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Scope of subject

Posted by malcolm chapman  
malcolm chapman October 23, 2009 09:24PM
This subject has been going some time but has up to now escaped my attention due to me not going down the message board far enough. I can see a lot of work has been done and it is a bit late for my pennysworth. As far as I can see no-one has expressed a view identical to my thinking and I apologise if I have missed it.

The dangers are already evident. How many best minerals can there be for any particular type? What variations should be taken into account? What locations should be included? and so on.Then there is a question of expertise. No single person or even group will know all of even the most important information on a subject.

Members in their time will have contributed many excellent thesis or articles on various subjects and no doubt many of those overlap. So you get the potential for diversity of opinion between well versed people as it has ever been in the history of science.

To bring this all into one database and expect agreement is asking for the impossible. It will therefore be a moving feast, and there is nothing wrong with that.

It all comes back to the scope of the subject. I think the range being discussed at present is far too wide. Too much is to be taken into account. Take any rocks and minerals book and generally there will be only one picture of a mineral or rock. It will not be the very best but almost certainly it will be better than one is likely to find.

Mindat has far better resources but in my view the scope of this subject should not go too much further. Perhaps each main subject should be limited to the top ten specimens including variants. That will be hard to do but achievable. Perhaps a vote from a group of moderators could decide each original group? Any suggested change from the original to be dealt with in a similar fashion.

Nothing else should be taken into account. The ten visually best with all relevant information will be the reference work. Perhaps addendas could be added where regarded necessary but they could be decided individually.

The idea is to make it relatively easy to prepare and relatively easy to take in the information.

Having being completed a separate work could be setup in turn for variations excluded from the first work. eg best sites: rarities: etc. perhaps these can be broken down into countries or continents? There is no limit except data space available. After all one would expect all items to be in the main database, It is just a way of extracting interesting groups.

At the end of the day what is needed with an existing database is an interrogation program. There is already such a program being used for identity. What would be needed is another group of markers to enable extraction. That would save database space. The extracted list would not need to be saved. It would be done by adding the different distinguishing markers only for those chosen to be on a particular list.

Malcolm Chapman
Olav Revheim October 24, 2009 12:05AM

I am probably not the person to address this, but as a small scale contributor to this effort I have done some thinking on why I write these articles, and what are the priorities that I make. As the "best minerals" idea was not mine I cannot talk for anyone but me.

I agree that some of the articles may be somewhat long, and that all the locations and minerals listed in the "best minerals" are not equally "best". It has already been addressed that for the rarest minerals, the locations in the "best mineraIs" articles are pretty much the complete list of locations. I also agree that one single person, and not even a group of people have the expertice required to write up a complete list of the best minerals. Even if someone sat with the expertice to write the "best mineral" article, it would not be possible, simply because the term "best" is quite subjective, and also a moving target. New pockets and new finds are made every day, and some day something better will appear.

The Best minerals project is a huge undertaking, and I think that Mindat, is probably the only place a project like this will have a remote chance of being a success. Some of the articles are really pieces of art, like the emerald article for instance. I printed it, and even my wife fell in love with it instantly. It cannot be far from being a valid reference article for the Beryl variety Emerald, also outside the Mindat community. Some of the other articles are not that good, yet, but with time they might be. I fully support the management in having a rather loosely defined scope and content for the articles, and even including schalenblende, which is not even a mineral

With regards to your proposal to include a maximum of 10 specimens for each mineral, I disagree. Imagine quartz, even I from the top of my head can list more than 10 varieties, how do you pick which varieties to include? How do you pick The worlds best location for smokey quartz?

Even a small and relatively simple mineral like cordierite that I write now, with some 80 photos uploaded, 10 locations are to few to give real value to article ( again in my mind). There are some locations that have great display specimens, some locations show the most fabulous micro crystals. Cordierite is a gem mineral. Should I omit the locations that producec the best and largest gem material. And then, cordierite produces some facsinating pseudomorphs, as it is easily altered to other minerals. They belong in there as well. Leaving out some of these location would in my mind reduce the quality and value of the article. It doesn't mean that all worldwide locations should go in there, but most certainly all the "best minerals" should be there, whether I am a microcollector, gem collector or whatever.

