52 Things... Rock Physics

There's a new book in the 52 Things family! 

52 Things You Should Know About Rock Physics is out today, and available for purchase at Amazon.com. It will appear in their European stores in the next day or two, and in Canada... well, soon. If you can't wait for that, you can buy the book immediately direct from the printer by following this link.

The book mines the same vein as the previous volumes. In some ways, it's a volume 2 of the original 52 Things... Geophysics book, just a little bit more quantitative. It features a few of the same authors — Sven Treitel, Brian Russell, Rachel Newrick, Per Avseth, and Rob Simm — but most of the 46 authors are new to the project. Here are some of the first-timers' essays:

  • Ludmilla Adam, Why echoes fade.
  • Arthur Cheng, How to catch a shear wave.
  • Peter Duncan, Mapping fractures.
  • Paul Johnson, The astonishing case of non-linear elasticity.
  • Chris Liner, Negative Q.
  • Chris Skelt, Five questions to ask the petrophysicist.

It's our best collection of essays yet. We're very proud of the authors and the collection they've created. It stretches from childhood stories to linear algebra, and from the microscope to seismic data. There's no technical book like it. 

Supporting Geoscientists Without Borders

Purchasing the book will not only bring you profund insights into rock physics — there's more! Every sale sends $2 to Geoscientists Without Borders, the SEG charity that supports the humanitarian application of geoscience in places that need it. Read more about their important work.

It's been an extra big effort to get this book out. The project was completely derailed in 2015, as we — like everyone else — struggled with some existential questions. But we jumped back into it earlier this year, and Kara (the managing editor, and my wife) worked her magic. She loves working with the authors on proofs and so on, but she doesn't want to see any more equations for a while.

If you choose to buy the book, I hope you enjoy it. If you enjoy it, I hope you share it. If you want to share it with a lot of people, get in touch — we can help. Like the other books, the content is open access — so you are free to share and re-use it as you wish. 

Geocomputing: Call for papers

52 Things .+? Geocomputing is in the works.

For previous books, we've reached out to people we know and trust. This felt like the right way to start our micropublishing project, because we had zero credibility as publishers, and were asking a lot from people to believe anything would come of it.

Now we know we can do it, but personal invitation means writing to a lot of people. We only hear back from about 50% of everyone we write to, and only about 50% of those ever submit anything. So each book takes about 160 invitations.

This time, I'd like to try something different, and see if we can truly crowdsource these books. If you would like to write a short contribution for this book on geoscience and computing, please have a look at the author guidelines. In a nutshell, we need about 600 words before the end of March. A figure or two is OK, and code is very much encouraged. Publication date: fall 2015.

We would also like to find some reviewers. If you would be available to read at least 5 essays, and provide feedback to us and the authors, please let me know

In keeping with past practice, we will be donating money from sales of the book to scientific Python community projects via the non-profit NumFOCUS Foundation.

What the cover might look like. If you'd like to write for us, please read  the author guidelines .

What the cover might look like. If you'd like to write for us, please read the author guidelines.

Another 52 Things hits the shelves

The new book is out today: 52 Things You Should Know About Palaeontology. Having been up for pre-order in the US, it is now shipping. The book will appear in Amazons globally in the next 24 hours or so, perhaps a bit longer for Canada.

I'm very proud of this volume. It shows that 52 Things has legs, and the quality is as high as ever. Euan Clarkson knows a thing or two about fossils and about books, and here's what he thought of it: 

This is sheer delight for the reader, with a great range of short but fascinating articles; serious science but often funny. Altogether brilliant!

Each purchase benefits The Micropalaeontological Society's Educational Trust, a UK charity, for the furthering of postgraduate education in microfossils. You should probably go and buy it now before it runs out. Go on, I'll wait here...

1000 years of fossil obsession

So what's in the book? There's too much variety to describe. Dinosaurs, plants, foraminifera, arthropods — they're all in there. There's a geographical index, as before, and also a chronostratigraphic one. The geography shows some distinct clustering, that partly reflects the emphasis on the science of applied fossil-gazing: biostratigraphy. 

