In which I try to explain X-Ray Diffraction (XRD), as I understand it. Or, Look! I’m doing real science! This is what I’ve been focusing on the last few weeks, and therefore haven’t got the energy to come up with something else to talk about. Our XRD machine looks like this:


XRD is a tool used to determine the identity of minerals in a sample (of sandstone, for example) by way of bombarding a sample with X-Rays to determine the crystalline materials (in my case, minerals) present. Due to the mineral’s distinct crystal structure, the X-rays (not light) will diffract, or bounce off, of the different minerals at different angles, producing a diffractogram. This pattern, which is usually a mix of a bunch of different minerals in one rock, is recorded with XRD software, and then the composition of the sample can be interpreted from the diffractogram (there’s a photo of this below).

But before you can do all that, you have to prepare the sample. You don’t need much, about 3 grams will do.

photo 2

Then you have to put the sample through a ball mill to CRUSH it into POWDER! The ball mill is basically just a zirconia vial with two little zirconia balls inside. You put the sample inside with the balls, strap it into this contraption:

photo 1

close the lid, and turn it on. The whole thing will rattle around inside for a few minutes and then your sample is powder. The actual crushing of the rock only takes a few minutes, but the cleaning process (which is basically the same, but instead of putting your rock sample in the vial, you put some boring silica sand inside) takes just as long if not longer. Plus, once it’s clean and you have to move on to the next sample, you must “season” the vial with very tiny pieces of the next sample. Luckily you can just do other stuff while the machine is running, but it’s still quite time consuming.

At any rate, once your sample is crushed into powder, you have to very, VERY carefully put it in a sample holder for the XRD so that the powder has a perfectly flat surface.

photo 4

See? Look at that beautiful smooth surface! I did that. All by myself. Apologies for not having a photo of the tools I used to make this happen, but there were several. And if this surface has even one crack in it? You have to start over. Luckily you can reuse the sample over and over again, so it’s not destructive, just extremely time-consuming.

So once all the  samples are in their holders, they go in this fancy rack thing.

photo 3

The rack gets locked into the XRD machine (see above, it goes right inside the door), and then you program it to run. The machine does it’s thing for a while, and the data is collected. The resulting diffractogram looks something like this:


The peaks correspond to characteristic patterns of different minerals. Determining which they are require a little knowledge about the rock sample or an educated guess about what the minerals might be. This is the part I haven’t learned yet, but it boils down to a lot of trial and error.

There you have it, my quick and dirty summary of what X-Ray Diffraction is, and how you prepare samples for analysis. XRD machines do a lot more than what I’ve described here, but this is what I’m using it for. It’s been fun, but a little exhausting. So with that, I’m going to bed.

** Thank you to my fellow grad student for correcting my errors in this post – you know who you are! :) **

Spam Poetry

In case you forgot, I’m in a blog pact. There are 10 of us now, and we’ve been going strong for months. This week, however, we had 3 late posters. Three! We’d been doing so well this year! Anyway, this means EVERYONE must write an extra blog post by Friday morning. My brain is still broken from thesis-proposal-writing (2/3 committee members have given their approval though, so the end is near!), so for this extra blog post, I have decided to compose some Spam Poetry (I got this idea from my friend M.M. Jordahl). This is poetry built entirely from spam comments I have received on this blog. My guidelines are simple:

  1. Each stanza only comes from one spam comment.
  2. The only edits to the spam comment I make are 
    1. where to put line breaks
    2. how much of the spam comment I want to use (where to start and where to cut off), and
    3. minor content deletions to make it more poetic (but only at line breaks).
    4. I add NOTHING.
  3. No more than 5 spam comments per spam poem (mostly so I can save them up for later).

So, without further ado, I give you

You Aren’t Real

the nalgene atb solves
which problem pertaining to

I am doing this
so that in event you are checking to find out
if your email from Maybank is real
you aren’t,
probably you’ll find this post and be more alert
buy justin timberlake
tickets we believe that this
expected adjustments to rules
could result

the third as an accent colour appearing only in
splashes here and there
(such as flowers
in a vase,
a couple of photo frames.


i found awesome money making method
i think it should work,
rimolo roulette system
let me know
what do you think

I was going to write a post that focused on cosplay, and use Seattle’s Emerald City Comicon as an example, but a few things have gotten in the way. 1.) I didn’t take as many photos of costumes as I meant to. 2.) Graduate school has kept me extremely busy lately, so I don’t have a whole lot of time to do a lot of writing for this week’s post.