If that means that some articles has 5 locations, and others have 25 I'm fine with that. Being comprahensive, I think, is one of the absolute strengths of a "best minerals" article.
malcolm chapman October 24, 2009 12:52AM
Olav, I am not going to disagree with anything you say. As I wrote my words I was thinking some varieties like quartz based may have to stand alone. What I am thinking of is that the main list should be limited to ten of each but there can be an option on various subjects to provide more information.

Having in mind the scope of the subject I do not know if anyone has thought of the objectives of the exercise. With ten of each item you will have the largest database in the world of high quality minerals.How much further would you wish to go?I think this could be extracted by interrogating the main database.

I would not want to lose any of your work on cordierite or the 80 samples but they would rank as a specialist work and stand alone.

I accept the difficulties. I have been fortunate enough to have collected good samples of flouryte in blue, violet,clear and green. I would have a huge problem choosing the ten best in my shed but to do the same selection for the whole world is beyond anything I would like to consider. Yet a number has to be chosen. Is 100 right or perhaps 1000? What it comes down to is the user and for someone scanning a range ten seems about right.

Mindat already has specialist items and they could be aaded to where numbers exceed ten.

I have only been looking at this subject this evening and there could be something I have not taken into account, but this is as I see it.

Malcolm Chapman
David H Garske October 24, 2009 01:51AM
As a mineral dealer who often sells specimens from unusual localities, the information as given is invaluable! If I'm questioning a rhodochrosite from an unusual locality and my specimen looks a lot like the one illustrated in MinDat, It gives me more confidence that the label is correct. It's fairly easy to find photos of the best minerals from well known localities, finding photos from o/d/little known/single find localities makes the Best of Species information very useful.
Alfredo Petrov October 24, 2009 01:08PM
The word "Best" in the title is causing misunderstandings. It was never Mindat's (or Rock's) intention to turn this into a competition. This is a compendium of good material, organized by locality so that for example a beginner can compare how his/her material stands up to other good specimens, or a potential buyer can see how the "fabulous" specimen being offered compares to others from the locality and, we hope, can also get information on how much of the material is available. The editor of the "Best Minerals" section, Rock Currier, originally wanted to call it "The Good Stuff", which doesn't imply any competitive ranking or limit on number of localities and specimens. Perhaps we should return to that name, because "Best Minerals" seems to be causing confusion.
malcolm chapman October 24, 2009 02:58PM
I have spent some time looking at the original ideas and interpretations of what this subject is trying to do. It seems to me that there are a number of different ideas that include.

1. Selecting the best examples worldwide for all minerals and some extra varieties.
2 As 1 but for a single country.
3. As 1 but for individual locations.
4. Descriptions of best sites on a country by country basis. and their minerals on an individual or group basis.
5. Description of best sites.
6. Description of best minerals from best sites.worldwide.
7. Substitute the word "good" for the word "best" in all the above

I have tried to encapsulate virtually all ideas of this subject above but there will be other variations.

To be included any mineral must be in Mindat in the form of a picture and a description of location.

I get the idea that this may be a problem due to copyright or secrecy of locations but any item encompassed by this cannot appear anyhow.

I have looked at existing facilities on Mindat and find most of the above is already covered by the search facilities already there.

I am told that the description in 1 above is not what is really required. It would not be available, if wanted, unless extra markers are put in place to identify the best.

When looking at 2 the same goes as 1 but for many countries the listing for each mineral would contain relatively few items and could be looked at by selecting the mineral and the country.

For 3 the selection of the site and mineral would give a relatively short list.

Best sites for specific minerals as in 4 could be found by selecting the mineral and the country. As the listing of sites would mostly be small it would be easy to look for existing results.

For 5 any group of best sites would have to be selected with more definition. Most people seem to have written sites up by mineral and by zone which is mostly country. There are a number of lengthy volumes which really would be better standing alone rather than being included in a database.

The selection for 6 giving the best in the world would need markers for sites and minerals so they can be selected from the main listings.