The book has 48 authors, a new record for these collections. It's an honour to work with each of them — their passion, commitment, and professionalism positively shines from the pages. Geologists and fossil nuts alike will recognize many of the names, though some will, I hope, be new to you. As a group, these scientists represent  1000 years of experience!


Amazingly, and completely by chance, it is one year to the day since we announced 52 Things You Should Know About Geology. Sales of that book benefit The AAPG Foundation, so today I am delighted to be sending a cheque for $1280 to them in Tulsa. Thank you to everyone who bought a copy, and of course to the authors of that book for making it happen.

A fossil book

We're proud to announce the latest book from Agile Libre. Woot!

I can't take a lot of credit for this book... The idea came from 52 Things stalwart Alex Cullum, a biostratigrapher I met at Statoil in Stavanger in my first proper job. A fellow Brit, he has a profound enthusiasm for all things outside, and for writing and publishing. With able help from Allard Martinius, also a Statoil scientist and a 52 Things author from the Geology book, Alex generously undertook the task of inviting dozens of awesome palaeontologists, biostratigraphers, palynologists, and palaeobotanists from all over the world, and keeping in touch as the essays came in. Kara and I took care of the fiddly bits, and now it's all nearly done. It is super-exciting. Just check out some of the titles:

  • A trace fossil primer by Dirk Knaust
  • Bioastronomy by Simon Conway Morris
  • Ichnology and the minor phyla by S George Pemberton
  • A walk through time by Felix Gradstein
  • Can you catch criminals with pollen? by Julia Webb
  • Quantitative palaeontology by Ben Sloan

It's a pretty mouthwatering selection, even for someone like me who mostly thinks about seismic these days. There are another 46 like this. I can't wait to read them, and I've read them twice already.

Help a micropalaeontologist

The words in these books are a gift from the authors — 48 of them in this book! — to the community. We cherish the privilege of reading them before anyone else, and of putting them out into the world. We hope they reach far and have impact, inspiring people and starting conversations. But we want these books to give back to the community in other ways too, so from each sale we are again donating to a charity. This time it's the Educational Trust of The Micropalaeontological Society. I read about this initiative in a great piece for Geoscientist by Haydon Bailey, one of our authors: Micropalaeontology under threat!. They need our community's support and I'm excited about donating to them.

The book is in the late stages of preparation, and will appear in the flesh in about the middle of November. To make sure you get yours as soon as it's ready, you can pre-order it now.

Pre-order now from Amazon.com 
Save almost 25% off the cover price!

It's $14.58 today, but Amazon sets the final price...

6 questions about seismic interpretation

This interview is part of a series of conversations between Satinder Chopra and the authors of the book 52 Things You Should Know About Geophysics (Agile Libre, 2012). The first three appeared in the October 2013 issue of the CSEG Recorder, the Canadian applied geophysics magazine, which graciously agreed to publish them under a CC-BY license.


Satinder Chopra: Seismic data contain massive amounts of information, which has to be extracted using the right tools and knowhow, a task usually entrusted to the seismic interpreter. This would entail isolating the anomalous patterns on the wiggles and understanding the implied subsurface properties, etc. What do you think are the challenges for a seismic interpreter?

Evan Bianco: The challenge is to not lose anything in the abstraction.

The notion that we take terabytes of prestack data, migrate it into gigabyte-sized cubes, and reduce that further to digitized surfaces that are hundreds of kilobytes in size, sounds like a dangerous discarding of information. That's at least 6 orders of magnitude! The challenge for the interpreter, then, is to be darn sure that this is all you need out of your data, and if it isn't (and it probably isn't), knowing how to go back for more.

SC: How do you think some these challenges can be addressed?

EB: I have a big vision and a small vision. Both have to do with documentation and record keeping. If you imagine the entire seismic experiment upon a sort of conceptual mixing board, instead of as a linear sequence of steps, elements could be revisited and modified at any time. In theory nothing would be lost in translation. The connections between inputs and outputs could be maintained, even studied, all in place. In that view, the configuration of the mixing board itself becomes a comprehensive and complete history for the data — what's been done to it, and what has been extracted from it.

