Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Getting to know you. Getting to know all about soil resources.

At about 11pm last night, I looked at my phone in a sleepy haze to discover a long Tweet thread on soil.

Considering the pillow or reading the thread, I quickly chose my love: soil.

@dyerjonathan @heatherbray6 @wheatman01 @LClaessen @simmycattleau were all talking about resources as an introduction to soil biology.

From this passionate discussion (which I was very sad to have missed!), I thought I'd share a few of my favourite soil resources.

These are all resources I use regularly for checking stuff, understanding a concept or delving into more theory/practice. Some are also fun resources, where you also get to learn! Resources will vary on age appropriateness, specific interests, cost, background/prior knowledge, country of origin etc, and I will try to give a bit of a description of them as well.

And if you have any favourites of your own, please share!

All things soil
Oz Soils is at UNE is an online interactive tool for an introduction to soils. I have previously written about this and their other platform here. I love anything interactive, and I think both big and small alike will enjoy this.

The Story of Soil, and initiative by the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is another great introduction into what soil is and why it is important. It is free! and I think suitable for all ages.

I also have a soft spot for Dirt! The Movie and Hope in a Changing Climate; both excellent films on all things soil.

The Fed Gov,  NSW DPI and VIC DPI have some great soil webpages. They include from learning about all sorts of aspects on soil (chem, bio, phys etc), to managing and testing them in your own backyard.

I really love the open access, learning style and communication of soil blogs, and I would never go past checking them out!

And same with Twitter! I have a soils list of tweeps that anyone can follow.

The SSSA also has some online resources for different ages of school kids, as does the Uni of Western Australia. But, they look like fun to me! :D

You can also try the Open Access soil journals for specific studies or curiosity. Other journals that are not completely open access, but do allow for open access, can usually be found in Google Scholar. I tend to reach for books before papers if I want to understand a concept. Papers often assume prior knowledge and books don't. Some of these journals are aimed at land managers, and others aim at scientists. Beware the jargon *yawn*

New Soil Net and Soil Scientists are currently the only soil wikis online (that I can find). They currently only have a few members, but I think there is a lot of promise if other soil scientists/enthusiasts get involved. Wikipedia also has great articles about specific soil issues. Whilst I would never reference a wiki, they are great places to start learning and then to research/read further.

Soil Chemistry
Soil chemistry is a tricky subject to point at one particular reference. Unless you know what soil chemistry and tests you are after, it is hard to find a fundamental place to start.

I either Google/Wikipedia things I am interested in, or go to books/papers.

Some books I really like include:
Soil Chemistry by SSSA (good theory and comparisons of tests)
Soil Chemical Methods - Australiasia by CSIRO (less theory, more tests)
Interpreting soil test results: What do all the numbers mean? a CSIRO publication (theory and interpretation)
Two sodic soil books: International and Australia (theory, practice and management)
Forests soils and nutrient cycles (this is an oldie, but a good place to start if you can find it)

Soil Biology
Living Soils at UNE is another interactive online system for learning about soil biology. I have previously written about this and their other platform here. I love anything interactive, and I think both big and small alike will enjoy this.

The Microbe Wiki has some great sections on all types of soil biology, including flooded soil microbiology. Wikis are great introductions and explanations to launch into further learning.

I haven't used many soil biology books (mainly relied on papers)... so I can't really recommend any. However, you should ask @dannicarno or others on Twitter.

Soil Physics
Soil physics can be pretty heavy going! I really struggle with the maths and terms sometimes.

Again, I'd ask Wikipedia/the web first, then maybe try books. This is a good book for tests and explanations: Soil Physical Measurement and Land Evaluation.

Does anyone else have suggestions?

Other General Soil Books I like
Australian Soils and Landscapes by CSIRO
Soils: Their properties and management an OUP publication on Australian soils
CSIRO have some great soil books, CDs/DVDs on almost any soil topic!

Happy soil-ing!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Soil Hacks: Can Hackerspaces get down and dirty?

Can we hack and make things from soil? Do we collaborate and discover with soil? And do all of these things fit in the philosophy of a Hackerspace?

Not so soil science: 
Me at Make Hack Void with a tech-themed collage I created 
(thanks Mechatronics Guy for the photo)

What is this 'hackerspace' of which you speak?

Before we go any further... A hackerspace is not a place where a bunch of bad people sit around trying to tap into your computer. A hackerspace is all about open-access and collaboration for creativity and innovation. 

