Visiting Scovil’s web site to once again look at and admire his photographs of minerals, I discovered the name of the green mystery mineral I discussed yesterday. It’s Vivianite.


It’s not a perfect sample, but at least it’s not blackened as so many Vivianite samples are with exposure to light (she says as she looks at her sample, sitting in the sun). Obvious holes in the matrix show where better crystals have been pried loose, probably to be sold separately. Personally, I think imperfections in the piece adds to its character.

I have always collected based on beauty and character rather than value and perfection. Because of my undisciplined approach, my collection is interesting rather than profound. That’s not to say that the collection isn’t worth money — sometimes beauty and character do go hand in hand with monetary worth, as demonstrated with this virtually flawless rhodochrosite.


Still, there are a few of my samples I shouldn’t include in the collection photos because they’re obvious fakes, or novelty items and of no serious value. When you show your collection, you don’t show these rocks. You certainly don’t photograph them.

Mineral collectors will only show you their good pieces, the ones they’re most proud of. However, if you look into their dark corners and hidden drawers, you’ll find their bits of fraud, fiction, and flaws — samples they think about tossing someday, but they won’t. The imperfect pieces, the mistakes, and the fakes add life to a collection. They add history. They make a collection interesting.

For instance, the photo below is of bismuth, which is normally a featureless blobby white/grey mineral. However, put it into a centrifuge, spin it at fast speeds and inject a little oxygen, and viola — you have a beautiful bit of color. No value to it, but I like my eccentric no value pieces. This particular one reminds me of an Escher drawing. You can also use it as a pencil — now, how handy is that?


I have a few frauds, too. My favorite is a hand-sized rock with quartz and appetite crystals in it. I have no doubt about the nature and quality of crystals, but the sample itself is an obvious fraud. I knew it was a fraud when I bought it. I still bought it, and therein lies the value of the rock.

At an outdoor mineral show consisting of tents set up in the parking lot around a rather seedy motel in Tucson, Arizona, I came across one table filled with yellow-green appetite crystals from Mexico. Most were still attached to their rust-red matrix, making the pieces quite pretty overall.

I tried to effect a knowing attitude, but I swear, I must have had rube tattooed on my forehead. The Dealer, an older man who was very gallant to me and kind to my niece (not all that common among the tents if you’re not buying in bulk), sized me up, came to some kind of internal decision, and brought a rock from underneath his table for me to look at — a hand-sized piece with a couple of relatively nice appetite crystals in it.

“That’s what you want”, he said in heavily accented English. “That’s good rock. Nice crystals. I give you good deal on it.”

I picked up the rock and looked more closely at the two larger crystals. They were both wedged into the rock but even a cursory examination showed that the crystals were cut at the bottom and then glued into the rock, with bits and pieces of broken crystal glued around them in an attempt to hide the obvious manipulation. (Crystals in matrix always sell better than those that are loose.)

I looked up at the dealer and he beamed at me, nodding his head, pointing at the rock and kept saying, “Good rock, nice crystals, eh?”

“It looks like the crystals have flat bottoms and aren’t attached to the rock”, I said.

“No, no. This happens sometimes. Pressure on rock force crystals loose, but they held in by rest of rock.” He assured me, shaking his head a modest display of genuine sincerity. “No, this is good rock. Good crystals. I give you good deal.” Pause.

“Fifty dollars.”

I gaped at him. Literally gaped at him, mouth open in astonishment at the chutzpah of the dealer. I held the rock in my left hand, and pointed at the crystals with the index finger on my right hand and just looked at him.

He smiled back, beaming in pride of this treat he was bestowing on me.

“Fifty dollars?”


“Are you kidding? This is a fake!”

His smile faltered. A hurt look entered his big brown eyes (before, bright black and alert, now suddenly taking on aspects of one’s favorite dog just before it dies). His age set more heavily on his shoulders and he shrunk in slightly, as if in despair. His body said it all: His son has died; his daughter has run off with a biker. I even thought that, for a moment, I could see his upper lip trembling, and a hint of moisture appearing in the corner of his eye. I watched his change of expression — from certitude to dejection — with utter fascination, and more than a little consternation.

