Standing Workstation

Constantly aware of the fact that I will one day succumb to being an adult, a topic recently entered my periphery, worked it’s way into my thoughts and gestated it’s way into a full on obsession. Being a 24 year old, 6 foot plus human being, I am increasingly more aware of the fact that my poor habits are going to take a toll on my body someday. So, when I was listening to the Tested podcast the other day (highly recommended if you’re interested in tech and other geekery) and the topic of standing workstations came about– I took notice.

I’ve heard the argument for standing vs. sitting at your workstation before, but it didn’t really take a hold of me until the other day. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I’m spending so much energy trying to become more healthy lately, but it really stuck in my brain the whole rest of the night at work after the topic came up. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense; it would be healthier and it could save a bunch of space in a room that is desperate for space.

I have a giant unwieldy desk in my room that holds my two monitors, a PC tower, a PS3, speakers, etc. It’s got a weird shape, it’s low quality wood, and the terrible design of it makes it almost useless trying to use it for writing or doing homework on the desk surface itself. Directly next to the desk and occupying the rest of my wall space on that side of the room is a digital piano that ends up often as a storage place for junk, with a guitar amp and various other gear below it. My room isn’t very large as it is, so that all takes up a lot of room. I still have a queen sized bed and a dresser that are stealing the rest of my room. What this standing workstation idea will allow me to possibly do, is get rid of that shitty computer desk altogether and in it’s place put my dresser, and on top of the dresser, an addition to which my computing will be done on.

Let me illustrate with a pair of images that I hope are the absolute worst quality things that ever grace this blog. First off: the trial desk I have constructed using various items to allow myself to see how comfortable or uncomfortable standing while computing is:

That is indeed a Spongebob Squarepants mousepad and a DVD boxset of Seinfeld acting as the stand for my monitor. I am currently using my netbook attatched to one of my monitors to give myself an idea of how it will work. So far, it’s been very comfortable. Being tall, my desk is too low to the ground for me and it causes me to sit hunched over to use it properly (even more so because I don’t have enough money to buy a proper computer chair with adjustable height) anyway. This setup just works better for me I think. I am going to give it a couple of days to make sure I don’t despise it, but I’m feeling pretty good about it thus far even though I am admittedly only about 4 hours into the trial.

If I do like it, the current set up just won’t do, obviously. I don’t pretend to be much of an interior designer, but it’s quite a mess. That’s why I have begun to draw up ideas for what I think a finished product might look like. Enter crappy image number 2:

Here are the rough dimensions I am working with, and what I think would be a decent setup to work with. My main worries are stability. I think the stand and desk itself would be easy enough to build, but I’m not sure if hard mounting the stand to the dresser is a tenable idea seeing as it’s not technically mine. I’m hoping that the legs, however I decide to build them will be sturdy enough and that the weight of the monitors and other things will be enough to keep it in place. As long as the wobble is negligible and me tripping in the morning isn’t enough to send hundreds of dollars of equipment crashing to the floor, I will be satisfied.

I am kind of set on building because desks, standing workstation desks in particular, are stupidly expensive. I’ll let everyone know how it goes. If anyone has a great advice to give out to someone that’s considering standing workstation, toss it my way. I’ve done a ton of reading over the last 2 days, but there’s always some weird quirk that never makes it into those kinds of articles.

Here is a nice link on the pros and cons of standing workdesks:

How I got here…

On July 4th, at 3 in the morning, I was awake in bed with Twitter and Wired’s live stream of the Higgs boson press conference open on my laptop. While I was up doing this, the thought crossed my mind: “What events lead me to this point?”. I’ve touched on how I’ve arrived at geology in the past, and I’ve talked a bit about why I wanted to get into science, but I don’t think I ever described my life before that decision and informed how I got there.

When I graduated high school in 2006 (I feel old typing that), I was making my disposable income doing freelance art and graphic design for bands and record labls and had every intention to get a degree in graphic design from a fancy art school while pumping out art on the side. Not being able to convince my parents to co-sign on the idea of spending $45k for a 3 year education, I instead went to a local community college to get an associates degree while trying to get my own art and design company/brand off the ground (My eventual client sheet would be a mile long and include a lot of national touring bands and labels such as (excuse my bragging, but it’s fun to reflect) Victory Records, Mediaskare Records, Eulogy Records, Hellfish Family, Between The Buried and Me, Evergreen Terrace, Foundation, This Is Hell, The Effort, Beneath The Sky, Ambush! and a myriad of small local bands that never did anything that anyone cared about.

