Internet karma

People and information are closely entwined. Usually I think about this in the context of privacy issues, but this coin does have two sides. My debut novel, Avians of Celadon, is finished. Not published yet, but editing is complete. One thing that has been worrying me is the need for more thorough fact-checking on my science. Once it goes into print, errors are irreversible. It’s science fiction, and while that leaves room for creativity on the speculative scientific developments, that’s no excuse for sloppy world-building when it comes to the parts that bear on atmospheric science, aviation, or good old-fashioned volcanoes. I’m a career pilot, so I know something about air and airplanes. Volcanoes, not so much. I’ve visited some volcanic areas, I’ve seen a bunch of documentaries, and I’ve read a ton of articles on the internet, but for some things, you really just need to pick the brain of a vulcanologist. If you’re making a joke about mind-melds right now, I’m glaring at you. Maybe I’d better stick to spelling it volcanologist.

Geologists who specialize in volcanoes. Where to find one. I scoured some of those internet articles for names and universities, and found an email address for a likely seeming guy, but he never responded. He’s a little bit famous, and he’s probably pretty busy, and anyway his university is likely in summer hiatus, so he might be away or something. It was a long shot.

So I tried Twitter, specifically #volcano. Oho! Volcanologists tweet stuff. I followed some of the more likely looking people and organizations, to see if they ever mentioned sites where you could Q&A with an expert. I wanted to know weird and rather obscure stuff, like is there a supersonic shockwave from a volcanic eruption? How far does it go? What about volcanic bombs, those blobs of lava that come flying out when a volcano erupts – the slopes of volcanoes are littered with them, but can they fly as far as an artillery shell, or are they more local?

I didn’t find any dedicated Q&A sites, but I did see some fascinating Twitter profiles, including one Jamie Farquharson, a student of Geography/ Volcanology who is working on his PhD. His passions include both volcanoes and SF.  He’d be great to talk to, I thought. A couple of weeks later, he followed me back. That was courteous of him, and it also allowed me to send him a direct message. So I did, thanking him for the follow-back and mentioning that I needed help with volcano science. He was enthusiastic, and said he’s a fan of my blog. I presume he means this one. I think what happened is, he saw the notification that I was following him and checked out my profile, like you do. I tweet about this and that, but he would only have had to read a handful of tweets to find a link to one of these blog posts. So there’s a kind of payback for putting yourself out there on the web. I often find it rewarding – one of my other blogs, icepatrol.ca, got a lot of hits this spring – but now I feel rewarded.

Perhaps Jamie concluded that I was serious about writing, or amusingly witty. Or a half serious half-wit. Whichever it was, he invested a huge effort in answering my questions. He read excerpts of my book. He sent diagrams and photographs and videos of volcanic eruptions to illustrate his answers. Better than that, he spotted some things that I had taken for granted about volcanoes that are wrong. Even fresh lava does not glow bright red by daylight. So many documentaries take advantage of twilight or night shots that brightly glowing lava was fixed in my mind. Best of all, he answered my emails overnight, so that in under a week I had all the information I had despaired of finding for months.

For the record, supersonic shockwaves slow down and die out rapidly, usually within a few kilometers. Volcanic bombardments, too. Perhaps the most useful thing he told me is that volcanoes are all different – eruptions don’t follow a set pattern, they are notoriously unpredictable. Sucks if you are a volcanologist, but rocks if you are a writer!

This is my little thank-you to Jamie, my new geology guru. It is also my tip of the hat to the internet and it’s potential to connect people. When we share information we are all building something together. It’s bigger than our previous collaborations, like cities. It’s as big as civilization. It may even BE civilization. Bring a brick.

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