photo by Kevin Raines
The New York Botanical Garden's orchid show is on now, and I'm thinking about taking the kids there after school. They LOVED it last year. Here are some of our 2008 orchid photos.
Elizabeth's collection of fallen objects.
I've been following with some puzzlement the strange tale of millionaire businessman and art collector Stuart Pivar's lawsuit against science blogger PZ Myers claiming "Assault, Libel, and Slander" over Myers' negative review of Pivar's foray into evolutionary theory, a book entitled Lifecode:The Theory of Biological Self Organization, the only book published by one "Ryland Press, Inc."
Huh. I'd heard some noise from Pivar threatening to sue, but this is the first I've heard of any formal action being taken. Since I'm a defendant (one who hasn't been notified of his status!) I suppose I should just shut up at this point and let justice run its course.
Since I'm a blogger, though, I can't completely shut up. I will just say that this is Pivar's attempt to squash a negative review of his book, which I posted here. Nothing in the review was motivated by personal malice, and I actually am inclined to favor structuralist arguments in evolution ... but I'm afraid my honest assessment of Pivar's work is that it does not support his conclusions. I still stand by my review, and now I'm a bit disturbed that someone would think criticism of a scientific hypothesis must be defended by silencing its critics.
One of the very first things I was ever told when my first book came out was never to respond to negative reviews. I have not entirely resisted the temptation, but have (I think) managed to limit myself to polite notes making what I felt were factual corrections. My first reaction, when reading about this lawsuit on Making Light was how much it reminded my of the Monty Python skit containing the line, He used sarcasm. He knew all the tricks, dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and satire.
Of course, life is stranger than fiction; stranger, even, than Monty Python. I've spent most of the day reading for our Year's Best volumes, but spent a few minutes looking further into the discussion of the lawsuit, and found some really odd stuff.
Pivar, it seems, is used to being noticed and making waves, though in very different circles than biology or blogging. According to The New York Times (2004) he has a "long-running feud" with the New York Academy of Art which he helped found and where he alledges that "organized crime" has taken over.
In 2006, he alleged that Sotheby's showed negligence to its stockholders in relation a refund given a Japanese collector for a statue for which Pivar had obtained a 1 million dollar appraisal.
But the most interesting material relates to his friendship with Andy Warhol, which he wrote about for the Sotheby's Andy Warhol Collection 1988 auction catalog. The Warhol-Pivar relationship merited a really startling passage in an essay published by Artnet entitled "What Art Says about Money" by Charlie Finch:
That is the call of money, the fear of art as exchange value. Conversely, Claude Monet, the original Andy, would crank out his haystacks, take a small number to Marseilles, telling his buyers, "There are only a few, buy them while you can." Then he'd float another dozen stacks back in Paris.
This is more than making a living, or refusing to: It is the love call of currency at its most fetishistic. Steve Rubell famously showered Andy Warhol with buckets of bills at Andy's birthday bash. No artist was more the victim, and yet exploiter, of money lust than Warhol, wandering the souks of Soho with Stuart Pivar buying up everything in sight then dumping the unopened packages in his closets at night, full of unsatisfied shame. The pull of mammon was murderous even on someone so intelligent. For money is a form of behavior, abstract, hidden and irrational.
Here's more on the Andy and Stuart social scene from accounts by Heli Vaaranen, a Finnish model:
What united Stuart and Andy was that they appreciated success, and only it. If someone tried to get started with his or her career, Stuart and Andy were certainly the wrong persons to try to use. Stuart Pivar had a very exclusive taste in his social life. For instance, he used to arrange classical concerts once a week in his home, in which artists like members of the New York Philharmonic performed. Only the best was good enough for Stuart.
Both Andy and Stuart selected the company they associated with. Very carefully. Andy used to say that 'It's great to buy friends'. Vaaranen agrees that Andy's famous friends were bought with his fame.
In the past few days, there are any number of people who have called Pivar an idiot for filing this lawsuit. That seems to me too easy an assessment.
The truth seems to be much more novelistic in a Jamesian sort of way: Pivar strikes me as a feisty, confident man, a fighter, who has honed his tactics in intellectually and aesthetically complex circles, who is unable to understand why his visual sophistication is not taking him where he wants to go, and why money can't take him the rest of the way if visual sophistication isn't enough. (I hope for the sake of everyone involved that he is a quick learner.)
In a short essay "The Space of All Possible Bridge Shapes," composed in response to the Minneapolis bridge collapse, Stephen Wolfram suggests design principles that could lead to stronger bridges:
. . . it's been known for a while that the best networks don't have that kind of simple structure. In fact, they almost seem in some ways quite random.
Well, what about bridges? I strongly suspect that there are much better truss structures for bridges than the classic ones from the 1800s--but they won't look so simple.
I suspect one can do quite well by using simple rules to generate the structure. But as we know from NKS, just because the rules to generate something are simple, it doesn't mean the thing itself will look simple at all.
Two students at our NKS Summer School (Rafal Kicinger and Tom Speller) have investigated creating practical truss structures this way--and the results seem very promising.
So what should the bridges of the future look like? Probably a lot less regular than today. Because I suspect the most robust structures will end up being ones with quite a lot of apparent randomness.
Vonda McIntyre (thanks Vonda!) told me of Andrew Burt's site www.aburt.com where you can post novels, stories, items of nonfiction -- indeed, any writing -- and I chose to take advantage of it by posting a novel and a short story.
The first is a novel, The Sigil. The second is a short story, Iko-Iko.
To read The Sigil, visit www.aburt.com/ifiction/stories/84
To read Iko-Iko, visit www.aburt.com/ifiction/stories/85
I have posted them for free, as I am more interested in knowing what people think of them than making any money (yet). I hope you enjoy them.
I was looking at the Nigeria tag on Flickr to see if anyone had good pix related to the Charles Taylor arrest story, but found instead some nice shots of this mornings eclipse as seen in Nigeria. Neat, huh?
The photo is from jwolson's photostream.
The announcement of the contents of the February 16th issue of Nature is out, and I went and checked, and sure enough, they did use the image I supplied them with as the COVER of the magazine. See that super-cool Google Earth collage of a map showing landslides near Muzaffarabad in Pakistan? I made that!
Inspired by some of the collage-effect Hurricane Katrina images created in Google Earth by Shawn McBride and other members of the GE Current Events Community (samples: 1, 2, & 3), and Hiroshima images created by Earthhopper, I crumpled the DLR image of landslides over the cliff like that, trying to hit a balance between 3-D realism, and the legend of the map, with the intention throwing you out of the frame into the artifice involved. It's an image I'm really proud of.
