News of the month

News from the interface between the infinite istropic half-spaces of geoscience and technology. Got tips? 

Matt was at the SEG Annual Meeting in Las Vegas at the beginning of the month. If you didn't make the trip, and even if you did, Don't miss his highlights posts.

Webapp for wells

This is exciting. Subsurfr could be the start of a much-needed and long-overdue wave of rapid web innovation for petrotechnical tools. Much kudos to tiny Wellstorm Development for the bold initiative; it makes you wonder what on earth Halliburton and Schlumberger are up to. Right from your browser, you can fly around the subsurface of North Dakota, see logs, add picks, build surface segments, and provide the creators with feedback. Try it out!

OpendTect gets even awesomer 

OpendTect goes from strength to strength, having passed 100 000 downloads on about 11 November. If you haven't tried it yet, you really should. It's like all those other integrated volume interpretation tools, with the small difference that it's open source-you can read the code. Oh, and it's free. There is that.

Paul de Groot, one of the founders of dGB, told me at SEG that he's been tinkering with code again. He's implemented GLCM-based texture attributes, and it will be in the open source base package soon. Nice.

The next big thing

Landmark's PowerCalculator was good. Geocraft was awesome. Now there's Canopy - Enthought's attempt to bring Python coding to the rest of us. The idea is to provide a MATLAB-like environment for the galaxy of mathematical and scientific computing packs for Python (numpy, scipy, matplotlib, to name a few). It's in beta right now — why not ask for an invite? Even more exiciting for geophysicists — Enthought is developing a set of geoscience plugins, allowing you to load SEGY data, display seismic, and perform other nifty tricks. Can't wait.

More Nova Scotia exploration

BP won licenses in the latest offshore exploration round (NS12–1), in exchange for a $1.05 billion work bid on 4 deep water parcels. This is in line with Shell's winning bid last January of $970 million, and they also added to their acreage — it seems there's an exploration renaissance happening in Nova Scotia. After the award, there were lots of questions about BP's safety record, but the licensing rules only allow for the highest bidder to win — there's no scrutiny of suitability at this stage. Awarding the license and later denying the right to drill seems a bit disingenuous, however. Water depth: up to about 3500 m!

This regular news feature is for information only. We aren't connected with any of these organizations, and don't necessarily endorse their products or services. Except OpendTect and Canopy, because they are awesome and we use them almost every day.


Great geophysicists #6: Robert Hooke

Robert Hooke was born near Freshwater on the Isle of Wight, UK, on 28 July 1635, and died on 13 March 1703 in London. At 18, he was awarded a chorister scholarship at Oxford, where he studied physics under Robert Boyle, 8 years his senior. 

Hooke's famous law tells us how things deform and, along with Newton, Hooke is thus a parent of the wave equation. The derivation starts by equating the force due to acceleration (of a vibrating particle, say), and the force due to elastic deformation:

where m is mass, x is displacement, the two dots denote the second derivative with respect to time (a.k.a. acceleration), and k is the spring constant. This powerful insight, which allows us to compute a particle's motion at a given time, was first made by d'Alembert in about 1742. It is the founding principle of seismic rock physics.

Hooke the geologist

Like most scientists of the 17th century, Hooke was no specialist. One of his best known works was Micrographia, first published in 1665. The microscope was invented in the late 1500s, but Hooke was one of the first people to meticulously document and beautifully draw his observations. His book was a smash hit by all accounts, inspiring wonder in everyone who read it (Samuel Pepys, for example). Among other things, Hooke described samples of petrified wood, forams, ammonites, and crystals of quartz in a flint nodule (left). Hooke also wrote about the chalk formations in the cliffs near his home town.

Hooke went on to help Wren rebuild London after the great fire of 1666, and achieved great respect for this work too. So esteemed is he that Newton was apparently rather jealous of him, and one historian has referred to him as 'England's Leonardo'. He never married, and lived in his Oxford college all his adult life, and is buried in Bishopsgate, London. As one of the fathers of geophysics, we salute him.

The painting of Hooke, by Rita Greer, is licensed under a Free Art License. It's a interpretation based on descriptions of him ("his chin sharp, and forehead large"); amazingly, there are no known contemporary images of him. Hear more about this.

You can read more about the relationship between Hooke's law and seismic waves in Bill Goodway's and Evan's chapters in 52 Things You Should Know About Geophysics. Download their chapters for free!


