Friday, May 21, 2010

On Lessons learned from John S. White

I question whether anyone currently active in mineralogy has commented more prolifically on the subject than John S. White. His media include books, continuing articles in the major periodicals, lectures, organizational forums, and ultimately the Internet. Along the way, he founded, edited and originally published Mineralogical Record then served as Curator-in-charge (1984-1991) of the Smithsonian's Division of Mineralogy. His "Let's Get it Right" columns during the past decade for Rocks and Minerals bespeak a penchant for addressing topics frequently prone to inaccuracies and misconceptions. While John's mineralogical wisdom typically dispatches through public channels, Yours Truly has for several months enjoyed the privilege of receiving it directly via email. His interest has been in the slide show of Maryland mineral images at the Maryland Minerals web site that I launched in 2007. John grew up here in Maryland and continues to maintain close ties in the state. He currently lives just a few miles across the line in neighboring Pennsylvania.

With the Maryland Minerals site now being reconstructed to implement a major technical change that John suggested, (the site remains accessible), much of his advice regarding nomenclature and sequence of the slides is already in place. It applies to just about any framework for displaying minerals.

  • They should be arranged in some sort of order, either geographically or by chemistry. I would certainly group all of the same species if you don't arrange them geographically.

  • County names should be included with the locality of each specimen.

  • I have a strong personal distaste for "grossular garnet" or "almandine garnet." My fuss may not be altogether rational but it rankles me. "Grossular (garnet family)" does not bother me, but "grossular garnet" sets me off. Apart from the tourmalines and micas, you don't see this with any other family of minerals.

  • If giving the chemistry for one specimen, give it for each specimen.

  • Why say "quartz crystal" instead of just quartz if not doing this this with other crystals.

  • Photomicrograph is a better word to use than microphotograph.

  • Celestine, not celestite.

  • Sulfur, not sulphur.

  • Much of what is labeled "limonite pseudomorph after pyrite" is actually goethite pseudomorph after pyrite.

  • I think it would be good if sizes were indicated at some point for all images, but this is not critical.

Three months of John's advice led to editing the ID's originally Photoshopped to the slide show images with such frequency that further tampering threatened to diminish their quality. This dilemma, however, also heralded the remedy for an even bigger technical issue not yet addressed, namely that touching the mouse triggered a platform application that sometimes covered up the ID's.

The solution necessitates viewing thousands of images on hundreds of old Cd's in order to find the originals and touch them up again with editing software sans descriptions to replace the inscribed images. Once in place, the user-friendly Google Picasa captioning component provides an easier, more efficient means to ID them. Work on this project is underway with completion anticipated by mid-June. After these changes, John's suggestions will be easier to implement, and I hope they keep coming.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Kissimmee, Florida's Tower of Rocks

The last several weeks have been an hiatus from the mineralogical pursuits that increasingly have been taking over my life. Included were an annual religious pilgrimage to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and then driving along a catastrophically threatened Gulf Coast to visit family in Central Florida before returning to Baltimore via I-95 with a visit to Cumberland Island National Seashore off the Coast of Georgia.

The closest to mineralogically pertinent attraction of this sojourn was probably the Florida Caverns State Park, but alas its cave tours were not offered on Tuesdays (or Wednesdays). Eager to score a post for Mineral Bliss, my next stop was what I thought was Kissimmee, Florida's "Tower of Rocks," which in reality is known as the Monument of States. Currently it sits in the middle of a construction zone adjacent to the library between Main Street and Kissimmee's lakefront.

This 50 foot high pyramidal totem pole like structure, the legacy of its designer, the late Dr. C.W. Bressler-Pettis, extends about 50 foot into the air from an approximately 20 foot base. Its beginnings trace to a letter that Dr. Bressler-Pettis sent in 1942 to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as well as the governors of all the 48 states then in existence to request at least one rock from each state. A year later, through various means, the doctor had obtained all the rocks that he needed. They ranged from ore specimens to fossils to meteorites to plaques. They were mortared into concrete slabs to comprise the monument. Mortared into additional concrete slabs were various rocks of marginal mineralogical interest selected from approximately 23,000 "specimens" that Dr. Bressler-Pettis and his wife had collected while enjoying a putative 350,000 miles worth of motor vacations. Pursuant to a theme of American unity for World War II, Dr. Bressler-Pettis, who had scrapped his medical career to work as an artist, sculpted a globe with an eagle atop it to cap his monument. The Monument of States was constructed and dedicated in 1943.

Rocks continued to arrive in Kissimmee for years thereafter, even subsequent to Dr. Bressler-Pettis's death in 1954. Courtesy of the citizens of Kissimmee, many were were added to the monument. Included were slabs with rocks from Alaska and Hawaii, in addition to slabs later sent in by businesses and other nations. As a resident of Maryland and keeper of the Maryland Minerals website, I spent quite a bit of time trying to locate at least one Maryland rock. All I could find was a plaque dated 1941 from Mr. and Mrs. Charles M. Day of Baltimore.

The only other attraction in America I'm aware of that compares in any way to Kissimmee's Monument of States is The Fireplace of States in Bemidji, Minnesota. Its construction took place about eight years before the Monument States after a "resorter" had sent letters to the President of the United States and the governors of each state. I suspect that Dr. Bressler-Pettis inspiration resulted from having passed through Bemidji at some point during those 350,000 miles of driving.