The smaller vision: there are plenty of data management solutions for geospatial information, but broadcasting the context that we bring to bear is a whole other challenge. Any tool that allows people to preserve the link between data and model should be used to transfer the implicit along with the explicit. Take auto-tracking a horizon as an example. It would be valuable if an interpreter could embed some context into an object while digitizing. Something that could later inform the geocellular modeler to proceed with caution or certainty.

SC: One of the important tasks that a seismic interpreter faces is the prediction about the location of the hydrocarbons in the subsurface.  Having come up with a hypothesis, how do you think this can be made more convincing and presented to fellow colleagues?

EB: Coming up with a hypothesis (that is, a model) is solving an inverse problem. So there is a lot of convincing power in completing the loop. If all you have done is the inverse problem, know that you could go further. There are a lot of service companies who are in the business of solving inverse problems, not so many completing the loop with the forward problem. It's the only way to test hypotheses without a drill bit, and gives a better handle on methodological and technological limitations.

SC: You mention "absolving us of responsibility" in your article.  Could you elaborate on this a little more? Do you think there is accountability of sorts practiced in our industry?

EB: I see accountability from a data-centric perspective. For example, think of all the ways that a digitized fault plane can be used. It could become a polygon cutting through a surface on map. It could be a wall within a geocellular model. It could be a node in a drilling prognosis. Now, if the fault is mis-picked by even one bin, this could show up hundreds of metres away, depending on the dip of the fault, compared to the prognosis. Practically speaking, accounting for mismatches like this is hard, and is usually done in an ad hoc way, if at all. What caused the error? Was it the migration or was it the picking? Or what about the error in the measurement of the drill-bit? I think accountability is loosely practised at best because we don't know how to reconcile all these competing errors.

Until data can have a memory, being accountable means being diligent with documentation. But it is time-consuming, and there aren’t as many standards as there are data formats.

SC: Declaring your work to be in progress could allow you to embrace iteration.  I like that. However, there is usually a finite time to complete a given interpretation task; but as more and more wells are drilled, the interpretation could be updated. Do you think this practice would suit small companies that need to ensure each new well is productive or they are doomed?

EB: The size of the company shouldn't have anything to do with it. Iteration is something that needs to happen after you get new information. The question is not, "do I need to iterate now that we have drilled a few more wells?", but "how does this new information change my previous work?" Perhaps the interpretation was too rigid — too precise — to begin with. If the interpreter sees her work as something that evolves towards a more complete picture, she needn't be afraid of changing her mind if new information proves us to be incorrect. Depth migration, for example, exemplifies this approach. Hopefully more conceptual and qualitative aspects of subsurface work can adopt it as well.

SC: The present day workflows for seismic interpretation for unconventional resources demand more than the usual practices followed for the conventional exploration and development.  Could you comment on how these are changing?

EB: With unconventionals, seismic interpreters are looking for different things. They aren't looking for reservoirs, they are looking for suitable locations to create reservoirs. Seismic technologies that estimate the state of stress will become increasingly important, and interpreters will need to work in close contact to geomechanics. Also, microseismic monitoring and time-lapse technologies tend to push interpreters into the thick of the operations, which allow them to study how the properties of the earth change according to operations. What a perfect place for iterative workflows.


You can read the other interviews and Evan's essay in the magazine, or buy the book! (You'll find it in Amazon's stores too.) It's a great introduction to who applied geophysicists are, and what sort of problems they work on. Read more about it. 

Join CSEG to catch more of these interviews as they come out. 

52 Things is out!

The new book is out! You can now order it from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon in Europe, and it will be available soon from Amazon.ca and various other online bookstores.

What's it about? I sent Andrew Miall some chapters at the proof stage; here's what he said:

Geology is all about rocks, and rocks are all about detail and field context, and about actually being out there at that critical outcrop, right THERE, that proves our point. The new book 52 Things You Should Know About Geology is full of practical tips, commentary, and advice from real geologists who have been there and know what the science is all about.