The interesting thing about being involved in the design and production side of music, is that you start to learn a lot of the ins and outs about how independent labels work and who you need to talk to and what you need to do to get things moving. I was so close, so many times to pulling the trigger on starting my own record label (and it’s something I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at later in life, still) and buying a screen printing setup to start printing mine and other people’s work for sale (I actually started down this path with another person and I backed out, so sorry to them if they’re reading this for whatever reason). Fortunately for myself, I wasn’t doing booming business, and between working part-time, going to school and doing freelance on the side, I started to investigate other live paths.

I couldn’t tell you exactly when, but at some point during this time, I subscribed to a podcast called The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, a podcast about science, skepticism and critical thinking. Those were things that I was sorely lacking at this point in my life. I subscribed because I heard it was a cool science podcast and I was eager to listen to cool science shit. What I got instead was something that really, and actually changed my life. Critical thinking is not something I was exposed to much growing up, and this podcast was dismantling things I thought to be true, or never thought to question before on a consistent basis every week; UFO’s, ghosts, etc . and then blowing my mind by producing mountains of evidence against things that I never would’ve suspected to be untrue; chiropractic, homeopathy, acupuncture, and a million other types of ‘alt-med’ crap. On top of that they also had the cool science shit that I wanted initially.

Throughout that presentation of critical thinking and skepticism came the loud booming recommendation of Carl Sagan’s book ‘The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark‘. In my humble opinion, I think that everyone, not just people that are interested in science, should read this book. It’s one of the most important things to have ever happened to me, and I feel like if everyone read this book and took it’s message to heart, the world would be a much better place. This book is skepticism and critical thinking at it’s most accessible, and uses examples that remain relevant to provide a case for why it’s so important. The reason that I think the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe changed my life was that it introduced me to this book.

After that, I became incredibly interested in investigating and critically analyzing subjects. This period of my life involved me writing many long-winded passionate responses to climate change denial on various internet forums and lead to the reading binge that lead me to ‘The Weather Makers’, further fueling my interest in climate change, and finally geology.

It’s weird to look back at things like that. It’s kind of neat actually.

El Calderon at El Malpais

On our trip (of which only 1/3 of participants was a geologist) we were able to make a quick stop at the El Malpais National Monument. This area is renown for it’s rich volcanic terrain and as a studying geologist that’s interested in volcanology and potentially will be visiting the area again this Fall in an expanded capacity, I was really excited to check some stuff out. Our time was limited, so after stopping by the visitor center we decided on a short little hike that would let us see some lava tubes and a volcano.

The area we decided upon, at the ranger we spoke too’s suggestion, was El Calderon. El Calderon is a cinder cone volcano that was formed around 115,000 years ago from lava fountain style eruptions. Sometime after the fountaining stopped, the eruptions continued in the form of fast moving basalt flows that carpet a wide area in the vicinity today. This period of basalt flows leaves a jagged terrain of vesiculated rocks, but more interestingly to me, a geology enthusiast from the flatlands of Illinois, it left behind the tubes by which that lava flowed all those years ago.

You can see on the poster above (maybe) that these tubes are now closed off to the public to protect the bat poulations from the threat of White nose syndrome.  Fortunately for us, there are smaller, partially collapsed lava tubes available to traverse on the El Calderon trail, and traverse it we did.

It’s really dark inside the tubes, so these were the only images I was able to grab, but it was a really cool experience. I wish we had the time and permission to go further into them. The lava tubes, when they’re open to the public, are pitch black, trail-less caves to explore.

This is a sample of what all the rock in the above images is like… It’s very sharp, jagged, highly vesiculated basalt. It’s not kind on the body when you miss a step and trip or need to catch yourself when slipping.

Vesiculation (formation of gas bubbles; and thus the holes in the above image) occurs under several conditions; increase in temperature of the lava, for example when there is an influx of newer, hotter magma; increase in the concentration of volitailes (CO2, SO2, etc.) usually by the crystallization of anhydrous (water-phobic)  minerals; or a decrease in pressure  caused by the ascent of the magma/lava. In the case of El Calderon, the lava flows were apparently very fast and moved long distances quickly so I think it’s  case of the latter, where the lava quickly made it’s way to the surface and became highly vesiculated in the process. I also could be way off, I have almost zero background information beyond a few brief web pages.

