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ecuscino | Created: 17 Jun 2024 | Updated: 18 Jun 2024
Soil Properties and Modeling
More Pressing Matters

Dear Geo-Community,

Here we find ourselves, yet again, about to officially enter that precious period in the calendar year when the days get long, the sun shines brightly, and the 7-dehydrocholesterol in our skin absorbs ample UV B radiation to be converted to previtamin D3, which as we all know isomerizes into vitamin D3 very soon thereafter! And goodness knows we geotechs – because we are mostly like all other humans – love the way vitamin D3 regulates our happy neurotransmitters and promotes good feelings and active lifestyles.

In short: summer is near, and it’s biochemically guaranteed to be a fun time!

But I’m not naïve. I acknowledge for many of us the hottest days of summer are overbooked with highly perspiratory field work and long stays in isolated hotels built around an Arby’s, Taco Bell, and a Walmart. Personally, that is my heaven. However, I do recognize some others may prefer to visit the beach this time of year.

Because I don’t know where you’ll be or what you’ll be doing this summer (only your local G-I chapter chairs have access to that information, thanks to the trackers in your fancy new “take-home” nametags), I want to give you a gift you can take anywhere with you on your journeys for these next few months. So get ready to call me Star-Lord, Groot, and/or Gamora because just like the Guardians of the flippin’ Galaxy I’m coming back to you with Volume TWO… of…

The Official, Geo-Institute-Sponsored, Corporate-Mandated, HR-Approved

Soundtrack to the Summer, ‘24

For Geotechnical Engineers

(and also Geologists, Geophysicists, Geomorphologists, the Pokémon Geodude, and all other friends of the field)

  1. “Dirt Man” by Carter Vail (from Songs from the Internet) (2024)

You know him. You love him. You keep a little dirt under your pillow expressly for him.

Folks, I am of course describing our favorite new geotechnical mascot: the Dirt Man. Born from YouTuber Carter Vail’s imagination and a likely synthesis of Sandman mythos (fun fact – the first appearance of the Sandman was likely in 18th-Century Germany where young children were told “the Sandman is coming” to encourage them to get to sleep), the Dirt Man of the 21st Century doesn’t ask for much; his only requirement is that you’ve got just a teeny tiny bit of dirt under your pillow in case he comes to town.

Now on the off chance you’ve forgotten to keep the underside of your Serta Cool Gel Memory Foam Pillow adequately soiled on an evening when the Dirt Man pays you a visit, you’ll probably want to let your project manager know you’re going to be late for work the next day. The Dirt Man will take you to his lair deep under the mountain – far underground – which is where he keeps his dirt.

I highly recommend listening to this 36-second track on loop until you begin to fully understand Dirt Man’s motivations. He’s not merely a trickster entity or obsessive soil hoarder. He’s doing important geotechnical research. Just keep listening. Don’t stop listening…

  1. “Quicksand” by The Story So Far (from Under Soil and Dirt) (2011)

There is no shortage of songs about and/or titled “Quicksand.”

As both a physical phenomenon and Jungian adage brought to life, quicksand gets a lot of attention in popular culture. Prominently featured in films like “The Neverending Story” (skip this scene, I beg you) and “The Princess Bride,” it’s a trope and plot device that reminds us, like an amicable but no-nonsense therapist, “What we resist persists.” It’s not a subtle metaphor. Like, at all.

It's also not that common to encounter in our day to day lives! As John Mulaney said in a memorable bit: “I always thought that quicksand was going to be a much bigger problem than it turned out to be. Because if you watch cartoons, quicksand is like the third biggest thing you have to worry about in adult life behind real sticks of dynamite and giant anvils falling on you from the sky.”

Now this particular musical treatment of our liquefied zero-effective-stress loose sands comes from notable California pop-punk band The Story So Far, from their perfectly aptly titled 2011 record, Under Soil and Dirt. Full disclosure: while I grew up on “classic rock” passed down by my parents, I grew up on the sounds of angsty dysregulated longing that defined the pop-punk music of the early-to-mid aughts. I have a special place in my heart, soul, and wardrobe for cathartic screaming of lyrics that move at the breakneck pace of teenage love and heartbreak. Adulthood has neither corrected nor modified how a lyrical intro followed by a rapid power chord sequence impacts my brain.