Randy Sargent of the Global Connection project had to recreate it in a high-end version of Google Earth to rez it up to 300 dpi. My original from November 19th is HERE. Randy's hi-rez recreation is HERE (for the full-rez version (4668 x 4797), click HERE). Should anyone have failed to notice, I'm elated!
And, oh, yeah. There's an article that goes with it which is part of the feautured Mapping for the Masses section:
16 February 2006
Mapping for the masses
Google Earth's integration of satellite images, maps and models, and the neat way it zooms around, have quickly found it a place on countless computer desktops. As well as making sure where you live is on the planet, there is fun to be had looking for curiosities (tinyurl.com/9xl3z is one). But the 'democratization' of mapping by virtual globe systems is more than a novelty: it will have far reaching implications for the way that scientists use spatial data. Declan Butler charts the future in a News Feature on page 776. Google Earth has already proved its worth during relief efforts in New Orleans and Pakistan. In a Commentary on page 787, Illah Nourbakhsh et al. argue that this technology can have great humanitarian benefit by revolutionizing the response to natural disasters. The cover image of earthquake-hit Pakistan combines material from Google Earth and MDA EarthSat. Overlay courtesy DLR, the Global Connection Project, and Kathryn Cramer.
News Feature: Virtual globes: The web-wide world
Life happens in three dimensions, so why doesn't science? Declan Butler discovers that online tools, led by the Google Earth virtual globe, are changing the way we interact with spatial data.
Commentary: Mapping disaster zones
Google Earth software proved effective during relief efforts in New Orleans and Pakistan, say Illah Nourbakhsh and colleagues. Is there more to be gained than lost from opening up disaster operations to the wider public?
I am part of the et al in Illah Nourbakhsh et al, a co-author of "Mapping Disaster Zones." Here is the full list of authors: Illah Nourbakhsh (CMU), Randy Sargent (CMU), Anne Wright (NASA/Ames), Kathryn Cramer, Brian McClendon (Google Earth), Michael Jones (Google Earth). It is my first scientific publication.
Declan Butler of Nature tells me, "we have put all the articles on free access, so anyone from the general public can access."
See also Declan Bulter's blog post: Google Earth on the cover of Nature
What on Earth is Google Earth doing on the front cover of Nature, the international weekly journal of science?
This week’s issue contains several pieces on virtual globes, and all are on free access. I’ve written a three-page feature — Virtual globes: The web-wide world – on the various ways scientists are beginning to use virtual globes, such as Google Earth and Nasa’s World Wind.
I discuss the feature in an accompanying podcast.
There is also a two-page Commentary — “Mapping disaster zones” –on the use of Google Earth in humanitarian disasters. It’s authored by Global Connection scientists — Illah Nourbakhsh and Randy Sargent, Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania, and Anne Wright, NASA/Ames, California — Brian McClendon and Michael Jones at Google Earth, and Kathryn Cramer.
Nature itself has its lead editorial — Think Global — devoted to a look at spatial thinking in science.
It's getting pretty deep out there. (I took this a few minutes ago.)
Driving home from my really ugly visit to the Apple Store, on Old Farm Road South, near our house, I saw three deer cross the road ahead. One of them had a large yellow arrow dangling from its side. When I got home, I called the Mt. Pleasant police and reported (a) an injured deer, and (b) that someone was probably hunting in Old Farm Hill Park, a block from our house. Here are a few pictures I took there a week or so ago.
My son Peter trying to climb up to a hunting platform in the park:
. . . and a shotgun shell I found on the ground.
Understand that because of their propensity to devour anything I plant in the yard I am not a big fan of deer, which I am known to refer to as "rats on stilts." But this is not the wilderness. This is suburbia with one-acre zoning. Hunting in my neighborhood could kill someone.
MEANWHILE, best kid's lines of the day:
ELIZABETH (3): Let's pretend that daddy's a lady, so he can be one of us!
PETER (8): We accidentally set the corner of the desk on fire, but it was OK.
PLUS, great line overheard in the halls of pre-school: One mother says to the other: When my child does that, I always blame it on my husband.
AND FINALLY, the question I should not have asked: Are you accustomed to having a mother who puts up with such nonsense? (Guess what Peter's answer was.)
As Kevin Maroney came in our front door a few minutes ago, he said, "Are you aware that there's a wasps' nest on your front walk?" I looked and sure enough . . . So it took its picture.
When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, he saw it as a collaborative workspace for his fellow scientists at CERN, the European particle-physics lab near Geneva, and beyond. His creation went on to surpass his prediction that "the usefulness of the scheme would in turn encourage its increased use". But in the rush to develop the web as a flexible way to find information, the original concept of users interacting in real time was largely forgotten. Fifteen years later, the web seems to be returning to its roots. . . .
Outside academia, blogs are taking off in a big way. A study published in October by the Guidewire Group, a research firm in new media, says that 90% of marketing communication companies have either launched, or intend to launch, internal blogs. There are now some 20 million blogs, permeating almost every sector of society. But science is a glaring exception, and today there are still only a few dozen scientific bloggers.
Scientists who blog see their activities as a useful adjunct to formal journals, not a replacement. "The standard scientific paper is irreplaceable as a fixed, archivable document that defines a checkpoint in a body of work, but it's static, it's very limited," says Paul Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, who blogs at Pharyngula.
"Put a description of your paper on a weblog, though, and something very different happens," says Myers. "People who are very far afield from your usual circle start thinking about the subject. They bring up interesting perspectives." By sharing ideas online, you get feedback and new research ideas, he says.
A senior US epidemiologist who blogs once or twice a day under the pseudonym 'Revere' on his public-health blog Effect Measure, has attracted a diverse readership. "About 1,500 people visit each day," he says. "If someone told me that I could show up at a lecture hall every day and deliver a short opinion, and that 1,500 people would show up to hear me, I'd be pretty satisfied — 1,500 is twice the subscription of many specialty journals."
But for most scientists and academics, blogs and wikis remain unattractive distractions from their real work. Many consider them an online version of coffee-room chatter, background noise that goes against the very ethos of heavily filtered scholarly information.
On the subject of science blogging, here's what I want for Christmas: I want Wolfram Research to arrive at an arrangement with SixApart to have some version of WebMathematica run inside blogging software. I've told both companies. I have no idea if anything will come of this Christmas wish. But I think the possibility of having the math out there in a hands-on kind of way would give a big boost to scientific blogging.
As "merciless" explains in the comment section of Effect Measure,
One reason the scientific, mathematical, and engineering community has yet to embrace the internet is because it is still very difficult to type and disseminate math and scientific notation. Most people just have a querty keyboard and one or two scientific typesetting programs, which may nor may not translate well onto another person's computer.
