Thursday, April 19, 2012

Success with Authorship in Google Search Results

Over on Google+, I have linked to articles on Google Authorship a couple of times, but the time has come for a full blog post.  This new feature, announced last year, is I think going to be one of the biggest changes to the internet, in that it will change the way people expect to search for content.

So what is it?  When you run a Google search, you expect to see a series of links to content that is relevant to your search.  Google's Authorship initiative is their attempt to connect content on the internet to the creators of that content.  What it looks like is that underneath a link in search results, the picture & name of the content creator will show up.  The identity shown for the author is from the author's profile on Google+.  In other words, a Google search returns not only the links to content you are looking for, but it connects to those links a direct way to the person who wrote the content.

I think it is incredibly valuable to content creators to get in on this early, and start connecting your Google+ profile to the content that you create on the internet.  Blogs are an obvious starting point.  On the user/content creator end, you have to link to the sites you write in your G+ profile by inserting links into your "Contributor To" section.  On the other side of the coin, websites that host your content must do the necessary work to make sure your content is connected back to your G+ profile.  When you have control of both, the connection is fairly easy to make.  There are a number of articles on this topic out there with specifics on how to set this up, and this one is the best I've seen.

I've connected the content I write for this blog to my profile as well as the content I write for our department blog.  It took a little while to start seeing changes in search results, but as of a couple of days ago I'm now seeing my author profile under the links to these two sites when they show up in search results.  Here's an example of how the links to a couple of fairly recent posts I made on this blog now show up in search results:

I really hope this doesn't come across as egotistical!  Rather, imagine what this can do for science - if search results for science content were connected to the creators of that content.  What if author profiles would come connected with search results in Google Scholar.  Search results could not only turn up science links, but connections to the people who created that content.  The problem currently is that many sites don't have the proper set up to connect content to a G+ profile.  I would love to see abstracts from professional meetings, such as the Geological Society of America, to be able to be linked in this fashion, as well as full journal articles.  This could be tremendous for science & science education.  Why?  Because the connection becomes more personal, more human.

If you're interested & want to see what more results for my stuff looks like, type in "Appalachian Field Trip" into a Google Search.  Since Google search is user specific, you may need to force Google search to find my stuff on this topic by adding "Carrigan" to the search terms.

Well, what do you think?  Could this be good for science?  Going to set yours up now?  :-)  I'd love to hear about others' success stories!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mt. LeConte Hike & Website

Last summer, June 2011, I climbed Mt. LeConte with my two brothers-in-law.  We were on our annual big family vacation, that year in Gatlinburg, TN.  It was something I had wanted to do for a while.  I love mountains (always have as long as I can remember) but I've never climbed very many of them.  So at some point, I decided this trip was the one to register this peak.

Mt. LeConte (~6600') is one of the highest peaks in Great Smoky Mtn. Natl. Park, and it is the tallest in eastern TN from immediate base to top.

We decided to go big - there are several trails one can take to get to the top, and we picked one of the longer routes.  One of the longer trails takes you past Rainbow Falls, which is the highest single drop waterfall in the park, and that sounded like a good spot to see.  The Rainbow Falls trail starts out at a small parking area and is about 7.5 miles long at ~10% grade, so it's no small walk in the park.

Hike up Mt. LeConte via Rainbow Falls Trail

We hit the trail at ~8:30 AM.  Rainbow Falls was a bit of a disappointment because there was very little water flowing over it, and it doesn't seem that you can get very close to it.  I'm sure it would be a whole lot nicer if there had been more water.  Near the top of Mt. LeConte there is a lodge, basically a set of very rustic cabins that you can stay in for an arm & a leg for a night (no electricity & no running water).  At ~$120/night, I guess you pay for the experience (and not the service!).  Maybe someday when I've got more money.  Once at the lodge, we ate our lunch & checked out the main general building, which has some old frontier days stuff around that's neat to look at.  But the lodge is not at the peak, so after a bit of rest & food, we headed on up the trail to get to the top.  Just before getting to the peak, there is a spectacular overlook facing to the South.  The peak itself is kind of unusual - there are no great views at this point, it is just a spot off the trail to the right where there is a huge pile of rocks.  I guess you're supposed to bring a small rock with you up the mountain and make it a bit taller.