Interpretation of the best is open to a great deal of controversy. Should it be based on size, or rarity, or colour, or appearance, or number of crystals, or just because it looks good? There are many other discerning characteristics that could be used.

If those problems occur with trying to select the best then the problems are multiplied many fold if you are selecting good rather than best as in 7.

At the end of the day I do not know what is wanted. Listings already existing would with interrogation facilities existing provide most requirements. What is not provided for is listings of the very best as in the title but now it is said that it is not a competition and that was not the original intent, in which case, what is it all about?

Work already carried out should not be lost but before any more is done someone should decide exactly what is required and check existing facilities to see if it can be dealt with already.

Malcolm Chapman
Rock Currier October 25, 2009 01:23PM
Have you read the introductory remarks about Best Minerals in the Best Minerals-General forum under the topic Welcome to the Best Minerals Forums? My intent is not to sent standards about what the best minerals are or what the most desirable localities are, but rather to show people what the possibilities are and let them make up their own minds about what is best and in the process answer the really basic questions that all collectors want to know about and spend their lives learning about.

Rock Currier
Crystals not pistols.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/25/2009 01:28PM by Rock Currier.
Chester S. Lemanski, Jr. October 25, 2009 03:06PM
Well said Rock!
malcolm chapman October 26, 2009 12:03AM

I do not wish to criticise you or your fellow contributors because each work will stand alone as a beacon of education. I have read your introduction many times and just to be sure I have read it again.

This subject is hard to grab because of its size and complexity.So I have tried to break it down so you can understand my concern.

For example, I have found a nice piece of calcite at a site in the Pennines so I wish to decide how good it is.

I can look up the location on the mindat database and select finds from that location, Here I can find the best calcite from the site and then go further and find associated minerals from that site, This information is extractable without creating more data.

I may wish to go further and compare with other Pennine sites. Again I can get this information without creating any new data.

I can go further and do the same for UK and now I am starting to get into some large numbers of sites and minerals. Now I have reached the stage I need help. I need to be able to view a selection. I need to select sites and specimens. Now I see your exercise as being useful and if the sites chosen and the specimens chosen are given a marker, which could be anything individual, they could still be selected from the main database with an interrogation program.

Yes, a better way to interrogate best minerals and the other data in mindat is necessary, but setting up such a system is not a simple matter. I have talked to Jolyon and David von Bargen, our level 4 gurus, about this and they have several ideas about how this can and may eventually be accomplished. I would like to see the "data blocks" as I call them be put into some sort of database structure with the ability to tag each block with as may tags, keywords, or whatever you call them and then to be able to sort on species, parts of the locality string and any of the tags/keywords that have been attached to the datablocks (Species/locality/images of the species from that locality and the text relating to that datablock). There are other ways of doing this with automatic tag generators etc. about which I know just enough to make myself look stupid when I try and talk about them to people who more about them than I. However for the purposes of Best Minerals I really don't have to worry about that anytime soon because there is such a huge amount of work to be done before we even have articles on half the known minerals.

What shall we look for in selecting a specimen? Your guidelines start by suggesting the largest then the best. But we are told that is not what you really meant. At the same time you refer me back to what you said. Very confusing.

Its not as bad or as hard as you might think it might be. For Best Minerals we use the images that have been uploaded to the Mindat image gallery and it is really not that hard to pick out the images of the best specimens there for a particular mineral out of the gallery. If you asked 20 people from novices to very knowledgeable people to pick out the best 10% of the images for any given species you would most likely find that there would be an 80% + agreement on what the best specimens were. If you asked just knowledgeable people to make the selection, the agreement would most likely be even higher than that. In addition as the articles are being written the authors who usually know more about the mineral they are working on than most can solicit better pictures of that species from the localities they know about and they will know where the weaknesses are when it comes to substandard quality specimens in the mindat galleries. In addition to all of that, because of the Wikipedia nature of this project, other knowledgeable people will chip in with suggestions and the offers of better images as the article is being written. If there is some image that is borderline and it is not obvious if it should be included or not, we often just include it because we know that somewhere down the line a better image can be had, and it can be replaced. If we know that an image or images that we use are really not very good compared to what is out there, we can say that in the text and put in a plea for someone to give us better pictures.

