Six comic books about science

Ever since reading my dad's old Tintin books late into the night as a kid, I've loved comics and graphic novels. I've never been into the usual Marvel and DC stuff — superheroes aren't my thing. But I often re-read Tintin, I think I've read every Astérix, and since moving to Canada I've been a big fan of Seth and Chester Brown.

Last year in France I bought an album of Léonard, an amusing imagining of da Vinci's exploits as an inventor... Almost but not quite about science. These six books, on the other hand, show meticulous research and a love of natural philosophy. Enjoy!

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

Sydney Padua, 2015. New York, USA: Pantheon. List price USD 28.95.

I just finished devouring this terrific book by Padua, a young Canadian animator. It's an amazing mish-mash of writing and drawing, science and story, computing and history, fiction and non-fiction. This book has gone straight into my top 10 favourite books ever. It's really, really good.

Author — Amazon — Google — Pantheon

T-Minus: The Race to the Moon

Jim Ottaviani, Zander Cannon, Kevin Cannon, 2009. GT Labs. List price USD 15.99.

Who doesn't love books about space exploration? This is a relatively short exposition, aimed primarily at kids, but is thoroughly researched and suspenseful enough for anyone. The black and white artwork bounces between the USA and USSR, visualizing this unique time in history.

Amazon — GoogleGT Labs


Jim Ottaviani, Leland Myrick, 2011. First Second Books. List price USD 19.99.

A 248-page colour biography of the great physicist, whose personality was almost as remarkable as his work. The book covers the period 1923 to 1986 — almost birth to death — and is neither overly critical of Feynman's flaws, nor hero-worshipping. Just well-researched, and skillfully told.

AmazonGoogleFirst Second.

A Wrinkle in Time

Hope Larson, Madeleine L'Engle, 2012. New York, USA: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. List price USD 19.99

A graphic adaptation of L'Engle's young adult novel, first published in 1963. The story is pretty wacky, and the science is far from literal, so perhaps not for all tastes — but if you or your kids enjoy Doctor Who and Red Dwarf, then I predict you'll enjoy this. Warning: sentimental in places.

Amazon — MacmillanAuthor 

Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon

Hergé, 1953, 1954. Tournai, Belgium: Casterman (English: 1959, Methuen). List price USD 24.95.

These remarkable books show what Hergé was capable of imagining — and drawing — at his peak. The iconic ligne claire artwork depicts space travel and lunar exploration over a decade before Apollo. There is the usual espionage subplot and Thom(p)son-based humour, but it's the story that thrills.


What about you? Have you read anything good lately?

October linkfest

The linkfest has come early this month, to accommodate the blogging blitz that always accompanies the SEG Annual Meeting. If you're looking forward to hearing all about it, you can make sure you don't miss a thing by getting our posts in your email inbox. Guaranteed no spam, only bacn. If you're reading this on the website, just use the box on the right →

Open geoscience goodness

I've been alerted to a few new things in the open geoscience category in the last few days:

  • Dave Hale released his cool-looking fault detection code
  • Wayne Mogg released some OpendTect plugins for AVO, filtering, and time-frequency decomposition
  • Joel Gehman and others at U of A and McGill have built WellWiki, a wiki... for wells!
  • Jon Claerbout, Stanford legend, has released his latest book with Sergey Formel, Austin legend: Geophysical Image Estimation by Example. As you'd expect, it's brilliant, and better still: the code is available. Amazing resource.

And there's one more resource I will mention, but it's not free as in speech, only free as in beerPetroacoustics: A Tool for Applied Seismics, by Patrick Rasolofosaon and Bernard Zinszner. So it's nice because you can read it, but not that useful because the terms of use are quite stringent. Hat tip to Chris Liner.

So what's the diff if things are truly open or not? Well, here's an example of the good things that happen with open science: near-real-time post-publication peer review and rapid research: How massive was Dreadnoughtus?

Technology and geoscience

Napa earthquakeOpen data sharing has great potential in earthquake sensing, as there are many more people with smartphones than there are seismometers. The USGS shake map (right) is of course completely perceptual, but builds in real time. And Jawbone, makers of the UP activity tracker, were able to sense sleep interruption (in their proprietary data): the first passive human-digital sensors?

