Saturday, February 27, 2010

Catacomb Humor

I'm afraid that the catacomb post has left some people feeling a bit down on life. Let's see if we can't bring the mood back up a little bit...

Alternatively, let's see if we can offend some people....

Friday, February 26, 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Catacombs of Paris!!

As a bit of a change of pace, let’s discuss skeletons. Specifically, let’s discuss human skeletons. Now this probably seems like a morbid way to start out a conversation, and I wouldn’t recommend that you attempt to start conversations with other people about skeletons unless you know a lot of doctors or horror movie set designers. And if you do know a lot of both doctors and horror movie set designers, then I’m guessing you lead a somewhat interesting life.

Skeletons are scary. I don’t know much about them other than they live deep within us and often act as the antagonists in science-fiction movies. If you watch a lot of old fashioned cartoons, skeletons are often portrayed as having the ability to dance in unison, which I guess is useful if you are trying to scare a group of ballerinas. I once saw a show on mummies, which are like skeletons but grosser because they look like they’ve spent the last 1000 years getting botched face-lifts. And that officially ends the list of things I know about skeletons. So why do I bring this up? I bring this up as a flimsy pretense to discuss the time I went to the catacombs under Paris.

So get this. Paris is a big city with all sorts of buildings and people and baked goods. There’s trees, parks, roads, revolutions, all the stuff you’ve come to expect from foreign places. But not all is normal in Paris town. But a few dozen feet below the streets of this city of living French folks are stuffed a whole bunch of dead French folks. It would seem that the good people of old-time France ran out of places to put dead people, so they decided to just stick them under the streets. How many people? Without resorting to childish exaggerating, I would guess somewhere near a bazillion quadrabillion.
Now, you can’t just get off the airplane and start asking a Parisian how to get to the dead people they have stuffed under their streets. No, that’s a question best asked at one of the many cafés that line the living Parisian streets. And so, in broken French, I casually struck up a conversation with a Frenchman and demanded to know where the dead people were. After sorting out some misunderstandings, I learned that the enterence to the catacombs is located next to a big lion of some sort. Only later did I figure out that the frenchman was talking about this guy....

I don't know why this was built, but I could probably find out with a little searching. But I will leave that up to you. The enterence to the catacombs was located next to this lion guy. Also by these two guys...

As was the case with the lion, this advertisement was confusing to me. I don't know what product these two ruffians were attempting to peddle even though the advertisement was in english. Anyway, this was next to the catacombs too, and "end to end" seemed appropriate.

Whatever you do, don't mistake this as the enterence for the catacombs.

Obviously most of you wouldn't, as it is clearly marked as a toilet. Mostly I put this here so I could post this picture...

That's me coming out of the toilet. Well, the outhouse (I never actually entered the toilet). These things were crazy. After you would exit the toilet area, the thing would seal up as tight as a drum and then start making all sorts of crazy sounds. Almost like a seagull fighing with an otter. Then the door would unlock and the next person could go in. Later I learned that the bathrooms would clean themselves after you left. This included the walls, toilet, floor and everything else that one might find in an urban bathroom. It was all very futuristic and oddly a little terrifying.

Back to the skeletons. You pay an usually large amount of money to begin your journey at the top of a scary, winding staircase. Then you go down the staircase for a good 60 feet, down into the very bowels of the city of Paris. It's really dark.

Falling down become a real concern, as I'm not sure you would stop at any point before hitting the ground far below. Once you get to the bottom of th stairs, you walk along a gravel pathway for a good little while. Then you come across this little guy...

This doorway marks the enterance to the dead. In fact, it says that very thing on the plaque above the doorway. "Arrête, c'est ici l'empire de la Mort", which means, "Stop, this is the empire of death". Most people ignore this sign and go right on in. I mean, what are the dead going to do about it? I guess this is a very dramatic way of saying "Stop (unless you paid your $40), this is the empire of death".

