Stories tagged crystal

Feb
15
2011

May I have your attention, please?

(…Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?)

Very funny. But seriously, I’ve got breaking news!

The Institute on the Environment’s Dialogue Earth program is bursting into the online community. With their first press release, Twitter account, Facebook page, YouTube channel, and blog, they’re drawing attention, and new supporters, every day. They've even been featured on The Line, SUNfiltered, The Daily Crowdsource, and Crowdsourcing.org.

Big things, folks. I’m telling ya: big things.

(Um, excuse me, KelsiDayle, but what is Dialogue Earth?)

Oh, gosh. I’m always getting ahead of myself. I’ll allow Dialogue Earth to explain for themselves:

“The Dialogue Earth™ team is working to increase public understanding on timely issues related to the environment by delivering engaging, trustworthy multimedia content to large, diverse audiences.”

Consider these three main ways people gather information about the environment:

  1. Personal experiences,
  2. Conversations with other people, and
  3. Media coverage.

Dialogue Earth is developing ways to monitor the ‘chatter’ from each information source.

For example, weather and gas price data sets allow Dialogue Earth to monitor these environmentally-relevant personal experiences.

Twitter provides the Dialogue Earth team with an intriguing sample of peoples’ conversations that have some connection to the environment. Dialogue Earth has developed a method of analyzing Tweets for sentiment through crowdsourcing.

Emerging or social medias, like blogs, are changing our understanding of what’s news, but there are still ways to understand the content, frames, sentiment, and assertions of stories. Dialogue Earth is working on developing a responsive and scalable method for so doing.

Eventually, Dialogue Earth hopes to help people process through the hot topics of the day, but for now Dialogue Earth is focusing on understanding what the big issues are and how people are communicating about them. Knowing these things first should help Dialogue Earth develop additional effective communication tools in the coming months. In fact, Dialogue Earth has already conducted their first experiment in crowdsourcing creative content via Tongal. Check out the winning science video on the topic of ocean acidification below:

Pretty great stuff, huh?

Apr
23
2008

The British Crystal Skull: Look--you can just see the flying saucer.
The British Crystal Skull: Look--you can just see the flying saucer.Courtesy seriykotik1970
First thing’s first: I’m not sure I can recommend that you see the new Indiana Jones movie. Have I seen it? As a matter of fact, I haven’t. Am I up on Hollywood buzz? Possibly, but only because I’m not sure what “Hollywood buzz” is exactly. I’m certainly not up on anything Indiana Jones 4 related.

This is a science blog, so is my issue with the archaeology? Is it bad archaeology? Absolutely it’s bad archaeology (more on that in a moment), but no, that’s not it. As it happens, I love bad archaeology most of all.

No, here’s why I don’t think you should see the new Indiana Jones: dude’s old.

Consider this: Do any of you remember seeing the “Young Indiana Jones” tv series? Remember how it ironically featured the occasional old Indiana Jones? Was that fun seeing Indy as a staggering octogenarian? Answer: no, not fun. Don’t believe me? See for yourselves. Guy’s old. How are you supposed to punch Nazis and outrun boulders like that? Also—a side note—couldn’t he save a bunch of money if he just bought monocles?

No, Indiana Jones 4 is just the prequel to old Indiana Jones. It’s going to be all about arthritis and staying regular. If I wanted to see a movie about “I’m too old for this spit,” I’d watch the Lethal Weapon trilogy, and maybe Lethal Weapon 4. In fact, maybe I will watch the Lethal Weapon trilogy (but not Lethal Weapon 4) tonight. But only for detective Martin Riggs, not for the gray hair and male girdle jokes.

Wait a second. Did I say that this was a science blog? I did—here’s the citation “This is a science blog.” So onto something like science!

Indiana Jones is all about bad archaeology. I’ll say again, however, that bad archaeology is totally fun, but it shouldn’t be confused with real archaeology. Did you ever notice how pretty much every site Indy visits, he destroys? The temple of the Hovitos, the Well of Souls, the Thuggee mine and shrine to Kali, the catacombs under Venice, the resting place of the grail in the Canyon of the Crescent Moon? All crush, collapsed, burned, or flooded.

To be clear, archaeological excavation constitutes, in many respects, the destruction of the site itself. It’s like dissecting a frog—it never works out well for the frog itself, but you can learn a lot about him by doing it. And archaeology is done very slowly. Notes and drawings are made, samples are taken, and it’s all followed up by hundreds of hours in a lab, looking at everything again. Very rarely does the destruction of a site involve sprinting through an ancient temple, clutching a creepy fertility idol.

Not only that, but recent studies take issue with the authenticity of the upcoming film’s subject, namely a certain crystal skull. Or crystal skulls.