Hackerspaces.org (see article) and Wikipedia (see article) define hackerspaces as being:

'Hackerspaces are community-operated physical places, where people can meet and work on their projects.'


'A hackerspace or hackspace (also referred to as a hacklab, makerspace or creative space) is a location where people with common interests, often in computers, technology, science, or digital or electronic art (but also in many other realms) can meet, socialiseand/or collaborate. Hackerspaces can be viewed as open community labs incorporating elements of machine shops, workshops and/orstudios where hackers can come together to share resources and knowledge to build and make things.' 

A hackerspace is about making things, hacking (or making things do stuff it wasn't originally purposed for), discovering, collaborating and having fun. 

You can do all sorts of things! Some things I have seen at Make Hack Void in Canberra include: building book scanners; the re-appropriation of old scientific equipment as a Email/Tweeting devices;  clocks and props; art and craft. 

Above all, a hackerspace is about the open sharing of information and collaboration. It is about creative experimentation and innovation. It knows no boundaries and is not confined by rules. Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches are welcome. It is a place where people can ponder, discuss, experiment and create with freedom of ideas and thought. It is a place that drives innovation.

Is there room for soil science in a hackerspace? 

Soil is all about making stuff; like working out its optimal conditions for plant growth. 

Soil science is also about hacking; what is in it, what makes it tick, how can we improve it. 

Soil science is also about collaboration and discovery; working with people to for food security, functional ecosystems and a happy planet.

Soil science is about innovation and interdisciplinary thinking. 

If soil science fits the philosophy of a hackerspace, is there anyone 'hacking' soil? 

Why yes! 

The Perth Artifactory has a makeshift glasshouse with some soil-hacking. They have a member that is keen on soil improvement:

After the 2011 Japan Tsunami and Fukushima Disaster, the Tokyo Hackerspace got involved in monitoring the radiation of affected soil. This included assembling community geiger counters for hour by hour safety checks. They used technical skills and collaboration to not only get data on soil radiation in Japan, but also come up with some nifty ways of doing it too. Hello bGeigie!

For the Great Global Hackerspaces Challenge 2011, the Maui Makers made a Chilled Soil Agriculture demonstration/box. Cold water is pumped through soil to emulate seasons, and thus allow growth of temperate species in tropical areas. This really is something I have never heard of and is well awesome!

Noisebridge is getting involved with UC Berkley on a Deep Roots Irrigation Precipitation System  (aka DRIPS):

And Quelab seems to be doing all-things-soil too! Amongst many other hackerspaces as well...

And what about my contribution to soil science in hackerspaces?

A friend of mine posted to me a DIY Mini Terrarium. I am totally going to give it a go. Then maybe think about some other pet projects of mine. Such as simpler, more people-friendly and cost effective methods for analysing soil. I can see an Arduino being involved there... Or maybe a soil science wiki...

And getting more people involved. Work with others in the space and community members. Drawing on different skills, backgrounds and ideas you never know what may be achieved!

After? Well the sky is the limit!

Keen on soil hacking? Find your local Hackerspace on Hackerspaces.org

Congratulations to Make, Hack, Void (a Canberra Hackerspace) on their one year anniversary! May there be many more years of making stuff, hacking things to get them to do rad stuff, and voiding warranties. And if you are in Canberra at any time, please look us up.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Open Access Soil #2: Five Shiny Open Access Journals!

Like to share your research? Get people to use it? Make it freely available to anyone? And still be peer-reviewed? You are in luck! There are five shiny-open-access-journals to do just that!

Almost a year ago I wrote about Open Access Soil Science  and the possibilities for more collaboration, cooperating and sharing in soil science. Now, we soilies are lucky to have five (!!) open access soil science journals. 

Open Journal of Soil Science is relatively new peer-reviewed journal, with one volume and three issues so far. It is indexed in a few places including Google Scholar. 

Applied and Environmental Soil Science is getting to be a big peer-reviewed open journal! It is indexed in stacks of places and has quite a few editors and articles. 

The Journal of Soil Science and Plant Nutrition is a peer-reviewed journal available in English and Portuguese. It has a great statistics page on its site for all that vital information. 

Journal of Soil Science and Environmental Management has a few volumes now! It has a small editorial panel and takes all sorts of articles.

The last journal is ISRN Soil Science. It is recently launched and there are no papers available yet.

Now, I have to finish of these papers and send them off to these awesome Open Science journals! Viva open access!!

If you see any more Open Access Soil Journals, please send them in! :D