Once you go through this doorway, things get wierd fast. The walls become tigher, the roof becomes lower, and a muffled funk permeates the air. Also the walls are made of skulls. All around are skulls. Skulls to the right of you, skulls to the left of you, and, well, that's about it. If you like skulls, then this place would probably appeal to you. There are also a bunch of other bones. Like leg bones and arm bones and stuff. I didn't see any rib cages or hip bones, but they've got to be there somewhere. Here's a picture of me and some of the afore mentioned skulls.

I think that skull on the left is all that's left of Harry Potter. That's what happens when you practice witchcraft kids.

The problem with the catacombs is that you can't take pictures with a flash anymore because it melts the bones. Honest. The flash makes the bones fall apart. This wouldn't be a problem except that you are 60 feet below the streets of Paris and light is at a premium. So all these pictures are hard to see. But I can't stress enough that if there was enough light, you would see nothing but skulls.

In case you forgot where you were, there are also a lot of stone tablets all over the place with cheerful little motivational statments carved into them.

This one says "Where is death? Ever in the future or the past, Once here, already gone". Cheers!

Here's another...

This one is in latin. I don't know what it says. Something about death I suspect.'s a good one....

This plaque is spooky. It says something, but I'm not sure exactly what it is. The general idea is that this is the massive pile of bones where the body of Marie Antoinette and her hubby were thrown. Also somewhere in there is Robespierre. They all look the end in the same.

As might be guessed this place is suspected of being haunted. You might tend to agree, or you might dismiss such things as childish, depending on how attuned you are to the supernatural. I think it's haunted. If there was going to be a place that was haunted, why not this place? Skulls are basically condos for ghosts. Many people have taken pictures like the following that feature "unexplainable" crazyness.

There are many pictures like this, with odd flashes of white light standing in front of the skulls. I don't know why ghosts never really look like ghosts. Maybe this one really had to be somewhere, and we are just seeing it as it's chasing down a cab. I like to think that if they WERE ghosts, they were ghosts that are standing there ready to tell us their story about how they died. I bet a lot of them would involve the plague, which would get old after a few tales.

The story behind the catacombs is fairly simple. Paris ran out of room for the middle and lower class dead people. Having dead people laying around is a bit of an eyesore, so something needed to be done. A guy named Alexandre Lenoir noticed that several large prexisting rock quarries that had been constructed within the city were going to waste, and could probably serve as a final resting spot for a lot of people. And so, in 1786, the various parts of dead people started to be put in the abandoned quarries. This continued for quite a while. I'm not sure when it ended. Sometime in the 1800's I think. And there was no reason they had to just be thrown in a heap down there. Why not stack them in an artistic way? You would be surprised how much you can do with a couple of skulls.

As long as you are building a creepy place full of dead people, why not go the extra mile and carve creepy faces into the wall itself? Some people can't get enough of that sort of stuff. They're called teenagers.

At some point the roof of the cavern began to cave in. This was distressing to the people up above. It created these huge caverns right under the places where the living still went about their daily activities. This is what it looks like when you look up at the roofs of the caved-in parts.

This was scary for a whole different reason than the rest of the catacombs. Being squished is something that probably scares more people than not.

And so, then you leave the catacombs feeling an odd mixture of depression, fascination, and hungry. You climb the steps back out and very suddenly you are spit back out into living Paris.

I don't know who that guy is. He was just standing there. He doesn't play any role in this tale. Stop bugging me about him.

The tour of the catacombs covers only a tiny portion of the overall structure. There are miles of tunnels, each filled with bones and skulls and ghosts and stuff. I've heard that you can access these through sewage tunnels, and that games of soccer are sometimes played in the abandoned portions of the catacombs where the walls are practically lined with potential soccer balls. I, for one, would feel bad about using a skull as a recreational item (other than as a puppet in a hilarious play) but I'm not here to judge. Also, both the Nazi's and the French Resistance used the tunnels during WWII. I imagine that they tried their best to not run into each other.
And so this post ends. Go away.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Azurite and Malachite