The best solution right now is to convert everything into a pdf file, which is fine for reading, but cannot be manipulated (so it's like reading a book anyway).
New technologies are being created right now that will allow for real-time, editable mathematical and scientific dialogue. Once that gets out (that is, once publishers or somebody decides it's worthwhile to buy it and distribute it), then the internet can be a new and powerful force for worldwide scientific communication.
UPDATE: Last night I happened across an ISP, HostSRV.com, that specializes in hosting webMathematica sites. I am trying to work out the details of how their services can be integrated with my Typepad account.
Here is an attempt to recreate the view of the Burgess Shale near Field, BC as seen from Emerald lake, BC. (Click here for overlay.)
Google Earth could really do with some better satellite photos of the Canadian Rockies. Also, I'm not sore how good their data for generating the terrain is, in that the mountains still didn't look quite right, even if you took the fuzzy satellite imagery into account.
However, the most significant problem was that the tools for adjusting viewpoint didn't work the way I expected. I couldn't get Google Earth to let me raise my gaze enough to see the mountain ridge when I seemed to be in the right spot to see the Burgess Shale from the lake side.
And here is what the view actually looks like. The Burgess Shale is located where the ribbons of snow are on the upper right of the ridge.
The actual view of the Burgess Shale from the shores of Emerald Lake
Originally uploaded by Kathryn Cramer.
(By the way, I have more photos of the Canadian Rockies than you could possibly want to see in a Typepad photo album. And further to the subject of the Burgess Shale, the Royal Ontario Museum sells marvellous plastic Burgess Shale creatures. We collected the whole set.)
This photo of collapsed mountainsides in Kashmir, posted on Flickr by ejazasi, has the interesting caption:
Kashmir: Many believed that they have been bombed by U.S or Indian planes when actually earthquake hit. It was only hours later when the survivors took a view of the whole valley and the destruction earthquake caused that they got to understand bit of the reality.
Looking at the consequences of natural distaster, I'm having an increasingly hard time stomaching the idea that people could contemplate and plan for the possibility of doing such things on purpose. Why are people who can still think like that in 2005 in positions of power in government and not in mental institutions?
In the comments section, in the context of whether one is more likely to survive the collapse of a building using the duck-and-cover technique or the triangle of life technique (taking refuge next to furniture, not under it), Jonathan Post tells the following story:
When we had "duck & cover" nuclear drills at my Robert Fulton elementary school (P.S. #8), in the late 1950s, I refused to get under my desk, and got sent to the principal's office. I explained to him that we were directly across the East River from downtown Manhattan, and that Wall Street could be ground zero. I explained that the radius of the fireball varied with the 2/3 power of megatonnage, and that the desk would not give even a microsecond of protection. He agreed, and told me not to tell all this to the other students, as it might frighten them. For that matter, he advised me not to scare the teachers. I did not leave my baby teeth for a "tooth fairy." Rather, I had my Mom snailmail them to someone who was researching Strontium-90 levels in teeth, for fallout research.
Declan Butler, my current favorite science journalist, has updated his avian flu outbreak maps and added a network link. He says:
I'm getting the entire outbreak database soon, which is much richer in detail as to sizes of outbreaks etc, which I can extrude [from] the maps, so the who thing should be substantially better soon.
And avian flu is a story that really needs good science journalism. Systemic health risks are very hard to understand for people without a good command of statistics.
Examples of health scare stories that were widely mispereived: When West Nile reached the New York area, Westchester moms panicked and for several weeks of glorious Indian Summer, wouldn't allow their kids to play outside. The real health risk in yards like mine was not West Nile, but Lyme Disease. Also, I had a severe lung infection requiring hospitalization just as the anthrax scare was peaking. I knew I didn't have anthrax, but very carefully went to my regular doctor an not to the ER because I was concerned I might be turned away as an anthrax hysteric. (At the time, NYC ERs were alleged to be turning away peole who said they had difficulty breathing.)
Butler has been tracking down the facts of the matter and putting a lot of them into his overlay.
UPDATE: Here is his Connotea Avian Flu links page.
In the interests of expediting the Pakistan relief effort, Google Earth sprang for a whole bunch of Digital Globe images of the Pakistan quake zone most needed by relief organizations, and the folks at Google Earth have worked very hard to get the images processed into an overlay and now it's out! Hooray! Good work!
From Anne Wright at the Global Connection Project:
Got some happy news from Google Earth: They've got some static overlays of a strip of fresh Digital Globe satellite images from after the quake up. The strip runs North/South from a little above the Naran Valley, past Muzaffarabad (misses it to the east), and ends up about level with Rawalpindi. You've got to click on an individual red dot to pull in the overlay texture. I've attached a netlink KML and a couple of placemarks containing nice views of the Naran slice. If you click on the red dot right next to the placemarks it'll pull in the texture you see in the screenshots. Hopefully we'll have VBR of this up in the not-too-distant future, though we've got some technical challenges to overcome first...
KML files available here: http://www.kathryncramer.com/kathryn_cramer/DG_quake1-netlink.kml (the main KML file) http://www.kathryncramer.com/kathryn_cramer/dg-naran-valley-places.kml (a couple of placemarks corresponding to the screen shots).
UPDATE from the hard-working Kenson Yee at Google:
We have 3 scenes at:
- http://dl.google.com/DG_quake1/DG-1.kml (35.14271, 73.59809 to 33.60822, 73.78712)
- http://dl.google.com/DG_quake2/DG-2.kml (35.02950, 73.40986 to 34.06610, 73.62270)
- http://dl.google.com/DG_quake3/DG-3.kml (34.85068, 73.22784 to 34.81705, 73.41840)
Extents are lat/lon approximations. These images are the 2k x 2k static overlays.
We hope for dynamic overlays of the same images soon, but to make it a little easier on you to use these current ones, Randy Sargent of Global Connection makes this helpful suggestion:
These are static overlays. To use, load the KML into Google Earth and click on the red dot over the area of interest. In the bubble which pops up you have the option to load a 2k x 2k overlay.
Depending on the RAM in your machine, you may notice your machine slowing down after you load a number of these 2k x 2k images. You can unload images by going to the Places pane on the left and scrolling until you're at the top of the "Temporary Places" folder, where you'll see your loaded overlays like this:
DG-N-NNNNN-NNNNN (not DG-N-NNNNN-NNNNN.kml)
Right-click in the pane on these and choose delete.
(Don't delete the entries of form DG-N-NNNNN-NNNNN.kml, with the red dot to the left; these are the dots on the globe which let you load and reload the overlays).