After we exited the lava tubes, we made our way to El Calderon itself with every intent to get to the crater. Teejay is doing some sort of crip-walk or something here apparently.

Unfortunately, shortly before reaching the base of the volcano, there was a fence, a gate and a Private Property sign. That seemed odd, so we think we took a wrong turn somewhere, and in the interest of time, we had to turn around and head back to our car.

The whole experience made me really excited to head back there sometime though. I would love to spend some time in the field there and observe many of the phenomenon that I’ve only read about and seen in picture.

ALSO: Nearby is the Bandera Volcano and Ice Caverns and their website said they opened at 8am, so we showed up at 8am. When we got there the sign said they opened at 9am. FUCK EM. We went here instead after that (The other place still sounds super awesome though, so fuck em in the sense like “Damn! I really wanted to go!” not “Fuck those shitty assholes.”).

Castle Rock

Last weekend, I hopped on my bike and made the 30 mile round trip trek (personal record for me :D) to nearby Castle Rock in order to spend some summer somewhat within my educational pursuits. Castle Rock is an exposed piece of the St. Peter Sandstone, a very mature, very pure quartz arenite formation that most geologist and students of the Midwest are likely familiar with, located between Dixon, IL and Oregon, IL on Illinois Route 2 in what is now known as Castle Rock State Park.

The St. Peter Sandstone is a Middle Ordovician formation dated between 465 and 460 million years ago, that is widespread throughout the Midwest. It’s deposition coincides with the beginning of the Tippecanoe Sequence (A Sloss sequence or cratonic sequence; a sequence that describes the transgression and regression of sea levels, and consequently deposition and erosion across a craton), a period of relatively higher sea levels covering the craton in a shallow sea; a perfect environment for the deposition of the sand that would become the St. Peter Sandstone.

The distribution of the St. Peter Sandstone formation (I live a bit north of Ottawa); taken from Mostly Maps (

Approaching the park, your first glimpse of the St. Peter Sandstone is the rock exposed by the road cuts that follow Route 2 as it twists through the bluffs that line the Rock River. Unfortunately, rather terrifyingly, and much to my dismay as I had apparently forgotten, the well-traveled Route 2 loses it’s shoulder here, and the blind curves make a cyclist a rather large roadside hazard. I am happy to report that I survived, however.

There are few things of note in the next photo (I also apologize for the quality, I feel like there was something wrong with my settings this day); first, the obvious cross-bedding or more accurately cross-lamination, and secondly how loosely cemented the rock is. It’s very friable (a good word for geology students to know), meaning it very easily crumbles at the touch. It’s not very well cemented together.

The cross-lamination provides an insight into the history of the deposit; you can determine the direction of flow that deposited the sands, and you can rule out certain depositional environments based on the angles of the laminations. For instance, the cross-laminations observed at Castle Rock are very low angle; these are associated with deposition by water as opposed to deposition in the dunes of a desert, where cross-bedding is much more prominent and much higher angle.

A short way down the road from the road cuts is the Castle Rock area itself. A set of trails and some river side recreational areas. The really unfortunate thing about Castle Rock now is that the Illinois DNR  has covered it with a bunch of wooden walk ways and makes it really less than ideal for people interested in the rocks to examine them. Sample taking and climbing on the rocks is strictly prohibited in the interest of preserving the site.

It’s still possible to see some of the features of the formation however, note the lamina and bedding, and more cross-lamination’s visible here.

Below the Castle Rock, along the river there are plenty of exposures too, but most of them are inaccessible unless you have a boat, but there are some along the shores that you can approach and that have some interesting features.

In the lower right of this next photo, you can see a dark layer in between the sandstone, something that hasn’t weathered at the same rate as the surrounding rock. I have no idea what it is, and it’s so localized that it’s hard to find any other spots with the layering present and again, it’s very illegal to take samples from the area so if you have any ideas, shoot them my way. The area is clear of brush though, as if someone has spotted it before and has also examined it.

If you follow the shore south, you come across a nice face you can look at, but like I said, most of this stuff is only accessible by boat. The river is a little low right now, so I was able to get this by compromising with muddy shoes.

…and here is a nice shot of the scenic view from atop Castle Rock. It’s really a nice place to check out. It’s not a geology mecca by any means, but it’s local and a nice place to have a picnic.