“Madam,” he said quietly. “You wrong me. This is no fake. Please, I would not do such a thing”

Placing his hand over his heart, he lowered his head slightly and pulled away from the table, turning his shoulder away from me as if flinching from a blow. I looked back at him and I realized in that moment, I have met fraud before, but I have not met artifice. And artifice is a ceremony, as precise as the tea ceremonies in Japan — my response was equivalent to not taking off my shoes, spilling the tea, dropping the cup, and then farting when I go to pick up the pieces.

I didn’t know what to do. Putting the rock down and walking away would have flawed the moment and marred the experience, for both me and my young niece who was with me that day. But I didn’t know how to recover.

“I, uh, I’m sorry,” I stammered. “Uhm…I didn’t mean to..uh”

The dealer was not a cruel man; or perhaps he was used to dealing with gauche Americans who buy their goods marked with barcodes and stickers, with heavy assurances of quality. He turned towards me, his face now that of one’s favorite wise old Uncle, the one mother invites to dinner but then hides the booze.

“Madam, I understand. There is so much evil in the world. You must be careful. But see now, I am an honest man. But I am not a selfish man. I will give you this rock, this pretty rock for … forty dollars. It is a steal at forty dollars.”

Shrewd eyes on my face. Next line was mine. I had my opening. I could have put the rock down and say that I hadn’t that much money and I still needed to buy lunch for my niece and thanked him and walked away and the moment would have been salvaged, but it wouldn’t have been right. Besides, the crystals were good if small, and there were some interesting bits to the piece, not counting the ingenious use of glue.

“I’ll give you ten dollars for it.”

“Madam! Ten dollars! You are joking! No, no. Ten dollars. No, no!” He exclaimed in dismay, but he also smiled at me in approval of my response — there was hope for me yet, me with my wits dulled by years of supermarket shopping and sell-by dates.

“Thirty-five dollars. I will take thirty-five dollars.”

I was about to counter with fifteen, feeling more confident in this bargaining game when the Dealer picked up another crystal on the table — a small one. A very small one. Barely more than pretty dust.

“And I’ll throw in this lovely crystal for your niece. See? It is a fine crystal. Yes? Good offer?”

“That’s very kind of you,” I said, clenching my teeth at the exclamations of delight from my niece who loves getting something for free even more than she likes sparkly things that cost money.



Books Writing

Don’t search on me

Following on the heels of the recent excitement about searching within pages of books at Amazon, there’s now a growing backlash against this facility from, among others, the Author’s Guild. According to Volokh Conspiracy and numerous publications, such as Ziff-Davis News in the UK, and The New York Times the pushback occurs because each search returns five surrounding pages of a book, and the Guild says that this could be used to get all the pages for a relevant section of a book so it need not be purchased. Ultimately, according to the Guild, this violates contracts between authors and publishers.

I’m an author, and currently have several books out at Amazon. From test searches, it would seem that my Practical RDF book has not been added to the database yet. Personally, I hope it does get added, because it can only help sales.

For instance, a person is interested in an RDF API called Jena, and searches on this keyword, rather than RDF. My book shows up in the results because I cover Jena. This is good for me as an author because the more I put my book in the front of readers’ eyes, the better chance it has of selling. This is a much better selling tool then me going into book stores, pulling my books from obscure shelves and putting them in more prominant locations.

(Eye level of the average person, front of book displayed if there’s room, or pulled out from shelf so it’s no longer even with the other books.)

If I have a problem with the facility is that it’s a mess. There doesn’t seem to be a way to turn off this look inside feature to find a book on a subject, not just a keyword. As for ‘Jena’, its rather surprising the number of ‘Jenas’ in books out there. To compensate for this, you’re reduced to trying different search patterns that focus on Jena, the RDF API, rather than Jena, the Napoleon campaign.

This is less easy then it seems. For instance, you’d think you’d have a winner with ‘java jena rdf’, except the first title that shows is “The Polish Officer: A Novel”. What are these authors talking about?

I, of course, also did a vanity search on my name, in quotes, out at the site and found a few references to it in other books. Not many – I’m usually the writer not the writee. One I thought was particularly interesting is my name showing up in a figure in a book,and the page containing the figure was shown. It would seem the search works with figures as well as text.

As for this enhanced facility adversely impacting on book sales, I’m finding that the current political and economic climate in this country and the rest of the world is doing a great job of this anyway – Amazon’s efforts aren’t adding much to the overall effect.


