There’s No Mystique in Navel Gazing

Because I’m approaching middle age and nostalgia’s a sticky thing, I was pondering the Matrox Mystique again a few weeks back. Old computers are easy to find in America, and my neighbor has a system sitting in his garage that would easily accommodate the video card, and other period-appropriate hardware. A little fixing up, and I could be humming along in high late ’90s fashion again… and I flatly refuse.

Between work, my wife, my children, exercise, periodically seeing friends, and a pretty ravenous movie habit, I have to justify how I spend my leisure time. The world won’t be a worse place if I spend a few hours making an elderly computer do tricks. But that isn’t personal growth. I’d be unlikely to learn much. The Mystique hardware is badly limited – within months of its release it was derided as The Mistake – and was never meant to stretch to GLQuake’s demands. More importantly, who else would care? If I went to the trouble to make a blog post about that little adventure, I might get a, “well, at least we know the answer” from someone else old enough to know this was ever a problem. But the truth is, the answer isn’t relevant. There are bigger, fascinating problems to solve.

The old hardware’s going back into the box. I’m selling my other spare kit – a perfectly nice laptop my wife’s office was tossing because its support contract had lapsed, and a decade old Mac Pro which simply doesn’t do anything vital in my life – and I’m going down a scientific rabbit hole. Bear with me. This will be something of a deep dive.

One of the perennial problems of exploration geology is determining what’s underground in an accurate way. Ideally, you should have the clearest possible picture of the subsurface before you ever start drilling or digging. I work in petroleum geology, and seismic data is treated as the key to proper reconnaissance. But acquiring the data – the reflections from underground that show geological boundaries by measuring seismic wave reflections by the time taken for waves to travel to depths and back – is just the first step. Depth migration is imperative to cleaning up the data. And at the moment, my understanding of it is pretty limited.

While the algorithms for performing the procedure have been established for decades, it’s only in the past 20 years that consumer-grade computers have been powerful enough to conduct work in reasonable time frames. I live in a world where computers are cheap and easy enough to acquire that I can set aside a system just for tinkering with this stuff. Free seismic data sets are available for my use. With research, I can figure out the tools necessary, their usage and deployment, and implementation particulars. And best of all, I can take the output data and visualize it freely with OpendTect, which I’m at least fairly comfortable in using.

This won’t be the only thing my blog’s about going forward, Lord knows, but I daresay it’ll be more interesting than “what happens when I make an old video card do stuff.” And there’s still going to be talk about movies and other hobbies. So stick around. I’ll keep you updated, and a lot more often than once a month.