Amazing authors

A massive thank you to my 41 amazing co-authors...

Eight of these people also wrote in 52 Things You Should Know About Geophysics; the other 34 are new to this project. Between them, this crowd has over 850 years of experience in geoscience (more remarkably, just two of them account for 100 years!). Half of the authors are primarily active in North America; others are in the UK, Germany, Indonesia, India, the Netherlands, and Norway. Ten are engaged in academia, four of them as students. The diversity is wonderful as far as it goes, but the group is overwhelmingly composed of white men; it's clear we still have work to do there. 

We have the globe mostly covered in the essays themselves too. Regrettably, we have gaping holes over South America and most of Africa. We will endeavour to fix this in future books. This map shows page numbers...

Giving back

Academic publishing is a fairly marginal business, because the volumes are so small. Furthermore, we are committed to offering books at consumer, not academic, prices. The 42 authors have shown remarkable generosity of time and spirit in drafting these essays for the community at large. If you enjoy their work, I'm certain they'd love to hear about it.

In part to recognize their efforts, and to give something back to the community that supports these projects (that's you!), we approached the AAPG Foundation and offered to donate $2 from every sale to the charity. They were thrilled about this — and we look forward to helping them bring geoscience to more young people.

These books are all about sharing — sharing knowledge and sharing stories. These are the things that make our profession the dynamic, sociable science that it is. If you would like to order 10 or more copies for your friends, students, or employees, do get in touch and we will save you some money.

52 Things... About Geology

Welcome to the new book from Agile Libre! The newest, friendliest, awesomest book about petroleum geoscience. 

The book will be out later in November, pending review of the proof, but you can pre-order it now from Amazon.com at their crazy offer price of only $13.54. When it comes out, the book will hit Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, and other online booksellers.

63 weeks to mature

It's truly a privilege to publish these essays. When an author hands over a manuscript, they are trusting the publisher and editors to do justice not just to the words, but to the thoughts inside. And since it's impossible to pay dozens of authors, they did it all for nothing. To recognize their contributions to the community, we're donating $2 from every book sale to the AAPG Foundation. Perhaps the students that benefit from the Foundation will go on to share what they know. 

This book took a little stamina, compared to 52 Things... Geophysics. We started inviting authors on 1 July 2012, and it took 442 days to get all the essays. As before, the first one came almost immediately; this time it was from George Pemberton, maintaining the tradition of amazing people being great champions for these projects. Indeed, Tony Doré — another star contributor — was a big reason the book got finished.

What's inside?

To whet your appetite, here are the first few chapters from the table of contents:

  • Advice for a prospective geologist — Mark Myers, 14th Director of the USGS
  • As easy as 1D, 2D, 3D — Nicholas Holgate, Aruna Mannie, and Chris Jackson
  • Computational geology — Mark Dahl, exploration geologist at ConocoPhillips
  • Coping with uncertainty — Duncan Irving at TeraData
  • Geochemical alchemy — Richard Hardman, exploration legend
  • Geological inversion — Evan Bianco of Agile
  • Get a helicopter not a hammer — Alex Cullum of Statoil

Even this short list samples some of the breadth of topics, and the range of experience of the contributors. Nichlas and Aruna are PhD students of Chris Jackson at Imperial College London, and Richard Hardman is a legend on the UK exploration scene, with over 50 years of experience. Between them, the 42 authors have notched up over 850 career-years — the book is a small window into this epic span of geological thinking.

We're checking the proofs right now. The book should be out in about 2 weeks, just in time for St Barbara's day!

Pre-order now from Amazon.com 
Save more than 25% off the cover price!

It's $13.54 today, but Amazon sets the final price... I don't know how long the offer will last. 

On being the world's smallest technical publishing company

Four months ago we launched our first book, 52 Things You Should Know About Geophysics. This little book contains 52 short essays by 37 amazing geoscientists. And me and Evan. 