Crystal skulls pop up now and again in archaeology, or at least in the antiquities trade. And there are about a dozen of them, in particular, that have been the subject of considerable interest and skepticism. In the late 19th century, a handful of crystal skulls turned up on the antiquities scene, reputedly coming from Aztec/Olmec/Toltec/Maya temples (distinct Central American cultures, but, for the purposes of modern-day occult fixations, probably interchangeable). The smaller of the skulls are generally agreed to be large beads, probably used in Mexican catholic practice at one point. On the other hand, the larger skulls, ranging a couple of inches on either side of life size, are magic.

That’s right, the skulls, carved of solid quartz, and scattered across the world in museums and the hands of private collectors, are freakin’ magic. Used properly, they can grant health and luck to the bearer, and death to his or her enemies. Also, UFO’s—held at a certain angle, in a certain light, it is said that the crystal depths of the skulls will reveal the unmistakable image of a flying saucer. Because we all know what a flying saucer looks like so well, we would know if we were being shown a fake. And—most importantly—some say that the 12 skulls (and a missing 13th skull) must be united before the end of the Mayan calendar (12/21/2012), or the Earth will fly off its axis. You totally know that this would suck, so start skull questing.

Anyway, all this stands to reason, right? You’ve got your skulls, your crystal skulls. You’ve got you’re mysterious, vanished people (who, you know, aren’t actually gone). Logically there are going to be some magical powers in there.

E. Boban: delving into the dark arts. At his knick-knack stand.
E. Boban: delving into the dark arts. At his knick-knack stand.Courtesy Public domain
Not so, say scientists across Europe. The authenticity of the skulls has been under question for some time, with jewelers and museum archaeologists pointing out that they were detailed with a jeweler’s drill, and polished by a wheeled machine. The wheel thing is problematic, seeing as how the Mayans never did a whole lot with the wheel, at least not mechanically. The obvious answer is that aliens gave the skulls to the Mayans (or Aztecs, or Olmecs, or Teotihuacán, take your pick), and aliens are, of course, swimming in diamond drills and wheels. Unafraid of forces they could never hope to understand, though, researchers from the French national museum service have subjected the “Paris Skull” to particle induced x-ray emission and Raman spectroscopy. And what did those spoil sports find? In addition to the clear evidence of modern tools being used to shape the skull, the quartz it’s made of comes from the Alps, not Central America. The crystal skull belonging to the British Museum is made of Brazilian quartz, although it likewise sports modern tool makes, and the Mayans aren’t known to have had any cultural connections to Brazil. Specifically, both skulls are thought to have come from a village in Southern Germany that specialized in carving just that sort of thing for crucifix bases, which might explain the identical holes on the top and bottom of the French skull. What’s more, there’s documentation that most of the skulls out there came from a Eugene Boban, a dealer of pre-Columbian artifacts, known to have slipped a few fakes in now and again.

Another skull, the “Skull of Doom,” turned up a little later than the other crystal skulls. It was supposedly dug from a temple in Belize by a British explorer, who claimed that it was at least 3,600 years old, and “used by the High Priest of the Maya when performing esoteric rites. It is said that, when he willed death with the help of the skull, death invariably followed.” The power of the Skull of Doom has apparently diminished to reports of emitting blue light, and causing the deaths of computer hard drives. And it’s also probably a fake. Or a fake of a fake even—it was probably bought by the explorer for 400 pounds from Sotheby’s in 1943.

Don’t let all this keep you from your skull quest, though. They are skulls made of crystal, after all. What more evidence do you need for their ability to keep us from spinning hopelessly into outer space in 2012?

Sep
02
2006

Iron pyrite: Photo by Art Oglesby
Iron pyrite: Photo by Art Oglesby

Best mineral ID website

We get a variety of rocks, minerals, and crystals from traders at SMM's Collector's Corner. Sometimes we need reference books or use the internet to identify specimens. Webmineral.com has the most comprehensive mineral image library on the web. Their pictures of over 2,700 different species represents 60% of all known minerals. This mineral database contains 4,442 individual mineral species.
To differentiate minerals, several properties need to be identified.

The section on crystallography has a tool that allows you to see crystals from any angle by using the computer mouse. Another section gives chemical composition, or to see all minerals that contain a certain element. The search tool allows one to enter several properties with the most relevant finds placed first in the results.

Another Collector's Corner

The "Collectors Corner" of the Mineralogical Society of America features an excellent, on-line, mineral identification key by Alan Plante, Donald Peck, & David Von Bargen. Their identification key is also based on simple mineralogical tests such as luster, hardness, color and physical description for the most common minerals an individual is likely to encounter.