Into the Woods

I was breaking in my new hiking shoes and bag (with hydration pack, woo) and decided to go running around my favorite local geologic haunt, Franklin Creek which was talked about when I first started this blog 6ish months ago.

So nothing new, just some pictures. Pictures were taken using the Android app Camera FV-5 which I highly recommend because it gives you manual control over your built in camera. So much better than the built in camera for my phone at least. Give the Lite version a shot before diving in though, it might not work with your phone. I post-processed them with Pixlr-O-Matic because I like having a common visual motif and no longer feel like touching up photos in Photoshop for long lenths of time.

Assuming the weather picks up, I’m going to do some long rides this weekend and maybe post about some other local geology. Fingers crossed!

Hell week

This last week has been the hardest week of school I’ve ever endured, and finals aren’t until next week.

In the last week I have authored 3 heavily researched papers that required me to pull 3 all-nighters. One paper on the evolution of the Illinois Basin during the Paleozoic, one on the stratigraphy and structual history of the Baraboo syncline, and a monster on back-arc basin volcanism that almost broke me. I shouldn’t have waited until this week to write all of these, it was a really stupid thing to do.

Had I not dropped Physics before Spring Break, I would not be alive right now. I am so exhausted. I turned in my back-arc basin paper this morning and took my last Volcanology exam and came home and took a nap, but before that, I have slept maybe 5-6 hours in the last 3 days, and I was already sleep deprived before that.

My body hasn’t responded kindly. Digestion issues, weird skin sensitivities, headaches… I need some sleep.

This last week has desensitized me to exam pressure though. I couldn’t care less about next week, really. I should study, but I feel like this week was about as bad as it can get. I just want summer to be here, so I can go camping and bike riding and traveling and hit on girls.

I’ll probably posting more again though now that school has released the noose that it fastened around my neck.


I’ve neglected to update the blog for awhile, but I have good reasons. The last two weekends I have been out with classes playing with rocks, and the time between those trips has been packed with exams and labs that have consumed my spare time and sanity. I’ve come to break my silence with a post of pictures from the trip my Structure class took to Baraboo, Wisconsin this past weekend. I have a bunch of pictures from my Volcanology trip the week prior too, but those are more to sort through at the moment. Maybe this weekend.

Anyway, most of the weekend my phone was dead and my phone is what I used to take pictures, so I didn’t get a lot of pictures. I didn’t even get pictures of all the things I wanted to get pictures of (like this really awesome fold we visited). Apart from that, the trip was very busy and rushed due to the need to get strike and dip data everywhere and search for jointing and pressure solutions in the rocks we were surveying, not a whole lot of time for pictures.

These are from our first stop at Larue Quarry and our first introduction to what would dominate our trip, the Baraboo Quartzite.

This is an image from Ableman’s Gorge where the bedding in this quartzite has not only been titled vertically, but they contain beautifully preserved ripple marks.

A short way from Ableman’s Gorge you find the famous Van Hise Rock. Upon this rock you will find all kinds of cool shit (in a worlds colliding kind of way), but my favorite thing were these en echelon vein arrays that could be found throughout.  These sigmoidal structures betray the history of stresses in the rock.

These were taken in a road outcrop that exhibited amazing crenulations. This was my first time seeing something like this in person and they’re pretty incredible. They look like Da Vinci paintings with no subject.

At the same outcrop you find these foliations with a sigmoidal shape. These were formed as the block above this layer moved to the right (and slightly into the screen) and the one below to the left (and out of the screen).

Here, once again at the same outcrop, we find ripple marks spectacularly preserved in the quartzite.

In the cliffs above Devil’s Lake you will find this feature; an unconformity that represents 1.1 billion years of missing time.

… and finally, our fearless leader talking about the history of Devil’s Lake. A man both loved and hated during the trip. Good dude.

Random thoughts on Volcanology 2

Yesterday while trying to circumvent DRM, I accidentally my whole computer. So I spent all day yesterday backing up data and reinstalling Windows XP (I have XP on my PC and 7 on my netbook). I wanted to spend my time this weekend studying for my Volcanology and Structure exams, but as I’ll be out of town with those classes the next two weekends, this was my only chance to fix it. Given that my Volcanology exam is tomorrow morning, I think it’s time for another edition of random thoughts on Volcanology!