We love all things at the intersection of the web and computation... so Wolfram Alpha's new "Tweet a program" bot is pretty cool. I asked it:

GeoListPlot[GeoEntities[=[Atlantic Ocean], "Volcano"]]

And I got back a map!

This might be the coolest piece of image processing I've ever seen. Recovering sound from silent video images:

Actually, these time-frequency decompositions [PDF] of frack jobs are just as cool (Tary et al., 2014, Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 119 (2), 1295-1315). These deserve a post of their own some time.

It turns out we can recover signals from all sorts of unexpected places. There were hardly any seismic sensors around when Krakatoa exploded in 1883. But there were plenty of barometers, and those recorded the pressure wave as it circled the earth — four times! Here's an animation from the event.

It's hard to keep up with all the footage from volcanic eruptions lately. But this one has an acoustic angle: watch for the shockwave and the resulting spontaneous condensation in the air. Nonlinear waves are fascinating because the wave equation and other things we take for granted, like the superposition principle and the speed of sound, no longer apply.

Discussion and collaboration

Our community has a way to go before we ask questions and help each other as readily as, say, programmers do, but there's enough activity out there to give hope. My recent posts (one and two) about data (mis)management sparked a great discussion both here on the blog and on LinkedIn. There was also some epic discussion — well, an argument — about the Lusi post, as it transpired that the story was more complicated that I originally suggested (it always is!). Anyway, it's the first debate I've seen on the web about a sonic log. And there continues to be promising engagement on the Earth Science Stack Exchange. It needs more applied science questions, and really just more people. Maybe you have a question to ask...?

Géophysiciens avec des ordinateurs

Don't forget there's the hackathon next weekend! If you're in Denver, free come along and soak up the geeky rays. If you're around on the afternoon of Sunday 26 October, then drop by for the demos and prizes, and a local brew, at about 4 pm. It's all happening at Thrive, 1835 Blake Street, a few blocks north of the convention centre. We'll all be heading to the SEG Icebreaker right afterwards. It's free, and the doors will be open.

Must-read geophysics blogs

Tuesday's must-read list was all about traditional publishing channels. Today, it's all about new media.

If you're anything like me before Agile, you don't read a lot of blogs. At least, not ones about geophysics. But they do exist! Get these in your browser favourites, or use a reader like Google Reader (anywhere) or Flipboard (on iPad).


Chris Liner, a geophysics professor at the University of Arkansas, recently moved from the University of Houston. He's been writing Seismos, a parallel universe to his occasional Leading Edge column, since 2008.


Matteo Niccoli (@My_Carta on Twitter) is an exploration geoscientist in Stavanger, Norway, and he recently moved from Calgary, Canada. He's had MyCarta: Geophysics, visualization, image processing and planetary science, since 2011. This blog is a must-read for MATLAB hackers and image processing nuts. Matteo was one of our 52 Things authors.


Mika McKinnon (@mikamckinnon), a geophysicist in British Columbia, Canada, has been writing GeoMika: Fluid dynamics, diasters, geophysics, and fieldwork since 2008. She's also into education outreach and the maker-hacker scene.

The Way of the Geophysicist

Jesper Dramsch (@JesperDramsch), a geophysicist in Hamburg, Germany has written the wonderfully personal and philosophical The Way of The Geophysicist since 2011. His tales of internships at Fugro and Schlumberger provide great insights for students.


Maitri Erwin (@maitri), an exploration geoscientist in Texas, USA. She has been blogging since 2001 (surely some kind of record), and both she and her unique VatulBlog: From Kuwait to Katrina and beyond defy categorization. Maitri was also one of our 52 Things authors. 

There are other blogs on topics around seismology and exploration geophysics — shout outs go to Hypocentre in the UK, the Laboratoire d'imagerie et acquisition des mesures géophysiques in Quebec, occasional seismicky posts from sedimentologists like @zzsylvester, and the panoply of bloggery at the AGU. Stick those in your reader!

Must-read geophysics

If you had to choose your three favourite, most revisited, best remembered papers in all of exploration geophysics, what would you choose? Are they short? Long? Full of math? Well illustrated? 

Keep it honest

Barnes, A (2007). Redundant and useless seismic attributes. Geophysics 72 (3). DOI:10.1190/1.2716717
Rarely do we see engaging papers, but they do crop up occasionally. I love Art Barnes's Redundant and useless seismic attributes paper. In this business, I sometimes feel like our opinions — at least our public ones — have been worn down by secrecy and marketing. So Barnes's directness is doubly refreshing:

There are too many duplicate attributes, too many attributes with obscure meaning, and too many unstable and unreliable attributes. This surfeit breeds confusion and makes it hard to apply seismic attributes effectively. You do not need them all.