Besides, I figured you’re all more interested in photos anyway, so for this year’s ECCC blog post, I give you lots of photos, and a little bit of commentary.

So, what does 75,000 people going to a comic convention look like? Well, something like this.

IMG_0741 IMG_6850

This is the type of place where you look weird without a costume. Here are a few of my favorites.

My new favorite nerd family!


Some friends and I posing dramatically with the TARDIS on loan from the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle.



Gender-swapped The Fifth Element.


The littlest Gandalf! Favorite child’s costume I saw.


When I dressed as a blue dalek, I ran into a red one! We had to pose for a few photos.


And I had an epic battle with a friend dressed as the “drunk” Doctor. Great twist on a popular costume. Surprised I hadn’t seen it before!



Absolute favorite costume duo: Elphaba and Galinda of Wicked. Most impressive costumes I saw – the details were stunning.


I met these two standing in an epic line waiting to pick up celebrity photos. Excellent cosplay!IMG_6919

Also, if you want to see some great photography of costumes from this year, check out South of Autumn’s facebook page. He also took a bunch of photos at the costume contest. There was some fantastic cosplay this year. The most popular costumes were Ariel (in various incarnations) and Kaylee Frye, from Firefly.

LEGO was there again, making fantastic nerdy models, and there were some more traditional models there as well.

IMG_6832 IMG_6833 IMG_6836 IMG_6837

Yes, that was a full-sized LEGO model of R2-D2. Favorite thing.

IMG_6843 IMG_6844

This year they also had a little art gallery full of art inspired by Game of Thrones. This one was my particular favorite, and was sad to see that it was already sold out.


And last but not least, a few highlights from my favorite panels this year. A couple of them jumped over couches and played with plastic dinosaurs. Excellent fun!

The great Cecil Baldwin, voice of Welcome to Nightvale, looking extremely dapper.


Kris Holden-Ried, who plays Lost Girl’s Dyson, sporting a fantastic shirt a fan gave him the day before. He jumped over the couch while talking about stunts.


Eliza Dushku had her own fun panel, but she also made a couple guest appearances at Alan Tudyk’s. They were having so much fun this weekend, and you could tell. I ended up with two photos with them because Eliza made the mistake of looking at the funny face Alan was making during the first take and laughter ensued. Wash’s plastic dinosaurs made a guest appearance as well, narrated by King Candy!


The Welcome to Nightvale panel was probably my favorite of all the panels I saw. They had some amazing things to say about writing, popularity, and society in general.


Well, there you have it. My experience at Emerald City Comicon was even more excellent than the first time I went, and if you haven’t been to a comicon yet, I highly suggest you get to the nearest one next time it happens. It is an amazing experience.


Next week I intend to have my life together enough to bring you my thoughts from Emerald City Comicon 2014 (and some photos!), so if you’re not interested in geology, feel free to stop reading now, I won’t be offended.

As a graduate student of geology, one is more often than not required to do some amount of field work. At the end of last summer, I was able to go out into field area and check it out. I was given a grand overview of the rocks out there, but at that point I hadn’t decided what I wanted to focus on yet. This time around, I know what to look for a little better.


Unfortunately, my field area is still very much stuck in winter-mode this time of year. But I’m out here now because the vast majority of my summer will be spent on an internship with an oil company. So I thought I’d share with you what being out in my field area at the beginning of April is like.

First, I’d like to preface this by saying that the 3 days before I went out to the field were spent at Emerald City Comicon. I flew out there to visit family and see all my friends at ECCC. I was literally booked from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep all three days, and this was AFTER the hellish week that came before spring break. This insane amount of activity combined with being around 75,000 people all weekend resulted in me getting violently ill the evening I flew back home (nerds like me call this a form of con-plague). Great way to start off a week in the field, right?

My plane landed at midnight, I slept for a few hours, got up, was violently ill again, went to campus, and we started the five-hour drive to the field area. I slept the entire way. When we stopped for lunch I maybe ate 5 french fries. We made a few stops to look at rocks before we made it all the way into town, and for the most part I was able to keep my head together long enough to see what was in front of me. When we finally made it to the hotel, I basically decided to sleep for 13 hours while my advisor and my fellow grad student went to dinner. This turned out to be an excellent choice.