Units of geological time

I have an exercise in my writing course on scientific units. The last question is about units of geological time, and it always starts a debate. I favour ka, Ma, and Ga for all dates and spans of time, but I've never gone unchallenged. People like Ma BP, mya, m.y., myr, and lots of other things, and I've heard all sorts of rules for when to use which, and why. The sort of rules you can't quite remember the crucial details of.

Twitter isn't for everyone, but I think it has some real strengths — it's a great filter, a reliable connection finder, and a brilliant place to ask questions. So I asked Twitter, and compiled the responses in a storyboard:

The story exposed a useful blog postan attempt to standardize (Aubry et al., 2009, Stratigraphy 6 (2), 100–105], another attempt [Holden et al., 2011, IUPAC–IUGS recommendation], and a firm rebuttal from Nick Christie-Blick. Many thanks to all my Twitter friends — one of whom I've actually met IRL!

Bottom line — there are regional variations and personal preferences. There's no consensus. Make your choice. Write unambiguously.


You own your brain

I met someone last week who said her employer — a large integrated oil & gas company — 'owned her'. She said she'd signed an employment agreement that unequivocally spelt this out. This person was certainly a professional on paper, with a graduate degree and plenty of experience. But the company had, perhaps unwittingly, robbed her of her professional independence and self-determination. What a thing to lose.

Agreements like this erode our profession. Do not sign agreements like this. 

The idea that a corporation can own a person is obviously ludicrous — I'm certain she didn't mean it literally. But I think lots of people feel confined by their employment. For some reason, it's acceptable to gossip and whisper over coffee, but talking in any public way about our work is uncomfortable for some people. This needs to change.

Your employer owns your products. They pay you for concerted effort on things they need, and to have their socks knocked off occasionally. But they don't own your creativity, judgment, insight, and ideas — the things that make you a professional. They own their data, and their tools, and their processes, but they don't own the people or the intellects that created them. And they can't — or shouldn't be able to — stop you from going out into the world and being an active, engaged professional, free to exerise and discuss our science with whomever you like.

If you're asked to sign something saying you can't talk at meetings, write about your work, or contribute to open projects like SEGwiki — stop.

These contracts only exist because people sign them. Just say, 'No. I am a professional. I own my brain.'


Touring vs tunnel vision

My experience with software started, and still largely sits, at the user end. More often than not, interacting with another's design. One thing I have learned from the user experience is that truly great interfaces are engineered to stay out of the way. The interface is only a skin atop the real work that software does underneath — taking inputs, applying operations, producing outputs. I'd say most users of computers don't know how to compute without an interface. I'm trying to break free from that camp. 

In The dangers of default disdain, I wrote about the power and control that the technology designer has over his users. A kind of tunnel is imposed that restricts the choices for interacting with data. And for me, maybe for you as well, the tunnel has been a welcome structure, directing my focus towards that distant point; the narrow aperture invokes at least some forward motion. I've unknowingly embraced the tunnel vision as a means of interacting without substantial choices, without risk, without wavering digressions. I think it's fair to say that without this tunnel, most travellers would find themselves stuck, incapacitated by the hard graft of touring over or around the mountain.

Tour guides instead of tunnels

But there is nothing to do inside the tunnel, no scenery to observe, just a black void between input and output. For some tasks, taking the tunnel is the only obvious and economic choice — all you want is to get stuff done. But choosing the tunnel means you will be missing things along the way. It's a trade off.

For getting from A to B, there are engineers to build tunnels, there are travellers to travel the tunnels, and there is a third kind of person altogether: tour guides take the scenic route. Building your own tunnel is a grand task, only worthwhile if you can find enough passengers to use it. The scenic route isn't just a casual lackadaisical approach. It's necessary for understanding the landscape; by taking it the traveler becomes connected with the territory. The challenge for software and technology companies is to expose people to the richness of their environment while moving them through at an acceptable pace. Is it possible to have a tunnel with windows?

Oil and gas operating companies are good at purchasing the tunnel access pass, but are not very good at building a robust set of tools to navigate the landscape of their data environment. After all, that is the thing that we travellers need to be in constant contact with. Touring or tunneling? The two approaches may or may not arrive at the same destination and they have different costs along the way, making it different business.