Parker Cannon sings of frustration and desperate desire on “Quicksand,” and frankly, I think that’s relatable for all of us in the geotechnical profession. I am eternally frustrated by somehow always picking the worst possible locations for my exploratory boreholes, and I so ardently wish for a lab technician to tell me “These triaxial test results are not unique and strange. This soil behaves like a soil mechanics textbook example. You do not need to worry about bizarre dilatant behavior; your strains are normal and excess pore water pressure matches what we’re seeing. All is well.”

  1. “Quicksand” by David Bowie (from Hunky Dory) (1971)

There is no shortage of songs about and/or titled “Quicksand.”

I’ll be honest with you: David Bowie is my favorite musical artist of all time. He’s the inspiration for my edgy upper bicep tattoo and I like (mostly) everything he ever recorded. Yet I admit this is one of his more inherently depressing songs – on the surface. I am challenging myself to spin this into a happy summer track to which you can bop a beach volleyball and grab another (insert beverage of choice) from the cooler. Characterizing the subsurface on this track, however, reveals several layers of existential dilemmas – dilemmas that I assert will ultimately resolve to a firm foundation upon which to build the structural framework of your thinking.

“Don’t believe in yourself?” “Don’t deceive with belief?” The despairing subsequent line?? How is this a fun song? I promise you, as Bowie wrestles with the ultimate meaning of it all astride British postwar history, he is vacillating between his potential for superhuman accomplishment and the limitations of being only human (This is all coming from the man who, in a few short years, would style himself as a literal non-human extraterrestrial in Ziggy Stardust!). He sinks in the quicksand of morose ramblings and then – the song ends.

BUT! Dear reader! Play on! Because this song has a sequel, the very next song on the record; a nearly unbearably jovial and optimistic song about the power of love entitled:

3a.  “Fill Your Heart” by David Bowie (from Hunky Dory) (1971)

“Fill your heart with love today.” “Things that happened in the past only happened in your mind.” “Fear is in your head, only in your head.”

I’ll be honest. Sometimes I do get a little down about our work. Sometimes I feel like projects move too slowly; like my impact is too minimal; like the infrastructure I hope to rehabilitate or construct will never see the light of day. To put it another way: I’ve sunk in the quicksand before over work and what it means to me. Quite a few times.

But then I visit a dam retaining a marvelously beautiful lake. As the sun glistens brilliantly off the water’s surface and a regal heron gracefully perches on the dock, I notice the many frogs sunning on floating logs and the smallmouth bass leaping over gentle windblown waves. It is here I take in the reality of my profession. I answer questions from curious onlookers and recreational lake enthusiasts. I see how many people care about this lake, impounded by the dam I’m going to work on, and I recognize that today – and until and after this project is complete – my job means a lot. I fill my heart with love of this dam, the people I am serving, and ultimately, this job.

I no longer resist the quicksand. I don’t even notice it. And just like that, it disappears.

  1. “Quicksand” by SZA (from the Insecure soundtrack) (2017)

There is no shortage of songs about and/or titled “Quicksand.”

Okay, now I’m just joking around. This is actually a fun summer song though and maybe a little palate cleanser from the last thing.

  1. “The Excavator Song” by Blippi (from Blippi Tunes, Vol. 2: Machines (Music for Toddlers)) (2016)

If you have been a parent of a young child, a babysitter, or if you yourself have been a toddler in the past several years, you may have encountered Blippi somewhere along the way. Because if we’re talking about educational, mildly entertaining YouTube channels with somewhat catchy songs, you just know we’re talking Blippi. And the Excavator Song? Well, let’s just say it’s, uh, no exception.

It’s a bop. A jam. A summertime slam.

The melody is frankly contagious and the lyrics couldn’t possibly resonate with me more:

“I’ve got a great big arm and a great big boom.

If I start digging now, I’ll be done real soon.

I’m a dirt separator.

I’m an excavator.”

And the following verse, when it is declared, “I’m an earth investigator.” I felt that line in my bones.

As an exciting bonus, from the 1:19-1:50 mark of the official YouTube video, Blippi teaches us all how to use our arms and make noises just like an excavator. It’s amazing. It’s directly applicable to our work. It’s somehow over six minutes long.

I haven’t stopped singing it in my head. I can’t stop singing it. I need to go back to looping Dirt Man. (This playlist is a blessing but also, in many ways, a burden)

  1. “Blow by Blow” by Fleetwood Mac (from Time) (1995)

The Mac is back! But of course they are; it’s an annual Geo-Institute Summer Soundtrack tradition to include Fleetwood Mac on the playlist. Last year featured their prominent and deeply appropriate geotechnical chart-topper, “Landslide,” so this year I figured I’d do something different. We’re pulling from 1995’s Time – an album that is decidedly not good, featuring a lineup that could be described as nobody’s favorite. All respect to Christine McVie, who saw the writing on the wall after this one and left for greener pastures.