I do not have a problem with your first stated ideas and they would make a fine work to refer to. But it has got to be limited. You did the maths yourself at the time. 16,000 sites and 7,500 pictures for calcite. My suggestion is ten per zone. A zone could be a mountain or county, or country or continent or the world.

I disagree It really does not need to be limited at this time. Even for quartz and calcite, though there are more than 10,000 localities for each and in reality the number of these localities is really many times that number. However the number of those localities for which people have uploaded pictures is vastly more limited. Just the effort of taking a picture of a specimen from a particular locality and uploading it to mindat is a very effective first filter on selecting what is considered a worthwhile locality. Probably the number of localities for calcite where images have been uploaded is substantially less than 10% of all the calcite localities listed in Mindat. Then when you go through all the images of calcite and select just those that produce decent specimens, the number of localities to contend with is cut down even further. When you beak down those localities of the "big" minerals like calcite and quartz into their individual countries, the mind numbing size of the project, that have you scared and initially myself as well becomes a much more practical thing to do. All the localities that I considered "worthwhile" for quartz and calcite turned out to represent only about 65 countries and many of those had only a few localities with decent specimens. There are about 200 countries total, so most of them are not represented on Mindat with pictures of calcite or quartz. So there are still plenty of places to dig for specimens that will supply the collecting community for years to come with new finds. For years I avoided quartz and calcite because of the daunting number of localities, but when I finally got into it and looked at it carefully, it was not nearly as bad as I thought it might be. In fact I recently finished the first draft of Quartz USA, although I had to break it into three topics in the Quartz forum because these fields only hold about 60K words each. I know that I must have missed including some localities that should have been included, but some of these were brought to my attention during the construction of the article, and I almost always included them along with images that were often provided the the people that brought them to my attention. This allows me a shot at recruiting them to help fill in information about the localities that I know little or nothing about. Some of these individuals have become moderates on Best Minerals and have gone on to write wonderful articles on their own and gone on to recute others to help with or write articles of their own.

Without taking that thought into its full depths I am coming back to my starting point. I have found a nice specimen in the Pennines of calcite. I may be asking myself the questions you suggest but the route I have taken up to now is only helpful if I have found something sensational. I should be making comparisons with ordinary specimens and this is set out in your text. Who wants to show off or select their ordinary pieces especially as the initial guidelines indicate largest and best?

Jolyon thinks Mindat should be able to accommodate images of even very modest specimens like the image of the one you include here in your post. Others complain that the database is getting too full of rubbish and want to go in and clean out a lot of stuff, perhaps including things like the specimen you show here. I think there should be a way to include both modest specimens and exceptional ones. You know from looking at the calcites in the Mindat gallery that your specimen is not very exceptional and if you were writing the article on calcite or quartz you would probably not include it in a Best Minerals article. For minerals like quartz and calcite we have to have more stringent standards of what to include because if we did not it would quickly become not manageable. It seemed to me that the only way to effectively show what the good specimens from a particular locality looked like was to do something like best minerals where a variety of a particular species from a particular locality were shown together and then talked about (the ten questions). I include where possible information about the largest because that kind of information can be useful to material scientists who might want to know if they should look for samples of natural materials or head to the synthesis lab for what they need. We all know that biggest is almost always not the best.

A good example is the contributions from Belgium for calcite. A really good and interesting piece of work that I spent some time enjoying. But those specimens are not the ordinary example I have from the Pennines. This information could be kept on the main database and extracted, again using a marker. The information about the sites including anecdotes could also be part of the write up on the main database.for each site, thus reducing the overall size of mindat database.

Good point. Before we put Best Minerals sight wide it was a single forum that only the managers could access and they let me work away on that for some months and during that time other managers started to chip in with their ideas, not only about what localities and images should be included but discussions about just where and how Best Minerals should be placed and accommodated on Mindat. I eventually convinced the managers in general that it should be placed in the message board because there it could easily be accessed by all those visiting Mindat and function as a sort of Wikipedia project and solicit help from a broad spectrum of the mineral community. Without the active participitation of many contributors, like Mindat in general, the site would not ever become what we would eventually like to see it become.