Since it launched, we've been having fun hearing from people who have enjoyed it:

Yesterday's mail brought me an envelope from Stavanger — Matteo Niccoli sent me a copy of 52 Things. In doing so he beat me to the punch as I've been meaning to purchase a copy for some time. It's a good thing I didn't buy one — I'd like to buy a dozen. [a Calgary geoscientist]

A really valuable collection of advice from the elite in Geophysics to help you on your way to becoming a better more competent Geophysicist. [a review on Amazon.co.uk]

We are interested in ordering 50 to 100 copies of the book 52 Things You Should Know About Geophysics [from an E&P company. They later ordered 100.]

The economics

We thought some people might be interested in the economics of self-publishing. If you want to know more, please ask in the comments — we're happy to share our experiences. 

We didn't approach a publisher with our book. We knew we wanted to bootstrap and learn — the Agile way. Before going with Amazon's CreateSpace platform, we considered Lightning Source (another print-on-demand provider), and an ordinary 'web press' printer in China. The advantages of CreateSpace are Amazon's obvious global reach, and not having to carry any inventory. The advantages of a web press are the low printing cost per book and the range of options — recycled paper, matte finish, gatefold cover, and so on.

So, what does a book cost?

  • You could publish a book this way for $0. But, unless you're an editor and designer, you might be a bit disappointed with your results. We spent about $4000 making the book: interior design about $2000, cover design was about $650, indexing about $450. We lease the publishing software (Adobe InDesign) for about $35 per month.
  • Each book costs $2.43 to manufacture. Books are printed just in time — Amazon's machines must be truly amazing. I'd love to see them in action. 
  • The cover price is $19 at Amazon.com, about €15 at Amazon's European stores, and £12 at Amazon.co.uk. Amazon are free to offer whatever discounts they like, at their expense (currently 10% at Amazon.com). And of course you can get free shipping. Amazon charges a 40% fee, so after we pay for the manufacturing, we're left with about $8 per book. 
  • We also sell through our own estore, at $19. This is just a slightly customizable Amazon page. This channel is good for us because Amazon only charges 20% of the sale price as their fee. So we make about $12 per book this way. We can give discounts here too — for large orders, and for the authors.
  • Amazon also sells the book through a so-called expanded distribution channel, which puts the book on other websites and even into bookstores (highly unlikely in our case). Unfortunately, it doesn't give us access to universities and libraries. Amazon's take is 60% through this channel.
  • We sell a Kindle edition for $9. This is a bargain, by the way—making an attractive and functional ebook was not easy. The images and equations look terrible, ebook typography is poor, and it just feels less like a book, so we felt $9 was about right. The physical book is much nicer. Kindle royalties are complicated, but we make about $5 per sale. 

By the numbers

It doesn't pay to fixate on metrics—most of the things we care about are impossible to measure. But we're quantitative people, and numbers are hard to resist. To recoup our costs, not counting the time we lovingly invested, we need to sell 632 books. (Coincidentally, this is about how many people visit agilegeoscience.com every week.) As of right now, there are 476 books out there 'in the wild', 271 of which were sold for actual money. That's a good audience of people — picture them, sitting there, reading about geophysics, just for the love of it.

The bottom line

My wife Kara is an experienced non-fiction publisher. She's worked all over the world in editorial and production. So we knew what we were getting into, more or less. The print-on-demand stuff was new to her, and the retail side of things. We already knew we suck at marketing. But the point is, we knew we weren't in this for the money, and it's about relevant and interesting books, not marketing.

And now we know what we're doing. Sorta. We're in the process of collecting 52 Things about geology, and are planning others. So we're in this for one or two more whatever happens, and we hope we get to do many more.

We can't say this often enough: Thank You to our wonderful authors. And Thank You to everyone who has put down some hard-earned cash for a copy. You are awesome. 