The following passage nearly made me snort my coffee out my nose, except it seems the poor fellow is serious. The best way to prepare yourself for this is to get out your old Monty Python soundtrack albums (there must have been soundtrack albums?) and put on the little number from The Life of Brian, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." (OK, I don't have the record either, but imagine you do and you've just put it on.) Now we're ready:
Porritt, who is now an adviser on sustainable development to British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, makes the comments in his new book, "Capitalism: As if the World Matters", seen by The Observer and to be published this week.
The book argues that all sides should embrace capitalism as "the only economic game in town" and thus search for ways in making free markets work for a more sustainable future, the newspaper said.
Without change by environmentalists, "a continuing decline in (their) influence seems the most likely outcome", Porritt says in his book.
In an interview with The Observer, Porritt added: "Environmental organisations for many years (were) saying 'no' and protecting and stopping because in a way that became part of the culture of the movement.
"There's still a lot of criticising and blame-laying and not enough saying what solutions are available."
Instead, he argued, the movement must emphasise the positive, worldwide benefits of issues such as using clean energy to help tackle climate change.
"If you consider the way the environmental movement portrays climate change, it's the end of the world as we know it," Porritt told the paper.
"In reality, climate change could provide a stimulus to an extraordinary shift in the economy (and) it could improve people's quality of life. You never hear of all that," Porritt told the paper.
Regardless of one's opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of capitalism, Porritt's punchline is, um, really strange. He's trying to tell us to look at the upside to Global Warming, isn't he? My personal quality of would be improved by migrating to the garden spots of the world at planned intervals over the course of the year. (I really could do without experiencing a harsh Northeast winter ever again.) But that isn't what's under discussion.
But if we are to take him at least a little seriously, I suppose we should imagine all the marvelous species that might evolve in time to replace us. I hear some species of squid are pretty smart.
(And yes, it is possible that he's been comically misquoted. Porritt sounds a lot more sensible here.)
Google Earth Dynamic Overlay for Pakistan Now Available! (Plus "Home of the Piffers" and a Dragon Hunt)
Anne Wright and Randy Sargent of the Global Connections Project have been working hard to get out dynamic overlays of the Pakistan earquake area. (A dynamic overlay is one that automatically sunstitutes higher resolution imagery as you zoom in and so is much easier to work with.) Randy wrote a few minutes ago to say that the new dynamic overlays are ready:
A Pakistan dynamic overlay containing 1-meter imagery and maps for
Here are a couple of screen shots:
Home of the Piffers? (KML file) Anne and Randy came across this while processing the satellite images. Anne wondered,
Do you supposed all cultures have analogs of high school glee clubs, or is this something else?
We asked around and are informed of this fascinating fact: Army units in that part of the world "have a fondness for writing on hill-sides"! ("Piffers" is short for the Punjab Irregular Force, regularized in 1865. What it signifies in 2005, I can't tell you.)
Wow. So, as you look at the overlays, watch for secret hillside writing. Another correspondent tells of a hillside drawing:
There is a large engraving of Sir Lord somebody slaying a dragon "hidden" off the road to Muzaffrabad. I think I still remember how to get to it. Every local ten year old thinks that he is the only one who knows about it.
At a certain point in mapbased disaster relief, I suddenly feel like I want to move to the place that I've been scrutizing from above. People's enthusiasm for the places they love is contagious. The annecdote of the hillside dragon pushed me over that line.
(I've asked my correspondent if he can find me the dragon, but perhaps you can? [I do not guarantee that these overlays cover the precise spot where the dragon might be found. But who knows what you might find.] AND when you're done with your dragon hunt, go make a donation to the relief effort. Those dreamy ten-year-olds need your help right away! How's 'bout $25? $35? $100?)
But OK, here are a few move screen shots: Manshera Helipad (KML file)
Ayub Teaching Hospital (KML file):
On a more somber note, here is a legend from a damage map of Balakot from the Eurpopean Commission's Joint Research Centre (do not follow this link unless your computer will handle an image 9000 pixels by 7000 pixels!) that you may find useful in estimating damage via these overlays [the link from the image leads to a bigger version, though not huge, so it's OK to click on]:
11/6 UPDATE: See my new post The Pakistan/Kashmir Earthquake Zone: Getting the Picture concerning a Google Earth overlay of newly purchased Digital Globe images!
From Randy Sargent and Anne Wright of the Global Connection Project:
Google Earth static overlays of NOAA's post-Wilma aerial photography are now available from: http://jaga.gc.cs.cmu.edu/noaa/ Images courtesy of NOAA
This first release includes approximately 760 NOAA images of areas affected by hurricane Rita, taken 10/25. Included with these overlays are sub-sampled images, which may load more quickly than the full-resolution 4k x 4k overlays. Dynamic overlays (VBR) will be available for government use later today. We're working on a more efficient VBR server which we will experiment making available to the public in the next few days.
Please let us know if you have any problems or comments.
- Randy and Anne
I am delighted to pass on the following message from Randy Sargent of the Global Connection Project:
We've put online some new Pakistan earthquake overlays for Google Earth at http://jaga.gc.cs.cmu.edu/rapid/pakistan/
Version 1 features: Includes 10 images from Center for Satellite Based Crisis Information; Images broken into 2K x 2K chunks for high-resolution display in Google Earth
We're hoping to put up additional images from mapaction.org today, followed by a dynamic overlay tomorrow.
Here are a few of screen shots:
Have at it!
A frog on the window by our front door, 8:45 AM, 10/23/05, Pleasantville, New York. I think it's a spring peeper. I don't know why it's on the window, except for the obvious fact thatthe house is warmer than it it outside. It's a wet, rainy moring. The current temperature is 43 °F / 6 °C.
Clark Boyd's Tech report for The World (BBC/WGBH) has a podcast of the show from the other day, and the podcast (Tech Podcast #55) is much longer than the original show. Let me start by saying that this podcast is a Must-Listen for Google Earth enthusiasts. Yes, it has clips of me sounding really intelligent at the beginning, but that's not the part I'm talking about.
The part you need to hear is the interview from Anne Wright, of Global Connection -- a collaboration between the NASA Ames Research Center, Google, and National Geographic -- which was too long and info-dense for the original BBC/WGBH broadcast, but which outlines the vision behind some of the perks Google Earth users are currently enjoying, and what can be done with this technology and others out there on the market.
She talks about the origins of the Global Connection project, the National Geographic project, how Global Connection came to process thousands of images NOAA from Katrina and Rita for Google Earth overlays, how she and I came to work together on the earthquake project, and her vision of how things could work in the future. It's packed with really great stuff!