And keep it honest

Blau, L (1936). Black magic in geophysical prospecting. Geophysics 1 (1). DOI:10.1190/1.1437076
I can't resist Ludwig Blau's wonderful Black magic geophysics, published 77 years ago this month in the very first issue of Geophysics. The language is a little dated, and the technology mostly sounds rather creaky, but the point, like Blau's wit, is as fresh as ever. You might not learn a lot of geophysics from this paper, but it's an enlightening history lesson, and a study in engaging writing the likes of which we rarely see in Geophysics today...

And also keep it honest

Bond, C, A Gibbs, Z Shipton, and S Jones (2007), What do you think this is? "Conceptual uncertainty" in geoscience interpretation. GSA Today 17 (11), DOI: 10.1130/GSAT01711A.1
I like to remind myself that interpreters are subjective and biased. I think we have to recognize this to get better at it. There was a wonderful reaction on Twitter yesterday to a recent photo from Mars Curiosity (right) — a volcanologist thought it looked like a basalt, while a generalist thought it more like a sandstone. This terrific paper by Clare Bond and others will help you remember your biases!

My full list is right here. I hope you think there's something missing... please edit the wiki, or put your personal favourites in the comments. 

The attribute figure is adapted from from Barnes (2007) is copyright of SEG. It may only be used in accordance with their Permissions guidelines. The Mars Curiosity figure is public domain. 

J is for Journal

I'm aware of a few round-ups of journals for geologists, but none for those of us with more geophysical leanings. So here's a list of some of the publications that used to be on my reading list back when I used to actually read things. I've tried to categorize them a bit, but this turned out to be trickier than I thought it would be; I hope my buckets make some sense.

Journals with mirrored content at GeoScienceWorld are indicated by GSW

Peer-reviewed journals

Technical magazines

  • First Break — indispensible news from EAGE and the global petroleum scene, and a beautifully produced periodical to boot. No RSS feed, though. Boo. Subscription only.
  • The Leading EdgeGSWRSS — SEG's classic monthly that You Must Read. But... subscription only.
  • Recorder is brilliant value for money, even if it doesn't have an RSS feed. It is also publicly accessible after three months, which is rare to see in our field. Yay, CSEG!

Other petroleum geoscience readables

  • SPE Journal of Petroleum Technology — all the news you need from SPE. It's all online if you can bear the e-reader interface. Mostly manages to tread the marketing-as-article line that some other magazines transgress more often (none of those here; you know what they are).
  • CWLS InSite — openly accessible and often has excellent articles, though it only comes out twice a year now. Its sister organisation, SPWLA, allegedly has a journal called Petrophysics, but I've never seen it and can't find it online. Anyone?
  • Elsevier publish a number of excellent journals, but as you may know, a large part of the scientific community is pressuring the Dutch publishing giant to adopt a less exclusive distribution and pricing model for its content. So I am not reading them any more, or linking to them today. This might seem churlish, but consider that it's not uncommon to be asked for $40 per article, even if the research was publicly funded.

General interest magazines

  • IEEE SpectrumRSS — a terrific monthly from 'the world's largest association for the advancement of technology'. They also publish some awesome niche titles like the unbelievably geeky Signal Processing — RSS. You can subscribe to print issues of Spectrum without joining IEEE, and it's free to read online. My favourite.
  • Royal Statistical Society SignificanceRSS (seems to be empty) — another fantastic cross-disciplinary read. [Updated: You don't have to join the society to get it, and you can read everything online for free]. I've happily paid for this for many years.

How do I read all this stuff?

The easiest way is to grab the RSS feed addresses (right-click and Copy Link Address, or words to that effect) and put them in a feed reader like Google Reader. (Confused? What the heck is RSS?). If you prefer to get things in your email inbox, you can send RSS feeds to email.

If you read other publications that help you stay informed and inspired as an exploration geophysicist — or as any kind of subsurface scientist — let us know what's in your mailbox or RSS feed!

The cover images are copyright of CSEG, CWLS and IEEE. I'm claiming 'fair use' for these low-res images. More A to Z posts...