I chose “Blow by Blow” because all I can picture while listening to this track is SPT. Our trusty 140-pound hammer clanging against the drive head, blow by tinnitus-inducing blow, “here we go again.” It’s mindlessly repetitive; it’s simple; it’s easy; it’s low effort. Frankly, it has a lot in common with Time.  

It’s also endlessly correlated to bigger and better things. Friction angle? We’ve got some relationships. Unit weight? You bet. Bearing capacity? Sure, why not? And that’s how I like to think about Fleetwood Mac’s output around this time. Not too interesting on its own, but let’s remember where we can go from here:

Right back to listening to “Landslide”

  1. “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac (from Fleetwood Mac) (1975)

Heck yeah. *sunglasses emoji*

  1. “I Won’t Settle” by We The Kings (from Six) (2018)

Were you beginning to worry about what you might write on the piece of paper you’re holding in your hand right this moment? The one that asks, “Will everyone’s favorite mid-2000s light rock band from Bradenton, Florida be included on the Summer Playlist? Yes___ / No___”

Well, worry no longer – you can absolutely CHECK YES.

So let’s talk about why We The Kings would write a song explicitly about consolidation settlement of soils. This song (which, I will again admit, is objectively not good) is comprised primarily and annoyingly of a stubborn, repetitive proclamation: “I won’t settle.” And we know almost immediately what they’re talking about here.

We’re dealing with an incredibly dense, coarse-grained soil. Degree of saturation? Zero. Particle shape? Sooo very angular. Effective stresses like you’ve never seen before. And here we are, listening to a diatribe that easily could have gone unsung.

I don’t mean to sound insensitive or dismissive, but when soils talk, it’s often not very interesting. This is a perfect case in point. To be fair, however, a lot of soils have been almost entirely inert for much of their existence. They haven’t seen or experienced the world in ways that might provide them with fascinating insights or intriguing dinner conversation topics. Not every soil can be a glacially transported explorer or a fluvially deposited traveler. And that’s okay.

(I really don’t like this song that much and I’m sorry for sharing it. I’d like to say I’m doing my best, but I’m still riding the Sandworm from Dune, so to speak. I still don’t know how I plan on following that one up)


Okay. It’s time to pat myself on the back. Looking at the stats, last year’s playlist had only five songs. Barely a playlist and we all knew it at the time, but everyone was polite about it.

This year, however…

 We’re featuring a remarkable 8-9 songs! It’s over a half hour of music! If your drive to the beach is 90 minutes then that’s only three playthroughs!

[Editor's Note: We've got the playlist up on YouTube. We couldn't include #5 - you can listen to it here.]

If your drive to the beach is longer than 90 minutes, I will recommend some truly stacked, questionably geotechnical albums containing my favorite feel-good hits for this summer. Read on for the ~Secret Soundtrack: Albums Edition~

The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess by Chappell Roan

Released in 2023 but who makes the rules here? No skips on this album. Not quite suitable for children.

Ohio Players by The Black Keys

A lot of variety on this record. “This is Nowhere” and “Beautiful People (Stay High)” are obvious standouts, “On the Game” is an alt-radio hit, but “I Forgot To Be Your Lover” deserves more lovers.

Shrek (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Various Artists

The year is 2001. Dreamwork’s cinematic masterpiece, Shrek, is released to massive critical acclaim along with the finest motion picture soundtrack ever assembled.

The year is 2024. Shrek (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) remains the finest motion picture soundtrack ever assembled.

Here in the Pitch by Jessica Pratt

The lead track, “Life Is,” will fundamentally alter your day, maybe your week. The final track, “The Last Year,” will alter your year.

Can We Please Have Fun by Kings of Leon

A number of tracks on this album are, for me, a welcome return to form for the Followills. “Split Screen,” “Mustang,” and “Nothing to Do” are personal favorites at the moment, but my appreciation is deepening each day for the album as a whole.

I Got Heaven by Mannequin *****

A raw and beautiful album from a truly exciting Philly(!) band that hasn’t left my rotation in months. (Explicit content warning, not for the faint of heart, etc. etc.)