I drafted the following material about a week ago as part of a much longer essay on the possibilities of using maps over the internet for disaster rellief. Some of it drawns upon material from previous blog entries of mine. It was written before I thought there was a realistic possibility of integrating SMS phone information into maps I helped create. Now, if we can get the world out to those who need to know about the SMS Quake blog, we are much closer to the reality of that.
The context of the following passage is that when the earthquake hit, I was at the Wolfram Technology Conference in Champaign, Illinois. So I kept buttonholing smart techies to ask for advice on how what I was doing mightbe done better.
Some of the most interesting suggestions came from Luc Barthelet of Electronic Arts who had come to do a presentation on prototyping the game SimCity in Mathematica. We talked about the utility of having layers of data on the existence or non-existence of building codes, on the relative heights and ages of the buildings. And then he made what I thought was the best suggestion of all, though it probably can’t be implemented this time out: set up a phone number such that people can phone in pictures and information associated with specific coordinates; do this in such a way that it automatically annotates the map. I thought this was a truly visionary suggestion for several reasons.
First of all, some of the best personal reportage from the tsunami had been sent in by people writing on their cell phones and cell phones are a much more ubiquitous technology in the 3rd World than desktop computers with Internet connections. But more important, it seemed to me, was the beautifully humanizing aspect of such a technological innovation. He was proposing that we given disaster victims and relief workers voices, faces, proposing that we be able to see through their eyes.
Traditionally, the view from above—the narrative point of view of satellite or aerial photo—is military, that of the bomber pilot: You look at people that way when you think it might be okay to kill them en mass. One of the effects of having spent weeks scrutinizing aerial and satellite photos for people wanting information about their homes, their families, their pets, is that I am now longer able to look at aerial photos of damage in the same way. It has become much more personalized. I experience it as a stripping away of a twentieth century attitude of abstract detachment, an attitude that the legacy of World War II and the Cold War encouraged.
A few weeks ago, a Japanese fellow who is my age and goes by the handle of Earthhopper was testing out Google Earth's newly added images of Hiroshima and discovered an odd lack of clarity in the area of the Hiroshima memorial, the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome.
To correct this oversight, Earthhopper has used the same techniques that Shawn MacBride and the Google Earth Current Events community used to superimpose images of the New Orleans levee breaks upon satellite images, but this time on Hiroshima, superimposing photos of the devastated land on the overly-fuzzy Google Earth view of modernday Hiroshima. His photo caption read,
Image overlay of Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome, taken in 1945. The atomic bomb hit the city on Aug 6, 1945 and killed more than 140,000 people on the day, 240,000+ listed as of now.
Earthhopper and I were both born in 1962. He is the son of a physician. I am the daughter of a nuclear physicist, though of the generation after the Manhattan project and who has never worked on weapons research. This lead to some interesting correspondence. Upon seeing his Hiroshima overlays, I wrote,
Each and every one of those several hundred thousand people had a name and a face and a life story. We have been encouraged to distance ourselves from this kind of information, encouraged to be overwhelmed by it. But is that just the way we are, or is it a political construct of the twentieth century? Can we get beyond it? It seems to me that this technique has broad applications in historical photography and in helping us forge a new psychological relationship with history.
What Luc Barthelet was proposing was even more radical and more humanizing: to give voice to those in distress that the 20th century view of the world gives up for dead while they are still alive.
Meanwhile, my CommunityWalk Earthquake Map information can now be exported to a Google Earth overlay. Go to the map, click on the brown "Share" button at the lower right of the map, then click on the brown "Google Earth" button that appears in same corner.
Declan Butler's latest article in Nature about Pakistan disaster relief and the availability of satellite photography is up:
High-resolution satellite images of Kashmir, which was hit hard by a magnitude-7.6 earthquake on 8 October, have begun to reappear on public websites, much to the relief of aid workers.
The pictures were removed last week from all public-access websites belonging to the United Nations (UN) and its relief partners, including the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters (see 'Quake aid hampered by ban on web shots').
A senior official at the charter, who asked not to be named, told Nature that the UN decided to ban public dissemination of photos of the area after a meeting on 10 October. The official told Nature that the meeting discussed an official reminder from Pakistan about the political sensitivity of the area, which was issued after the earthquake. Pakistan and India have long fought over Kashmir, and there were concerns that pictures could compromise security in the region.
Tasnim Aslam, a spokeswoman for Pakistan's foreign ministry, told Associated Press in Islamabad yesterday that "No one in the Pakistan government has made a request that such maps be removed." Nature's sources emphasize that the UN decision was a precaution against a deterioration in relations with Pakistan.
After pressure from relief groups seeking wider access to the images, the UN met again on 17 October, and reversed its decision. It sent a memo to all involved parties on the morning of Tuesday 18 October advising them that the ban on photos had been lifted. . . .
The lifting of the ban is "wonderful news", says Anne Wright, a computer scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Wright was involved in mapping the damage done by Hurricane Katrina and knows how useful such images can be.
She is part of the Global Connection, a consortium made up of Google and scientists at Ames and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, which is now scrambling to access the public images. The group hopes to produce maps of the Pakistan earthquake zone that are more detailed than those currently available.
Such Internet responses to disasters by diverse groups will "make responses to similar events in the future easier and more efficient", says Wright.
Now the big job is to go through all the stuff that just went up to find the images that are both good enough and relevant. Some are going to be good: no clouds, good atmospheric conditions; some are going to relevant, i.e. pictures of the places that need to be seen. We hope for images that are both.
MEANWHILE, Nathan Newman reports on how Senator Diane Feinstein has "just introduced legislation to undermine what is known as the Alien Tort Claims Act, an old law dating back to the first years of the Republic that has been revived in recent years by human rights activists to hold corporations responsible for their actions in developing nations."
If the earthquake isn't a pressing matter of Pakistan's national security, then I don't know what is.
Taking a page from FEMA's playbook, Pakistan has apparently found a startling way to hinder relief efforts for quake victims: Block access to satellite images for the affected area in the interests of its national security. Surely a place like Pakistan would not replicate the kinds of mistakes made here in the US by the US government in the face of the Katrina disaster?
My little maps project, which had as its lofty goal getting useful maps into the hands of those doing disaster relief in Pakistan, merged Thursday morning with efforts by The Citizens Foundation (an aid organization in Pakistan) to get maps to its relief workers. This new consortium succeeded in getting high-rez maps into the hands of relief workers on the ground in Muzaffarabad by the 15th.
It turns out that this was accomplished despite a UN ban on the posting of hi-rez photos of Pakistan on the Internet (which we did not know about), apparently out of consideration for Pakistan's concerns about it's national security interests. We had a very hard time getting the images into the hands of those who could produce the necessary maps, but ultimately it was accomplished.