I know that we usually cover a ghost town today, but I'm all ghost-towned out for a second. Plus they all kinda have the same story. Miners move in, prostitutes move in, beards are grown, dirt is thrown everywhere and bam, everyone moves out. You know what we haven’t done in a long time? We haven’t learned about any new rocks. Or really any sort of geology related topic. Ghost towns are kinda geology related I guess, but they don’t really fall into any of the recognized branches of science. And isn’t that why we are here? To expand our minds and break down the flimsy walls of ignorance that seek to trap us like the proverbial beavers that we are? Ghost towns represent the past. What’s more, they represent a failed past. Rocks, um, well, they also represent the past. But in a cooler way. Well, ghost towns are pretty cool too. I dunno, look, let’s just talk about rocks and you leave me alone about it, how about that?
Today’s mineral is an interesting little fella. Most folks have seen it, but don’t know the proper name for it. In fact, here’s a list of incorrect names that this mystery mineral has been called. See if you can guess what it is before we reach the end of the list and I blow the whole mystery by just telling you what it is.

1) Ol’ Greeny
2) Ol’ Bluish-greeny
3) The Blue-greeninator
4) El Paperweight
5) Scott, get off your butt and move this rock like I told you to a half hour ago
6) A grouping of Cu ions in square, coplanar groups with two O2- and 2(OH)1- which are linked into chains parallel to the b axis
7) Lord Copper Cuddlebottom
8) That one rock, you know, that we saw in class once.

To be honest, that’s just a list of names I’ve called it. Well, me and various family members (#5). And to continue to be honest, I’ve never used anything beyond #1 and #2 and #8. But that’s what’s so great about rocks! They practically make up nicknames themselves! We just have to listen to them, and to learn the secret language of the rocks. Then decode that language, and figure out all the inflections and punctuation and crap like that. Did you know in French there’s like, a billion different ways to say “you” depending on how you are saying it? Bah. Let’s forget about rock-language for now.

In case the list wasn’t obvious, the mineral we will be looking at is Azurite. Well, Azurite and Malachite. They usually show up together, and it lets me shove two minerals into one post, which means twice the learning for us all! Efficiency is the hallmark of a good geologist. Also unkempt beards and a general discomfort in social situations. The first thing we are going to have to clear up is which mineral is which. Let’s take a look at Azurite first.

Azurite, as you can see, is blue. It is always blue. It will never be anything BUT blue. If this weren't the case then you couldn't really call it Azurite. You would have to call it Sometimes Azurite, which is stupid. This is the one time that geology will follow the rules. Now, on the other hand…

Malachite is always green. These minerals are awesome because they don’t mess with us by being different colors all the time like pretty much everything else in geology. So how do you remember which one is which? Well, here's a little poem I created just to help solve this little problem.

Malachite is rich in copper,
This much we all know
Azurite has some copper in it too
But they are both different colors and it can be confusing to remember which one is which.

There. Telling them apart is as easy as knowing the difference between a Snickers and a Twix. Oh man, could I go for one of those right now. If you squish two twix’s onto the sides of a Snickers bar then it kinda looks like a delicious spaceship.

Houston, we have a cholesterol problem. But that’s not why we are here. Let’s get back to the rocks. You want to see something cool? Look at what happens if I smoosh these two rocks together…

Viola! One rock, two minerals! All mixed together! Ahhh the unity! Two minerals working together for a common goal! I don’t know what that goal is though. Probably just to sit there. Most rocks seem to have that goal. Oh, and there’s a third little bugger in there, a little guy named Chrysocolla. It’s also bluish-green so it looks like everything else. Sometimes geology does that.
So at this point you are probably asking why you should care. I have no answer for that. Neither of these minerals really do anything all that great. Azurite has a pretty cool name I guess. And it has a really neat blue color, like a really dark, well, azure blue. Malachite sounds like a bible character, so that’s nifty. Plus it is one of only like 800 billion minerals that are green. Hey, you want to know something that’s fun to do? Have a good sized chunk of malachite in your pocket on St. Patrick’s Day. People will be all like “Hey, let’s pinch that dude/dudette” and you can be all like “As you can see, I’m carrying a carbonate copper mineral that effervesces readily in a weak acid solution!” and they will be all like “You refer to malachite, a mineral with a hardness of 3½ to 4!” Then you will all go get milkshakes. Awesome.

