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.


  1. Dear Sir,
    You state:
    "Sulfur, not sulphur."
    As a Ph.D. Chemist, I will inform you that the nomenclature depends on what side of the lake you are from. FYI.
    Dr. Nikodemus

  2. What a great name John S. White, which happens to be my name also smile. I am a gold as money expert how do you feel about the newer gold and silver coins as being collector grade?