I emailed Declan Butler, a reporter at Nature, about this, mentioning the problems we were having getting images. He checked into this. This turns out to be because there was a United Nations ban issued on posting such images on the Internet. Declan Butler, tracked it down and wrote about the situation in a Nature story posted early this morning:
Open-access satellite images are revolutionizing responses to disasters. Yet the government of Pakistan has forced aid agencies to remove pictures of earthquake devastation from the Internet.
Three days after the 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck Kashmir on 8 October, the Pakistan government appealed for high-resolution satellite images to help relief efforts. But, apparently to protect national security, Nature has learned that the government has since forced international agencies and relief organizations to remove these images from their websites.
The International Charter on Space and Major Disasters put high-resolution images of the earthquake zone on its website last Friday, then pulled them off hours later. The charter, a consortium of space agencies, was created in 2000 to supply satellite images and data to communities in need of relief following a disaster.
An International Charter spokesperson said: "To best aid relief efforts, we are no longer publicly disseminating pictures of the Pakistan earthquake. Publication of such images would compromise the ability of United Nations (UN) forces on the ground to deliver relief. We hope you understand the situation."
But a senior official at the charter, who asked not to be named, says that the Pakistan government had demanded that no photos be made accessible to the public, because it feared the images could compromise security in the Kashmir region - an area that has long been disputed territory between India and Pakistan. The UN and other aid agencies need Pakistan's cooperation on the ground, and had no choice but to comply, he says.
An hour or two after the story appeared on the Nature site, (which is to say some time in the past few hours) the UN lifted the ban on posting good satellite images of Pakistan.
I hadn't psychologically adjusted to the fact that we really got the maps there in the first place when I read Declan's story this morning, which explained that "the Pakistan government had demanded that no photos be made accessible to the public, because it feared the images could compromise security in the Kashmir region." If the earthquake disaster isn't a pressing issue of Pakistan's national security, then I don't know what is.
Where is Michael Brown now? I guess now we know. But seriously, what were they thinking???
Now that the dam of secrecy has broken and the publically held images will be allowed out, here is where images both public and privately held can be found:
the EU JRC will probably have among the most extensive collections.
Unosat is the UN clearing house for relief images.
DigitalGlobe has at the moment limited recent images because of cloud and rain, and Google is already working with them.
Let me explain one place in which the system is broken. The publically held images were withdrawn from circulation. The business model of the private companies is that NGOs [Non-Governmental Organization] have to pay a fee because some government or munificently funded charity somewhere is picking up the tab for the aid provided. If the UN orders that photos not be posted on the Internet, then who is going to foot the bill for the NGOs to get the pictures? Got it? (Also, I gather that some of the private companies holding photos were observing the UN ban.)
SEE ALSO, Ogle Earth: Pakistan hampers aid efforts by banning high-resolution imagery:
That's a whole week in which aid was needlessly hampered, but at least reason prevailed in the end.
UPDATE: Not wanting to be left behind in the competition for pig-headedness, India apparently takes strong exception to us being able to look in on things in Kashmir. From the Times of India:
NEW DELHI: What was till recently an alarm on the fringes is fast developing into a mainstream worry. One day after President A P J Abdul Kalam placed on record the country’s growing concern about the threat posed by free satellite images, the science and technology ministry said that the government has started taking steps in this regard.
Speaking to The Times of India, science and technology secretary V S Ramamoorthy said, 'What is a matter of great concern is the sufficient resolution provided by the satellite images on Google Earth posing a security threat to various installations'.
At the moment, the ministry, in close coordination with other security agencies, is evaluating the images of the sensitive locations, he said.
The whole world is watching. Are you for people? Or do you priviledge other things above human lives? To both governments, that is really the question.
Given that the UN ban was lifted, I suspect that both governments decided to do the right thing.
I'm taking in more information than I can blog right now. Each of these deserves its own several paragraph writeup. So, in no particular order:
- A baby girl is born to a woman, rescued from an earthquake-devastated village, in a refugee camp run by The Citizen's Foundation, the organization I helped get the maps they need. From the Daily Times in Pakistan:
- A call for Internet Technology volunteers to do disaster relief in Pakistan.
The one weak thread through all of this (earthquake relief) has been project management or the lack of it, simply due to the enormity of the task at hand. As a community that specializes in automating and improving the processes involved in running businesses and government, it would be a shame if we could not help streamline the relief activities and make them more effective.
P@SHA has therefore offered its assistance to the PM’s Secretariat and Relief Cell. We are putting together a team of experts who will analyze the needs of the relief organizations
including the government, the army and the NGOs etc and will link it all up to provide some sort of cohesive approach to the activities thus saving a lot of time and increasing the pace of relief activities.
In the process we will need expertise of varying types:
Hardware Installation & Maintenance
Wireless Communication Installation, Deployment &
SQL servers developers
Data Entry people
People for Information Gathering
Content creation/development/management specialists
Communication specialists able to deal with
Some of the volunteers may be required to work in their respective cities, others may be asked to work in Islamabad or at the relief sites in the northern areas. Please do therefore
specify where you are stationed and whether you will be available or able to relocate to any of the sites if necessary and for what period of time.
P@SHA will be working with various IT and telecom organizations. Some of them including Intel have already volunteered equipment and connectivity. We are also working with Shahida Saleem and Azhar Rizvi on implementing telemedicine in the affected areas.
Please indicate your interest or those of your employees by sending an email to email@example.com. I would appreciate it if you would circulate this email to your team.
Please circulate this email to anyone that you feel would be able to assist.
- Declan Butler, a reporter at Nature who seems to be a bottomless well of helpful links, has sent me his excellent Connotea list with many, many good disaster links.
- I've posted lots and lots of photos from Capclave last weekend, held in Silver Spring, Maryland. Here is the link to the Capclave photos. Guests of honor Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden pulled in a hefty portion of interesting bloggers. Here are the photos of bloggers. Dramatis personnae: Patrick & Teresa, Avedon Carol, Jeri Smith-Ready, Rivka, Jim Henley, & Henry Farrell. (Links to their sites are on the photo pages.)
This is a photograph, one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, is a photo of a high-resolution printed map that emerged from a collective Internet-based attempt to get rescue workers in Pakistan the detailed maps they need in which I played a minor role: we did it. This map was sent to Pakistan early this morning. It will save lives. (This is not a press photo.)
Another thing I find very moving is that this morning, when I checked on my CommunityWalk Pakistan Earthquake site, I saw that someone had created a CommunityWalk map entitled "Lahore," (31.56, 74.35, i.e. in the earthquake zone) which has the subtitle "beautiful Lahore." It consists only of a satellite view of the city of Lahore, Pakistan, in the quake zone about 120 miles south of the epicenter, population 5,997,200.