I think I know what you are aiming at. I have collected thousands of items from British sites. Each one has something significant that drew my attention in the first place. Like everyone else I want to identify what I have found. I tend not to use chemicals, hardness tests, or any of those other tests suggested although I have known about them for years. The reason is simply that I have another life and a science lab is not part of it. I therefore look into my very large collection of books to find out if I can identify a specific item.

I too have a lot of books, at least a couple thousand of them relating to minerals in one way or another. A two car garage full of them actually, but I bet that you are using them less and less and Mindat more and more. If so, then your experience parallels mine as well.

There are limitations and that can be illustrated by one sample:

It is clear to me that haematite samples bear similarity to the specimen. There was an unbroken quartz crystal that fell out of the centre. That leaves a lot of questions. There is a lot of other stuff here, and some strange habits. can I identify any of them? Quartz crystals in classic shapes are there but what about the crystalline material that does not follow the classic shape etc etc etc.

Most books would not give me any more useful information as they all concentrate on good and not ordinary. That is the gap in information for newcomers and not so new. Knowing this comes from Cligga in Cornwall is helpful for I can look it up in mindat. But I may need information from other parts of the database.

The specimen you show here is not the kind of thing that we will likely show or address in Best Minerals. But that does not mean that Mindat will not address those questions you have about it. For me the specimen is in the leaveright category. You know the old joke about leaverite? Right after you picked it up you should have put it down again and just leave it right there. The reason for this is that the quartz crystals are obvious and undistinguished (I regularly buy and import them by the ton) and the "hematite", though it could be interesting, is not something easy to characterize and since I don't have the sophisticated analytical equipment needed to analyze it, and unwilling to impose on friends who are real mineralogists the work needed to analyse what will almost certainly turn out to be a very pedestrian suite of minerals, I accept that I will never really know what the stuff is. However, if I suspect for some reason that there might be something really unusual about the specimen, might request a proper analysis. But all that does not mean that you don't have friends and resources here on Mindat. You can show pictures of what you find here on Mindat in several places including the identification forum. You can upload the Image to the Mindat galleries. The people that answer your post will just be taking a guess, sometimes an accurate guesses as to what you have found, but better than that you may be able to find kindred souls that you can collect with or those with a particular interest in specimens from that locality and already know a lot about it. That is I think the true value of Mindat.

If that is the sort of information you intend giving then your contributors do not all understand this. and therein lies my confusion.

Malcolm Chapman

Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 10/26/2009 08:58AM by Rock Currier.
open | download - DSCN2900.JPG (398 KB)
Rock Currier October 26, 2009 05:47AM

I hope you will forgive me, I edited your post and responded to your various concerns right under the section of your post that expressed them.

Rock Currier
Crystals not pistols.
malcolm chapman October 26, 2009 10:09AM
Thanks Rock,

I could add to the debate but I think it is unfair to take more of your important time. There is one thing I cannot let go and I think it needs some explanation on my part and some understanding on yours.

I have amethyst cathedrals and splendid quartz crystals from Arkansas and Brazil.Yet the item illustrated means as much to me as any of them. If I had not collected this item the hobby might not have caught my attention enough to have carried on with it. I live in an area barren of all such minerals, being mostly London clay and fossils at Walton on the Naze.

I found this specimen on my first expedition to Cornwall, a 1000 mile round trip. To me it was gold dust because I had never found any sort of crystal before This together with the other items found on that trip were enough to hook me. I am sure other people have equivalent items that had the same effect on them. Do not disregard any collected item for it may have a story.

This story gets better as I was able to interest my oldest son and he took up the subject with more vigour than I did and got his doctorate in geology and he is now a senior university lecturer.My eldest daughter diverted her studies to marine biology, got her doctorate and now travels the world for UK government. All this can be traced back to this find in Cornwall that does not rank in your book.

Malcolm Chapman
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