use, because there is no consistency in the depth of boreholes, so while some tests may only have 20 readings, there is one with nearly 300. This precludes automated graphing in Excel. So, I have written a Python script to do this for me (mostly as practice, but hey, this will be pretty useful for the people actually working on it). I got this working adequately, and then realised that since I have coördinates for each borehole, I could graph the results. Looking around, I settled on leaflet.js to do the mapping part of it. As such, […]

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But we already have that: Nature’s link sharing

There has been much written recently about Nature’s new link-sharing initiative. I am not going to go in depth into how it works, but essentially this allows for the sharing for links by people who already have access to them to those without access. A good summary, with links to numerous other posts (none of which are overly positive) has been written by Jon Tennant. As a friend[1] put it when I described it: “But we already have that”. And that is one of the problems that I have with this. It is not a major step forward. You still need to get a link from someone with access. The only difference is that this is officially sanctioned by the publisher, and can be tracked by them, unlike emailing the author or getting it from a friend. (Cue sarcastic “thank you for letting us share our own research, paid for with government money, for people not lucky enough to have a subscription”?) The addition of some news outlets in the list of people who can generate links is a good move, in my opinion, which I will talk about later. However, why should people need to ask for a link? […]

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Open Access South Africa: Starting a Student Network

Uvania Naidoo (from UCT) and I (from NMMU) attended OpenCon 2014 in Washington DC this November. The conference brought 175 students and early-stage researchers involved in Open Access, Open Data and Open Education together. The Open Movement is driven by the belief that access to scholarly research, educational and medical resources should be freely accessible, reusable and easily distributed. A number of student-led open access projects from Nigeria, Kenya and Nepal were highlighted during the conference. There is currently no South African network, meaning that student advocates like myself and Uvania have felt isolated and have had no real means of connecting with other students with similar interests. Accordingly, we propose to set up a nation-wide co-ordination network in South Africa: Open Access South Africa. Any students, at any institution in the country, interested in promoting or finding out more about Open Access, Open Data and Open Educational Resources are more than welcome to get in touch, which will enable us as students to co-ordinate action and support each other across campuses and institutions throughout South Africa. Once we have established said network, we hope to approach the Department of Education to discuss nationwide OA policy. Contact details: Twitter: @OASouthAfrica […]

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OpenCon 2014

So, I got to go to my first international conference. And what a conference. I suspect it may have spoiled me for future ones…. Apart from the fact that I could say that I literally flew to Washington DC for the weekend (OK, and the Friday and Monday) which was such a short time, it was fantastic. There are already a couple of good review posts out there (cf: Karin Purshouse, Ross Mounce, Hilda Bastien at Scientific American, Emilie Champagne) so I am not going to try and replicate them, but talk more about my own experience. First off, Washington is a pretty cool place, especially the bits we were in. Lots of lovely old buildings, stone-clad buildings, parks, statues and memorials and so on. The Metro is also pretty cool, and driving my car to campus today was a bit weird after how easy it would be not to have one there. Also, I got to go to MUSEUMS. I managed to find the time to visit the National Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Library of Congress. All totally awesome, and who can argue with an entry price of “free”. I will probably put […]

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Another way of thinking about the geological timescale

A few years ago I came across the suggestion of using an analogy of a movie to visualise geological time-scales. That is, each frame would be one year and you would view 24 frames per second. I incorporated this into a talk that I did, and then forgot about it. I was reminded of this the other day, and redid the number crunching. The results, assuming that my maths is correct, can be seen below. I have worked out the number of seconds from this year to each event. I then worked out a more human-readable time (minutes, days, weeks and so on). I am sure that I am missing some events, so if you have anything in mind, feel free to let me know. I hope that this is interesting to some people who talk about geological times to non-geologists. Timescale 1994 (first democratic elections in .za): 0.83s 1987 (ME!): 1.125s 1961 (first man in space): 2.2s 100 ya (WWI): 4.17s 111 ya (first powered flight): 4.625s 1820 (British settlers arrive in the Eastern Cape, +-Shaka Zulu’s mfecane): 8.1s 1652 (Jan van Riebeek arrives at the Cape): 15.1s 2000 ya (Time of Jesus): 83.3s 1 minute 23.3 seconds 2560BC […]

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New Adventures

And breaking the silence. So, most people who know me as someone not on the other side of a computer screen (and even many of those) know that I recently relocated to Port Elizabeth. Why? Well, I am starting my MSc. The project is an interesting mix of computer science and geology, in which I will be processing a variety of geophysical datasets to provide baseline geological information on basin architecture. Settling in has gone well, and I am currently eyeing the rapidly growing pile of readings I have accumulated and need to sift through. The variety of subfields that I need to assimilate and synthesise is rather daunting, but, we shall overcome. I hope to keep this blog at least vaguely up-to-date on my progress, but it will take a bit of time until I have anything concrete to show.

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A small confession…

… I love pulp fiction. No, not the movie, which I have not seen for some reason, but the genre. Today I picked up a large stack of issues of pulp comics, mostly from the War Picture Library. These are set in World War 2, with accurate equipment and real battles. The stories are fictional though, and usually at least slightly fantastic. As a whole, the stack of cheaply made comics on the floor next to me has little to recommend it: the stories are trite, predictable, characters are one-dimensional, there is often minimal moral ambiguity, in many cases they are thinly-veiled propaganda, and filled with casual racism, outdated stereotypes, and sexism (if in fact any women appear). And at the same time, enormously entertaining. But pulp in general appeals to me. I enjoy listening to old radio shows, which are often pretty pulpy, filled with lantern-jawed detectives, distressed damsels, bizarre aliens, and vile villains. I have a bunch of out-of-print ebooks of things printed in the 1930s and 1940s. The Indiana Jones movies (which I love, even the Crystal Skull) are firmly rooted in pulp fiction. Pulp fiction is just fun. It will not make you think, it will […]

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