By the way, most often field work is not done from the comfort of a hotel room. Normally you go camping in your field area. But my rocks surround a city, and this time of year it still snows, so we opted for a hotel for the week. I would like to note that I am extremely lucky. I would also like to note that it was entirely my choice to jump right into the field after my trip to ECCC. I powered through the sick. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. Truth.

The morning started out fine. It was cloudy, but not terribly awful – visibility was decent. We walked out to look at some rocks, and then we started to hike up a hill to look at more rocks, and then my 48 hours of eating next to nothing caught up to me. If you’ve never had REALLY low blood sugar, it’s like this: I felt super light-headed, standing was hard, and my vision had become a brown blur. I was rescued by a Cadbury’s fruit and nut bar, and later by a delicious grilled cheese sandwich.

The following day was the first day I actually felt like a normal human being again. But, of course, that was the day the weather decided to be problematic. We set out to look at what we thought were the first paleoflow indicators (structures in sedimentary rocks that tell us the direction the water flowed during deposition) in my special green sand, only to find that they were in a different sandstone altogether, deposited on top of my green sandstone.

But then it started snowing. And it didn’t really stop.

My rocks are dangerous when wet.

So what do you do when the weather goes south while trying to do field work? You have some coffee. And you wait. And then you go back to your hotel and you wait some more, and procrastinate and try to do some work.

Our final day in the field was far more successful. The sun was shining, and we were able to walk around on my rocks! They were super green, it was great. But it turns out the citizens of the city like to abuse my rocks. They are covered in graffiti, and we found the carcasses of two cars that dove off a cliff above. So if you are so inclined to use spray paint on rocks, take a moment to think about the sad future geologist who will come across your “art” and see only paint covering their rocks.


We walked around the cliffs for a while, and came upon a cave, the overhang of which was COVERED in cross-bedded structures. We were in the shoreface (!)(where the coastline interacts with the beach next to an ocean or sea). So much excitement! We found paleoflow indicators in my funky green sand! But then we walked around a corner and realized that when you’re out of the shadow of a ravine, the sand wasn’t green. It was, once again, the sand on top of my green sand.


That was false alarm #2. If I am really lucky, sometime in the next few months I will find paleoflow indicators in my sandstone. But I won’t lie, that was pretty disappointing.

We spent the afternoon doing what my advisor called “urban geology.” Basically, it means we drove around, climbed tall buildings, and took photos of cliff faces (so we can later follow contacts between rock units in photomosaics). I got to use a fancy camera.

So my point in telling this story is just that I love actually doing geology. Mostly I wrote this for my family and friends who might be curious about my graduate school life, so I hope this was a good taste. I head back out to the field briefly at the end of the month for a field trip with my advisor and his class. Super excited! :D


Today I want to talk about e-readers and anonymity. Not personal anonymity, but the anonymity the book you’re reading gets when it’s tucked away inside an e-reader.

I saw this article a while back, about how the future of e-book publishing may center around genre fiction, like sci-fi, fantasy, urban fantasy, romance, mystery etc. Publishers are putting a lot more effort into their e-book sales, especially in the genre fiction area. They’re even including New Adult novels (yay!). Publishers are noticing that their print customers are a different group from their e-book customers (this is not to say there is no overlap, but people buy different things as e-books than as print books). I found this article very interesting, though not at all surprising.

But just because I wasn’t surprised, doesn’t mean I wasn’t a little disappointed. This paragraph in particular stood out to me:

“There are multiple theories for the genre dominance in digital publishing, including the appeal of anonymity offered by e-reader devices, which don’t display the cover of a potentially embarrassing book for all the world to see. As Antonia Senior wrote in The Guardian last year, ”I’m happier reading [historical romance fiction] on an e-reader, and keeping shelf space for books that proclaim my cleverness.””

While this theory may play a large role in the sales of genre e-books, I really wish it didn’t. This one paragraph threw the whole article off for me. Once again, the media is telling us we should be ashamed of what we like to read, that by reading romance novels or science fiction, we aren’t as “clever” as people who read more literary fiction. I don’t believe people should feel embarrassed about the books they like to read. I think it’s silly and stupid. You are who you are, you like what you like, and you should embrace that, not hide it!