Professor Bainbridge has some good comments on the negative aspects of this search facility on the sale of his books – but I still want my books in it.


On the Rocks

Recovered story. I no longer have the collection, but you can see photos of what once was.

I spent yesterday taking photos of my rocks for the auction, but I’m never going to get this job finished if I spend all day and only have a few photographs for my effort. I can’t help myself, though — I’m having too much fun.

I started using the traditional mineral photographing techniques, as outlined in Jeffrey Scovil’s excellent Photographing Minerals, Fossils, and Lapidary Materials. However, somewhere along the way, I began to improvise.

For instance, I found that my TiBook makes a great backdrop for some of the harder to photograph minerals such as Azurite and Dioptase. I don’t have my studio lights and am having to use natural light, which makes my job much more challenging. Both black and white backdrops desaturate these minerals extremely rich hues. However, the neutral gray color allows the colors of the samples to come through.

(Or at least, that’s the excuse I’m using for such blatant disregard of mineral photography rules.)

As a backdrop for this yellow crystal, I used the paper the rock was originally wrapped in before I decided to use soft foam, instead (better for shipping).

Yellow Crystal

Notice that I called this mineral ‘yellow crystal’ rather than giving it a name? Well, I have to confess that I have no idea of what this crystal is. In fact, I have two minerals I can’t classify in my collection, and a third that I can’t tell is a fake or not.

This might surprise you: that a mineral collector can’t identify all the minerals in their collection. However, I purchased the mystery rocks at the Tucson mineral show early in 2001 and carried them home with their little labeling tags. When I got home, I found the dot-com I worked at had died while I was gone. I was distracted and didn’t record the purchases in my mineral ledger. Then I ended up getting divorced a few months later, and moving to California soon after that. During the move, I wrapped the rocks and stored them, losing their little tags.

Only now, going on three years later, am I looking at the rocks and I haven’t the foggiest what the yellow crystal is. Or the identity of a beautiful green crystal I haven’t photographed yet. I think the yellow is calcite, but the specific gravity is all wrong, and the luster doesn’t feel right. And its rare for calcite to form bladed crystals, though calcite will form into pretty much any crystal form.

I don’t have the materials to make a streak test, nor do I have the acids to see if the mineral behaves appropriately when exposed to this substance. I suppose I could hit it with a hammer to test its hardness, but that seems a bit extreme.

There’s the old taste test, and I remember when I took geology in college that we had to use taste during our mineral identification exam (boy, those were the innocent days.) However, there’s drawbacks to using taste on an unknown mineral. For instance, another crystal I photographed yesterday is this nice piece of Chalcanthite:


Pretty, isn’t it? It’s also toxic. In fact, if you bend your minds back to chemistry class, you might recognize this crystal if your class ever left a solution of cupper sulfate to evaporate over a few days. Crystals of Chalcanthite will form, which is one of the three reasons why people hesitate to have this mineral in their collection. First, it’s water soluble, and fine examples have been known to reduce to dust eventually. Then there’s that toxic thing. Finally, how can you tell the difference between lab grown crystals and naturally occurring ones?

This sample is one that grew naturally, but it was instigated by humans — it formed in a copper mine as a result of the mining actions.

While I photograph the minerals, I find myself just looking at them and this accounts for much of the delay. I hold them to light, move them around to watch the glitter on the surfaces; look into their depths to see the fractures and inclusions. Gloat in the rich and subtle colors. I like to feel the surface because the stones each have a different tactile feel to them. My favorite is the apophyllite, which has a soapy feel to it, and an iridescence that reminds me of those bubbles we used to blow as a kids.

Some of my samples were hot glued into little boxes and stands when I purchased them, and the first thing I did was remove these. I dislike having any form of container around my rocks. How can I feel the rock, or look more closely at it with all that protective gear in the way? Mineral collectors would be appalled to hear what I’m saying — crystals can be impacted by the oils on our fingers, the light or the even the air around us. Holding a crystal increases the chances of it being damaged. What am I thinking?

But look at this opal from Oregon. It’s like a bit of the river from which it came, but petrified and preserved for all time. The feel of it is wonderful, and I wish there was a way I could attach that feel to this page so you can experience the texture — like candle wax dripped on velvet. It’s a very sensuous stone, and the colors become so real when you hold it up to the light.