Geophysicists are awesome

Thirty-nine amazing, generous, inpiring authors contributed to our soon-to be released book about exploration geoscience. A few gave us more than one chapter: Brian Russell, Rachel Newrick, and Dave Mackidd each gave us three, and Clare Bond, José M Carcione, Don Herron, and Rob Simm did two. We humbly thank them for their boudless energy — we're happy to have provided an outlet! And Evan and I each did three chapters, partly because I was obsessed with getting to the completely arbitrary number 52. It just seemed 'right'. 

There are biographies on all the authors in the book, so you can find out for yourself what a diversity of backgrounds there is. By the numbers, out of 39 authors...

  • 10 are connected in some way to academia (5 of them full-time)
  • 19 are North American
  • 22 currently work in North America
  • 1515 papers and 14 books have been written by this crowd (not including this one :)

Update on the book: we got our proof copies on Friday and spent the weekend combing it for errors. There was nothing catastrophic, so the bugs were fixed and the book is ready! We are completely new to this self-publishing lark, so I'm not certain how the next bit goes, but I think it will be live in Amazon this Friday, a whole week early. Probably.

What happens next is also not completely clear yet. We are working on the Kindle edition, which should be out soon. In terms of layout, digital books are less complicated than print books, so we are mostly removing things that don't work or don't make sense in ebooks: page numbers, fancy formatting, forced line-breaks, etc. Once the Kindle edition is out, we will have a go at other platforms (iBooks, Google Books). Then we will turn to the web and start getting the material online, where it will no doubt be different again.

We'll keep you, dear reader, up to date right here. 

What's inside? 52 things!

On Tuesday we announced our forthcoming community collaboration book. So what's in there? So much magic, it's hard to know where to start. Here's a list of the first dozen chapters:

  1. Anisotropy is not going away, Vladimir Grechka, Shell
  2. Beware the interpretation-to-data trap, Evan Bianco, Agile
  3. Calibrate your intuition, Taras Gerya, ETH Zürich
  4. Don’t ignore seismic attenuation, Carl Reine, Nexen
  5. Don’t neglect your math, Brian Russell, Hampson-Russell
  6. Don’t rely on preconceived notions, Eric Andersen, Talisman
  7. Evolutionary understanding in seismic interpretation, Clare Bond, University of Aberdeen
  8. Explore the azimuths, David Gray, Nexen
  9. Five things I wish I’d known, Matt Hall, Agile
  10. Geology comes first, Chris Jackson, Imperial College London
  11. Geophysics is all around, José M Carcione, OGS Trieste, Italy
  12. How to assess a colourmap, Matteo Niccoli, MyCarta blog
  13. ...

When I read that list, I cannot wait to read the book — and I've read it three times already! This is not even one quarter of the book. You can guess from the list that some are technical, others are personal, a few may be controversial.

One thing we had fun with was organizing the contents. The chapters are, as you see, in alphabetical order. But each piece has thematic tags. Some were a little hard to classify, I admit, and some people will no doubt wonder why, say, Bill Goodway's The magic of Lamé is labeled 'basics', but there you go.

One thing I did with the tags was try to group the chapters according to the tags they had. Each chapter has three tags. If we connect the three tags belonging to an individual chapter, and do the same for every chapter, then we can count the connections and draw a graph (right). I made this one in Gephi

The layout is automatic: relative positions are calculated by modeling the connections as springs whose stiffness depends on the number of links. Node size is a function of connectedness. Isn't it great that geology is in the middle?

Now, without worrying too much about the details, I used the graph to help group the chapters non-exclusively into the following themes:

  • Fundamentals  basics, mapping (16 chapters)
  • Concepts  geology, analogs (12 chapters)
  • Interpretation  needed a theme of its own (21 chapters)
  • Power tools  attributes, ninja skills (9 chapters)
  • Pre-stack  rock physics, pre-stack, processing (11 chapters)
  • Quantitative  mathematics, analysis (20 chapters)
  • Integration  teamwork, workflow (15 chapters)
  • Innovation  history, innovation, technology (9 chapters)
  • Skills  learning, career, managing (15 chapters)

I think this accurately reflects the variety in the book. Next post we'll have a look at the variety among the authors — perhaps it explains the breadth of themes.