This attitude stems from worry about what other people think of us. But honestly? If people are going to judge me because I love reading Succubus Blues (by Richelle Mead) instead of Bel Canto (by Ann Patchett), I’d like to know. I don’t need that kind of judgement in my life. And if you want to read Bel Canto instead of Succubus Blues, that’s ok too. People like what they like, and there is absolutely no use in hiding it. I am PROUD to have the entire Bloodlines series (also by Richelle Mead) on my bookshelf for the world to see, alongside my steampunk, urban fantasy, science fiction, and other novels.

If you feel embarrassed about what you read, so embarrassed that you feel the need to hide it, you’re really just hiding from yourself. If your friends are judging you, or making fun or you, or whatever, for the books you read – maybe you need better friends.

Personally, I think there are much better reasons e-books are doing so well. First, it’s very easy to buy them. You don’t have to go anywhere, so long as you have access to the internet, and in many cases you can purchase an e-book with one click of the mouse. It’s also much cheaper for publishers to publish e-books, since it removes the cost of print, which in turn leads to more shorter works being published, as well as MORE books (books that they otherwise wouldn’t take a chance on), as well as cheaper books (everybody likes it when the books they want are cheap). E-books have made the world of publishing much more open, so many limitations have been removed with this format. In addition, people are able to publish their own books themselves (with mixed results). While I still love a sold printed book in my hands, I have to admit that I have developed a love of e-books as well. Yes, they make it impossible for people sitting on the bus with you to see what you’re reading, but does it really matter what they think?

My point is, don’t be embarrassed by what you like to read. Own it. Be proud of who you are. If people don’t like it, that’s their problem. Stop letting the media tell you that the books you like to read are somehow wrong.

Don’t be afraid to put Succubus Blues on the shelf next to Bel Canto.

Yes, we all know that academia is expensive. Student loans are abundant, and work study is limited. Having already earned my bachelors of science degree, I have plenty of student loans, and I never qualified for financial aid. This story is familiar to many college graduates.

But what I want to talk about in this post is the price of being a graduate student. Specifically, a graduate student in the sciences. This line of thought was spurred by two things: this article about the relationship between journalists and academics, and some recent proposed budget cuts at my university.

The point of this article is that there is a major disconnect between academics and journalists who want to write stories about academics and their research. They claim that the root of this problem stems from a highly flawed and expensive system for spreading said academic research.

“The real problem is that the primary system for disseminating academic research — through professional journals and working papers — doesn’t work for anyone but academics, and it may not even work for them. Professional journals are wildly expensive to subscribe to and bizarrely difficult to keep up with… The journal system also fractures academic knowledge across dozens of different publications. It’s almost impossible to keep up with the papers being published. There’s no centralized list.”

“Professional journals are wildly expensive to subscribe to and bizarrely difficult to keep up with.” Major universities have the money to subscribe to most of these, but while doing both undergraduate and graduate research, I have had to special order specific papers and books from the Interlibrary Loan system (ILliad) – which is often problematic because you have to wait an unknown amount of time to obtain said papers and books. They are just too expensive for one university to have them all. And during the two years I wasn’t in school? No chance of looking at anything beyond the abstract because if you aren’t a student, your access to most academic research is cut off. Sure, you can pay for subscriptions, but that gets expensive fast. Academic journals aren’t like regular magazines, and their publishers know they can get away with these prices because universities will pay for them.

But shouldn’t academic research be public knowledge? Shouldn’t everyone have the chance to educate themselves and be able to keep up with the research in their field of study, long after they’ve earned a degree? I certainly think so.

Sure, it costs money to print the journals, but we all know most faculty and students are finding the research papers online these days. But do they really need to cost an arm and a leg? [Edit:] Peer reviewers aren’t paid, either, it’s something that goes toward their quest for tenure, in most cases. So why do academic journals cost so much? Knowledge is priceless, but I’m not saying academic journals need to be free, just a hell of a lot cheaper than they are.