This section of the class was a little on the boring side I must say. We spent alot of time talking about pyroclastic flow deposits, which sound cool, but at the end of  the day, aren’t the most interesting thing one studies in a class about volcanoes.

Firstly pyroclastics, or ‘fire fragments’ are volcanic rock fragments. So pyroclastic flows therefore, are flows that contain a large amount of those pyroclastics.

I’ve said flows so far, but we talked about several types of pyroclastic ‘events’ in a more general pyroclastic density currents. These density currents are gravity controlled laterally moving mixes of pyroclastics and air.  From that umbrella term, you can separate them into two categories, flows and surges. These are separated by their pyroclastic content. Pyroclastic flows are more dense than surges, meaning that the ratio of pyroclastics to air is much higher. Surges are much more dilute than flows and contain more air than pyroclastics.

Furthermore, pyroclastic flows can be broken down into block and ash flows and ash flows. Block and ash flows are just what their name suggest (convenient, huh?), flows consisting of ash and blocks (pyroclastic material larger than about 64mm). These flow types are favored in Vulcanian eruptions and lava dome collapses. Ash flows travel further than block and ash flows and are generally produced in Plinian eruptions.

(I’m sorry if this ends up being hard to follow, I’m just rewording my notes and my teacher is not one for cohesive order)

Those relationships should be obvious, because Plinian eruptions aren’t going to be producing tons of blocks, but tons of ash, and the opposite with Vulcanian eruptions. Lava dome, likewise, result in the formation of many blocks and bombs leading to those block and ash flows.

Lava dome collapse is influenced by two main factors: gas pressure inside the dome and the tensile strain of the dome itself. When pressure exceeds the tensile strength of the dome, you get an explosive collapse, if a collapse occurs when the tensile strength exceeds the gas pressure, you end up with a gravitational collapse. Either way, you get a lot of large pyroclastic material released.

Pyroclastic surges are generated in sometimes similar ways, but distinctly different ways as well. Surges, if you recall, are composed more of hot air than pyroclastic material. So they can be formed by lava dome collapses, but they’re also produced by boiling over eruptions, eruption plume column collapses, directed blasts and from the base of an explosion column in the form of base surges.  They can also occur at the end of pyroclastic flows, and from the upper, less dense part of pyroclastic flows. That all makes sense when you think about it, all of those events are going to causes much less pyroclastic material than an actual eruption would as they’re almost all secondary features of eruptions.

So what are you left to find when one of these pyroclastic density currents occurs? Ignimberites, of course. Ignimberties are thick, widespread, often pumice-rich pyroclastic flow deposits that are poorly sorted and generally unstratified with a wide variety of characteristics that give us clues as to where they came from. That means it’s a lot like sedimentology and…. Zzzzzzz….

I’m tired of writing. I’m sure this was generally useless to anyone who read it. Apologies.


It was quite lovely here this weekend. My understanding is that this may have been our last taste of summer before summer officially arrives as it’s suppose to drop to the 50’s tomorrow. That’s alright I suppose, as after this week, my next few weekends will be consumed by field stuff with my Volcanology class (St. Francois Mountains in Missouri) and Structure class (Baraboo, WI). I would really like it to not be 90 degrees those weekends.

I spent my weekend mostly outdoors being an active young adult and when I wasn’t outdoors I was working on a new set of cross-sections for Structure lab. I took the above picture this afternoon on a nice 20 mile ride around the area.

I took a nice hike the day before and took some more pictures.

I am consistently impressed with the quality of photo produced by the camera in my phone. It’s definitely not a sure thing, but particularly when you can get a nice focus on something up close… It just looks decent. I’ts unfortunate that the only way to get the colors to something worthwhile is post-manipulation, but I guess you can’t expect much.

Down for the core.

I am currently reading this paper on some volcanic stuff on the moon. I am either really tired, or most of it’s going over my head, maybe a combination.

Today we went coring in a bog. It was a pretty cool experience. Got to do some real field work type stuff and talk about the practical applications of the things I’ve learned in my time here. Possibly got some ideas for senior thesis stuff/internship opportunities.

Spent most of the day wandering around in a couple feet of water and trying not fall over. We were going to go to two locations, but we got rained/stormed out (as it turns out, standing in a bog while holding a very tall metal object during a thunderstorm is unsafe). It also turns out that I am terrible at taking pictures as I have nothing of us actually doing any coring. Just some random pictures and some of our cores.

Now, to do geology on them.