Two ways for Q&A

If you have ever tried to figure something out on your own, you will know that it is a lot harder than doing something that you already know. It is hard because it is new to you. But just because it is new to you, doesn't mean that it is new to everyone else. And now, in a time when it is easier than ever to connect with everyone online, a new kind of scarcity is emerging. Helpfulness.

How not to get an answer to your question

For better or for worse, I follow more than a dozen discussion groups on LinkedIn. Why? I believe that candid discussions are important and enriching, so I sign up eagerly for the action. Signing up to a discussion group is like showing up at a cocktail party. Maybe you will get noticed alongside other people and brands worth noticing. There is hoopla, and echoing, but I don't think there is any real value being created for the members. If anything, it's a constant distraction you put up with to hedge against the fomo

Click to enlargeYet, hoards of users flock to these groups with questions that are clearly more appropriate for technical hot-lines, or at least an honest attempt at reading the manual. Users helping users is a great way to foster brand loyalty, but not if the technical help desk failed them first. On LinkedIn, even on the rare case a question is sufficiently articulated, users can't upload a screen shot or share a snippet of code. Often times I think people are just fishing (not phishing mind you) and haven't put in enough ground work to deserve the attention of helpers.

What is in it for me?

Stack Overflow is a 'language-independent' question and answer site for programmers. If it is not the first place I land on with a google search, it is consistently the place from which I bounce back to the terminal with my answer. Also, nearly everything that I know about open-source GIS has come from other people taking part in Q&A on GIS Stack Exchange. The reason Stack Exchange works is because there is value and incentive for each of the three types of people that show up. Something for the asker, something for answerer, something for the searcher.

It is easy to see what is in it for the asker. They have got a problem, and they are looking for help. Similarly, it's easy to see what is in it for the searcher. They might find something they are looking for, without even having to ask. But what is in it for the answerer? There is no payment, there is no credit, at least not of the monetary kind. The answerer gets practice being helpful. They willingly put themselves into other people's business to put themselves to the test. How awesome is that? The site, in turn helps the helpers by ensuring the questions contain just enough context to garner meaningful answers.

Imagine if applied geoscientists could incorporate a little more of that.

Follow the SEG conference

The eighty-first annual meeting of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) will be held in San Antonio next week. The technical session will hold over 600 oral poster presentations, and the exposition hall will be hosted by more than 350 companies, government agencies, research and educational institutions. More than 8000 people from 85 countries will attend.

Whether you are roaming on-site, or stuck in your office, find out what people are saying, what's happening, and get involved in the conversation. You can follow live updates throughout the week by coming back to this post or searching for the hashtag #SEG11 using Twitter's search.

If you are going to the conference, consider sharing your ideas and engaging with this community. Or tell us what you think by leaving a comment.

Click here for all the posts about SEG 2011

This business of cards

At Recovery 2011, I enjoyed observing the idiosyncratic and almost compulsive act of eyes wandering from eyes, zeroing in on nametags, and the customary exchange of business cards. It is the default behavior when we are bombarded with too many strangers, all of whom deserve and desire our attention. To lessen the chore of post-processing all of these interactions, I think I will give Google Goggles a go to turn this pile of paper into digital contacts.

This got me wondering about the tools we have for making deeper connections. New digital business cards are more than geeky toys. Through cardcloud, card exchanges are paperless, and with added benefits of storing the geographic location of the encounter, and implanting social networking usernames and links right onto your cards. If you like to jot down notes on the back of paper cards, here too, you can flip them over and type your text in; "hire this guy", "he owes me a lunch next time". Not only does it stitch to all your electronic devices, but I think the virtual business card space can a be more inviting calling card for your profession.

Business cards may not be going paperless just yet, but there are many ways of bringing the digital world to these tangible bits of stationery. QR codes and RFIDs, are linking technologies so that business cards can carry digital content. Online profiles such as Facebook, Twitter, and add depth, but how about functional or personalized business cards to really stand out?   

Have you changed the scope of your business card to align with the way you work?


One of the most persistent themes in geoscience is scale. Some properties of the earth are scale independent, or fractal; the shapes of rivers and coastlines, sediment grain shapes, and fracture size distributions might fall into this category. Other properties are scale dependent, such as statistical variance, seismic velocities (which are wavelength dependent), or stratigraphic stacking patterns.

Scale independent phenomena are common in nature, and in some human inventions. For example, Randall Munroe's brilliant comic today illustrating the solutions to tic-tac-toe (or noughts-and-crosses, as I'd call it). It's the optimal subset of the complete solution space, which shows its fractal nature completely.

The network of co-authorship relationships in SEG's journal Geophysics is also scale-free (most connected authors shown in red). From my 2010 paper in The Leading Edge.