Let’s not forget the other piece to this. Academic journal articles are indeed nearly impossible to keep up with these days. In the past few decades, the number of papers being published has increased exponentially. Based on what I’ve been told by members of the faculty in my department at my university, this is because standards have gotten lower, and expectations have gotten higher. Most PhD students are required to publish three academic papers to graduate. In order for one of those PhD graduates to become a professor, they’re expected to publish many more papers than that. Then, if and when they do become professors? They’re expected to publish several papers a year. As a result, research gets sloppy, and this is only apparent to those people paying attention in their particular field. In addition, it’s extremely difficult to stay on top of new research, which makes being a graduate student particularly difficult – we don’t want to repeat what someone else has already done. I don’t really understand how this came about, but this is the situation. Which leads me to my other favorite line in this article:

“Between the problems of the journals and the oddities of the working papers, journalists lack an easy way to follow the work of academics. That leads to the kind of frustration Kristof articulated: Journalists know that academia holds a universe of valuable information; they just can’t find a reliable way to tap it.”

I have established that the system is extremely flawed, and I don’t have a solution, but I am highly motivated to start searching for one after I earn my second degree. Perhaps I will take my blogging skills and try to bridge this gap between journalists and academics. I found the closing statement of this article inspiring:

“…it would be better if academics didn’t have to blog, or know a blogger, to get their work in front of interested audiences. That would require a new model for disseminating academic work — one that gets beyond the samizdat system used for working papers on the one hand, and the rigid journal publication system on the other. If academia was easier to keep up with, I think a lot of academics would be surprised to learn how many journalists care about their work, and I think a lot of journalists would be happy to find how much academic research can do for their stories.”

So, let’s start working on some brilliant ideas to solve this, shall we? I’d like to think a good place to start would be making education (and thereby knowledge) more accessible in this country our number 1 priority, but that is probably too ambitious.

If you pay much attention to my blog and my fellow blog pact members (see blogroll sidebar), you might have picked up on the fact that we’re a bunch of feminists, and we take issue with slut-shaming, particularly when it comes to the world of cosplay.

Slut-shaming is deeply ingrained in our society, to the point where it is often sub-conscious. Women who show off their physical assets are often labeled as “sluts” or “whores,” regardless of whether they’re dressing that way for themselves or other people. I’ll admit, I used to judge people for dressing that way, but in the last few years I’ve gotten better at recognizing that judgement, and changing my thought process, because honestly, what harm could it possibly be doing to anyone? None. Another person’s sex life is also none of anyone else’s business. Slut-shaming is just mean, and there’s no real reason for it. Let people be people.

What right do we have to judge people for dressing in a way that emphasizes what we perceive as attractive traits? Why do we judge people based on the number of people they’ve had sex with? Why aren’t promiscuous men judged as harshly as promiscuous women? There is a serious double-standard here.

There are countless blogs and articles one could read on this subject, so I just want to mention a particular macro I saw on facebook last week.


At first glance, it’s a clever joke. But then you give a feminist a few seconds to really think about it, and it is a perfect example of slut-shaming.

The person who made this image with this caption and everyone who has since liked it, immediately objectified this girl. She’s done a really great cosplay (complete with Mjolnir and Thor’s helmet!), but people can’t see past the silver bikini top. They removed her personhood, and made all kinds of assumptions about her. Meanwhile, her brilliant cosplay went completely ignored.

I can’t handle slut-shaming and objectifying women. If you’re going to do that, you’d best keep it to yourself if you don’t want to lose any respect I may have for you.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again, sometimes I slip-up and don’t even realize that I’m slut-shaming. Society expects us to do this, but I’m trying to change the way I think. No one knows anything about the sex life of any particular person based on the way they dress, and we shouldn’t be judging them for it. If you don’t like the way someone dresses, don’t hang out with them. It really has nothing to do with you. Try to be less judgmental, and don’t objectify people. Or, you know, if you’re going to do that, be obvious about it so those of us who can’t tolerate that kind of mean, discriminatory behavior know to ignore you.

I’d also like to point out that the woman in the photo is wearing a bikini top at a BEACH. So by this logic, everyone who wears a bikini on a beach could be labeled a whore. Do you see how ridiculous that sounds?


**Note: If you read this before 4pm MST the day it was posted, you likely read a longer version that involved personal details about how I came upon this macro. I have since decided to remove the personal details from this blog post.


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