MEANWHILE, Thierry Rousselin, in Paris, writes:
If you read french, here is a link to our blog where you will find examples of Formosat 2 images over Abbotabad (main hospital 45 km away from the epicenter).
About your comment on the lack of answer from the RS companies in a timely manner, I can understand NGO people's frustration after the incredible amount of quality data received after Katrina and Rita.
But to get good images over northern Pakistan is not easy. On sunday at 9:30 local time, there is a big cloud over Muzaffarabad. Fortunately, two hours later, when Ikonos comes, the cloud has moved a few miles and they get a good image. On monday, the sky is almost clear and the area coverage is good with Spot and Formosat 2. But during the week, meteo conditions worsen and it's pretty difficult to get a nice image.
So good timing in the distribution is also based on the number of good available images.
And Declan Butler, also in Paris, sent me a useful link to a different page in the USGS site than the one I've been frequenting: USGS Earthquakes: Earthquake Catalogs
In addition to web-based maps and html pages, USGS provides several alternative ways to obtain real-time, worldwide earthquake lists. Earthquake information is extracted from a merged catalog of earthquakes located by the USGS and contributing networks.
This page his links to things like earthquake RSS feeds, and KML files.
The Global Disaster Alert System has put up a page of great information on the impact of the Pakistan Earthquake.
Especially interesting, for those doing Google mashup maps is this page which allow you to superimpose tectonic, population density, and other information on the map of Pakistan.
(Via Declan Butler.)
Q: What portion of the world's population lives in areas affected by the earthquake? How can you tell? How many of those are under age 18?
Show your work.
Extra credit: What is the population density in the most severely affected areas?
ALSO, there is a fascinating piece by an Indian seismologist, Arun Bapat, about what is to be learned from this earthquake tragedy, including some risk factors to that population your trying to do math about that might not have occurred to you:
. . . let us examine the fate of conventional structures. Press reports and television coverage indicate that there has been extensive damage in the mountainous areas of this region. The area in the vicinity of earthquake epicentre is situated at an altitude of 2,000 to 3,000 meters. Seismic vibrations have more amplitude at higher elevations. For example, take a 30-storeyed building. It will have the least vibrations at the level of the ground floor but, as you go higher, the amplitude of the vibrations increase. The earthquake damage in Baramulla, Uri, Poonch, and so on, which are located at heights of about 1,500 to 2000 metres, and at a distance of about 60 to 90 km from the epicentre, was therefore more severe, as compared to the damage at Islamabad or Haripur, which are at a distance of about 60 to 90 km, but situated at an elevation of about 500 metres or so.
Follow the link to the Indian Express news story, "Is there anybody out there?" It is the first one I've seen to give any account of what I've suspected was going on in the quake-ravaged hills.
Even in the fuzzy Digital Globe satellite images from 1999 -- the best I could get of the region over the internet -- it is apparent on my nice large monitor that the mountainsides are terraced with farmlands, and their creases are dotted with small white rectangles suggestive of roofs. There were people down there.
One interesting result I obtain from my Community Walk earthquake site is that a small area, under 600 sq. Kilometers, is getting creamed by the "aftershocks," most over 5.0 on the Richter scale; one about 6.3. There were nineteen earth quakes in this small area over the course of a day and a half, someone with epicenters walking distance apart (at least as the crow flies). They average 5.45.
Amazing to watch. It's like a set-up for a Japanese monster movie: what ever's in there has got an awfully big egg tooth! Seriously though, what prior recorded examples like this are there?
I hope no one lived there. I'm looking for a map indicating the relative population of areas like that. But big alert to what rescue operations are out there, get any people near there away, because this process doesn't look like it's done.
The USGS list of Asian quakes provides a longer list of quakes than the Wilber site I was working with previously. I don't know why that is.
Confirmed death toll in quake passes 1,800: officials ISLAMABAD, Oct 8 (AFP) The confirmed death toll in Saturday's massive earthquake, which rocked India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, has passed 1,800, officials said. "The death toll is between 550 and 600 in North West Frontier Province and it is likely to rise," Riffat Pasha, the provincial head of police said. Some 250 people were confirmed dead and thousands more injured in Muzaffarabad,a government official said adding that "there is a massive devastation in the city.” "Village after village has been wiped out" in Azad Kashmir, an army relief official said from Muzaffarabad said. "The Neelum River has been blocked because whole villages have fallen into the water," the official added. (Posted @ 20:35 PST)
Meanwhile, I'll keep making additions and small improvements to the earthquake's Community Walk site.
BY THE WAY, can anyone give me GPS coordinates for Lahore? The India/Pakistan/Kashmire border disputes are playing absolute hell with my usual tools for extracting GPS cooridinates!
I have set up a CommunityWalk site for the Islamabad Earthquake that I believe is editable by web visitors. I have put on it all the large quakes in the past 24 hours plus photos of the building collapse in Islamabad.
A is Islamabad; 8 is the epicenter of a 6.3 aftershock; 9 is the epicenter of the 7.6 quake.
Let me know if you are able to add information (firstname.lastname@example.org or make a comment).
WARNING: Community Walk crashes Safari.
I was up for a few minutes in the night checking my email, and I see that there has been a huge earthquake in Pakistan and India followed by some aftershocks.
DATE LAT LON MAG DEPTH REGION
08-OCT-2005 05:26:05 34.71 73.11 5.6 10.0 PAKISTAN
08-OCT-2005 05:19:48 34.75 73.14 5.6 10.0 PAKISTAN
08-OCT-2005 05:08:42 34.71 73.35 5.4 10.0 PAKISTAN
08-OCT-2005 04:26:12 34.82 73.13 5.9 10.0 PAKISTAN
08-OCT-2005 03:50:38 34.43 73.54 7.6 10.0 PAKISTAN
There's some system called Wilbur through which data sets from specific seismic monitoring stations can be requested. A Google Earth overlay of the site of the quake is available, though I don't know what it entails.
I'm not sure what can be done with this data, but something can probably be done with it that is useful to someone, given that this is taking place in a place without much infrastructure and building codes.
Someone who writes a blog called ARMY ENGINEER'S BLOG who is in Islamabad reports:
All - just a quick post to let you know I am fine - this was an experience I surely don't wish to repeat!
We have had about 4 discernable aftershocks and a multi-story apartment building about a mile from our home has collapsed - as I write this helicopters are periodically passing overhead and ambulances are ferrying injured to hospitals; we've no idea how many injured or deceased.