But other than relaying that story, I also am writing this blog post because I've recently discovered, a website that is designed for hiking & other outdoor adventure.  EveryTrail lets you set up an account, fill out a profile, and then start loading up your trips.  Trips basically include a GPS path and a set of geotagged photos, as you can see in the map/slideshow above.  If you don't have a GPS track to upload, you can draw it on a map or just use photos, but obviously the GPS track is the way to go.  While on the hike up LeConte, I had my at the time brand new Droid2Global with me, so I used it to record the track & take pictures as we went.  I recorded the track using the MyTracks app by Google.  The track isn't bad, especially when you consider the amount of tree cover and the fact that the phone was in my pocket much of the time.  However, the track recorded is way too long, over 10 miles supposedly on a 7.5 mi trail.  It overestimates the distance traveled when it doesn't have good GPS signal and the calculated location is not known really precisely.  EveryTrail requires that you upload a "GPS file", which of course is not a specific real thing; I assume it can read most any type of file recorded by the various GPSr makers.  I saved MyTracks data on my phone as a .GPX file format, emailed it to myself, & it loaded up very easily on my home PC.  EveryTrail also offers mobile apps for Android & iPhone, but I've not used it much yet.  I had previously already loaded up the pictures I had taken into a PicasaWeb photo album.  That was fortuitous, because EveryTrail allows you to use your Google login to access your PicasaWeb folders, so importing my photos into the trip was super easy.  It will also allow you to use Flickr or YouTube or direct uploads.  One issue, however, was that when EveryTrail puts together a slideshow of your photos, it determines the order of the photos based on the timestamp.  Since some of my photos I took on the way down, that didn't produce a good slideshow.  There is no easy, obvious way to edit the order of photos in EveryTrail, but the workaround is to open up your photos on the website after you've imported them and change the timestamp to force them into the order that you want.  Supposedly you can add video files too, but it didn't seem to recognize mine as anything other than still shots, so I baleeted them from the final trip. Overall, I think it's a decent site and I'll probably continue to use it to record hiking trips.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Geology with First Graders

Last week, based on an invite from the teacher, I paid a visit to my oldest daughter's first grade class to talk about geology.  I knew they had been learning about sand, so my job was to take it up to 11.  I also knew, based on what my daughter brings home, that they had previously talked about solids, liquids, & gases, but otherwise they don't get a whole lot of science in first grade.

I brought with me some samples; the ONU Geology program has lots of samples of rocks & sands (obviously), so I took some especially relevant ones to show the kids.

The main point I tried to get across to them is this: different kinds of sand come from different kinds of rocks.  I figured for first graders that wasn't a bad place to start.  The idea is to have them connect in their minds that rocks, when eroded, will form sand, and that there is a direct connection between these two kinds of materials. This is, really, their first introduction to the rock cycle.

I took with me 4 samples of sand.  The first one is a typical quartz sand in a jar that had a couple of nice shells in it.  That one I passed around first and had each student rotate the jar of sand until they found the secret prize inside.  Lots of wide eyes and careful looking at this point!

After I had their interest, I then showed them three other sands and three related rocks.  The white sand here is loaded with calcareous material, and the white "rocks" are pieces of some kind of coral from the same beach.

The green sand is olivine rich, with black chunks of basalt and white pieces of crushed coral.   The green rock is dunite.

The black sand is eroded basalt cinder for the most part, and the black rocks is a basalt with obvious pahoehoe texture on the top surface.

I talked about the three different rocks as representing the three major rock types: the dunite as a metamorphic rock, the basalt as igneous, & the corals as sedimentary.  They didn't quite pick up on the differences or the words well (and I didn't expect them to), but they were at least exposed to the terms.  They liked the basalt the best - it is a pahoehoe sample from Hawaii, so we talked about lava & how it is a hot, liquid rock that cooled to form this solid material.  They were really impressed with that!

Granted the olivine rich sand didn't come from the erosion of dunite, but the samples allowed them to see that there are connections between rocks and sediments.

After we looked at those, we ended with this question: what might happen if you took a sand, and squeezed it really really really hard?  You can't do this with your hands, but the Earth is able to squeeze sands hard enough that they turn back into rocks!  At this point I pulled out a couple of sandstones that are easily seen as grains of sand that are all stuck together.  Minds blown!  That was another moment where their eye-brows were all raised.  Again, here they were exposed to another idea from the bigger concept of the rock cycle.

It was a really fun experience.  These students are considerably younger than the ones I'm used to teaching!  And, if I'm totally honest, they are in general a lot more enthusiastic about learning than some college students!  :-)