So let’s talk names. What the devil does Malachite mean? That is perhaps the best question that has ever been asked on the internet. And there have been a lot of questions asked on the internet. Horrible, horrible questions.

Well, the name Malachite comes from the greek word “malache”, which, of course, means “mallows”. I have no idea what a mallow is, but I guess it’s green. I looked it up and it either means...


Since Malachite is neither soft, white or delicous, I'm guessing that the greeks intended the first thing. Apparently a mallow is some sort of plant. Look at all the things we are learning.

Azurite is a lot easier. As you can see from the pictures above, Azurite is blue. But not just any sort of blue, more of an azure blue. And thus the name. If geology can’t turn to some crazy greek word, it usually just sticks with something much more obvious.

But none of this answers the question of why you should care. Well, I’m getting to that. Both Azurite and Malachite can be used as a minor copper ores. That’s why you should care. Everyone loves copper. Let’s look at a helpful graph of copper uses.

There. Everyone loves a graph. So as we can kinda see, copper is important. Sadly these two aren’t really what copper miners are after, as neither of these minerals have a whole lot of sweet sweet copper in them. They have a little copper, and a whole lot of other crap. Let’s dive into the world of the microscopic! Let’s unlock the secrets of these two earthy brothers!

For this presentation, let’s use the following table.

Using the above scientific method, let's look at Azurite....

As you can see, there are a whole lot of not happy faces in that diagram. Azurite is only 55.3% copper and 44.7% misc (25.6% CO2, 13.9% O2 and 5.2% H2O). Malachite is no better…

It clocks in with a cool 57.4% copper and 42.6% other things (19.9% CO2, 14.5% O2, and 8.2% H2O). 57.4% may seem pretty good, but there are far better ores out there. Check out this little guy...

Holy sweet leprechaun spit! That mineral is named Chalcocite, and clocks in at 79.8% copper! So the truth is that there are far better places to turn for copper than Azurite and Malachite. But don’t feel bad, both of them are still kinda useful. Jewlery has been made from both of these guys for ages, and Azurite has been used as a pigment and all sorts of stuff like that. So, cool.

For you craaazy metaphysical types, it's important to note that Malachite is perfect for the 4th Chakra, and Azurite is just the thing for the 6th Chakra.
I don't know what 85% of that sentence means. I'm assuming that it would be a bad thing if you put your 4th Chakra rock in your 6th Chakra area, so don't do that. You'll mess up all your Chakras. Is that a mexican treat? I'm going to have to look this up.

By now you all must be clamoring to get yourselves a piece of these two useless minerals. I can’t say that I blame you. But where do you go? Where in the world can you get your own blue-green paperweights? Well, if you are in Utah then you are in luck. You head out to pretty much any of the old mining districts and the stuff is all over. They don’t always form together, but usually you don’t have to look too hard to find them hiding near each other. The ghost towns of Ophir, Eureka, Silver City, Gold Hill and several others are swimming in the stuff and nice samples can be found by searching around the old ore piles that usually serve as a welcome mat to the mines. But if you aren’t in Utah (and I can’t say that I blame you), then you aren’t completely out of luck. Arizona is rife with the stuff. Or if you like a little adventure with your rock hounding, then Zaire is a good place for you to go. But you probably will need a ton of shots, and probably some guns. I would stick with Arizona.

And so there you have it. All you ever wanted to know about Azurite and Malachite.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Happy Valentines day club members! On this day it's important to remember the loved ones in our lives. However, some of us are single and haven't a loved one in sight. But don't pity us! We have usually developed various coping mechanisms, like sarcasm or relaxed attitudes towards work. Some of us have drinking problems. So without any more babbling on here is a picture of Scooby and the Gang capturing a huge-headed Abraham Lincoln.

Happy Valentines day.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Another bad day

That last slide is a lie, but I felt like it added to the story. Namely, it added immaturity to the stupidity. I call it immaditiy. Oh, and that thing on my head is a hard hat. It's hard to draw those.