A blogger in Kabul, Afghanistan reports feeling the quake.
UPDATE: Flickr user mbukhari_prm who lives in Islamabad has photos of the collapsed building that is the same one that's in the photo I saw in the NYT when I first saw the report of the earthquake.
About this photo, he writes:
Today 8 October 2005, at 8:50 a.m. Islamabad was hit by the most severe earthquake in the History of Pakistan - (on reachter scale it was 7.6). The earthquake played a havoc in Northern Areas, Azad Kashmir, NWFP and most of the Punjab.
The above photo shows the Magala Towers in F-10/4 Islmabad which collapsed and about 80 flats were demoslished as a result. Since it was the morning time, most of the the people were in their flats, and even at the time, this photo was taken, were under the debris. Police and Army teams were trying to rescue them.
The street address of the building is 10th Avenue, F-10 Markaz, Islamabad, Pakistan, as best I can determine.
Mid-Day in India reports:
Heavy casualties were feared in Islamabad as two blocks of an upmarket 19-storey 'Margala Towers' apartment building collapsed like a pack of cards turning into a heap of concrete and twisted steel.
The state-run PTV said that over 200 people were trapped under the debris. Many of them were alive and their desperate pleas for help could be heard. Army has been pressed to carry out the rescue operation and at least 10 survivors have been rescued so far.
Twentyfive people, including a judge, were killed when a court building collapsed in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), following the quake, TV networks quoting officials reported.
In North West Frontier Province (NWFP), nine persons were killed in Mansehra area after some houses collapsed following the quake, media reports here said, adding one child was killed and six injured in a wall collapse of a school building in Rawalpindi.
UPDATE (7:11 AM, CST) Here is the new MSNBC headline:
There are other mentions of buried or flattened villages in other news stories. I was curious why no place names were given. Here is an interesting passage that addresses that point:
Pakistani army officials who flew over quake-hit areas reported seeing hundreds of flattened homes in northern villages, a government official in Islamabad said. He declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
So it is possible that such information in the possession of the government is supposed to come out through official channels. This will probably impede rescue opperations. And as the neurologists say, TIME IS BRAIN, which is to say that right at this moment there are lots of live people trapped in rubble, but one way or the other that will change.
Given confidence at my own skills as a cinematographer by a look through the GoogleVideo, I opened my own account and I uploaded this bad little clip I shot on the 28th of September of my kids in their first encounter with Peter Overmann's Wolfram Tones. It took a while for the busy folks at Google Video to approve my clip, but now it has finally been unleashed upon the public.
Back on the 28th,when I first uploaded it, I wrote:
After dinner this evening, I sat my son Peter, who has just started 3rd grade, down at my computer and let him play with Wolfram Tones for the first time. The first interesting thing that happened was that my daughter Elizabeth, who turns 3 in October, started jamming to the Wolfram Tomes soundtrack on the toy piano in the living room. (I had gotten the video camera out to film Peter, and she started while I was getting set up.) After about 10 minutes of fiddling, Peter came up with something he really liked.
I got out the video camera for a kind of personal note-taking to watch how Peter used the program. What happened while I was getting the camera out and turned on, I find quite remarkable: Elizabeth's jamming along with the music coming from the computer is something she usually only does with live music, implying that somehow the music coming from WolframTones passed the Turning test for her.
Anyone know what kind of caterpillar this is? (Found this afternoon on a plant with yellow flowers that I think is goldenrod.)
(For that matter, can anyone identify this one?)
10/5 UPDATE: The verdict is that the caterpillar above is a Brown Hooded Owlet. (Thanks, Aidee!)
In this household, we are big giant squid fans. I recall walking through the Smithsonian with my small son, looking for the giant squid, chanting GI ANT SQUID! GI ANT SQUID!
I was going to blog the amazing live giant squid pix this morning, but it took me while to get over the fact that the First Contact resulted in them accidentally pulling one of its legs off. In science fiction at least, pulling off a leg during first contact is very Bad Form.
Be that as it may, here's a nice batch of squid photos:
I hope that deep down in Squidland, they aren't plotting retribution for out diplomatic error. Meanwhile, can we dispatch these guys to look for the thylacine?
My son found this caterpillar in our yard Friday. I don't know what species it is. (Anyone know?) I took its picture because of the cellular automata-style patterns on its back. I sent it to the folks at Wolfram, who I'm sure could tell me what pattern that is.
Here is a photo I took yesterday morning returning to our motel from the beach in Marshfield, Massachusetts. Before heading home, I got the kids up at 7AM, so we could go to the beach one last time. It was high tide, but almost immediately we found a kite. The string was stretched a long way down the beach, and at the end of the string was a wet, but flyable, Dragon Ball Z kite. I shot this picture as we were carrying our windfall kite back to the motel just before changing clothes and checking out. This is the beach where David's grandfather built a beach house in about 1910 which remained in David's family until the 1970s, so it is the beach where David spent summers as a child. We stayed over on our way back from Maine.
So now we're home in this final week of summer before school starts. Taking stock when we got home yesterday after a long grueling drive back from Massachusetts, it began to appear that New Orleans was in significant danger of being wiped out by the incoming hurricane.
Looking at the photos of long lines of cars streaming out of New
Orleans, I was reminded of our midday experience on the Mass Pike:
Here are a few Mass Pike pictures. There was some kind of huge accident west of the Millbury exit, so the
Pike was closed in both directions. This set the stage for some really
appalling behavior on the part of frustrated drivers. I honest to God
saw someone pull out onto the shoulder of the road and cut off an ambulance with lights flashing and sirens blaring.
Here are the cars driving
in the breakdown lane next to a guard rail, cutting off access for
emergency vehicles, and the cop car and the car it was trying to
escort. Most drivers behaved themselves, but there was a significant contingent
that seemed mostly unconcerned with getting out of the way of emergency
vehicles that were trying to reach the accident. There were scores of minor
accidents as cars jostled each other in the bumper-to-bumper traffic. From the radio coverage, I gather that the traffic jam was ultimately resolved by the arrival of a Medvac helicopter. We didn't see the actual accident site.
I wish I'd thought to get out my video camera to tape the scene of a frustrated cop trying to escort a couple in a visibly damaged car off the highway. He got out of his car and rapped on the window of the car in from of him twice. And he also went to one of the cars trying to tag along, put his hands on his hips and asked "Why are you following me?" I didn't hear the driver's reply.
And so now, a hurricane, a huge hurricane. Lucky me, we don't have cable TV. So I don't have the opportunity to subject myself to endless looping anxiety as CNN covers the story with way too little data because it would be potentially lethal to do the usual coverage. My first words to David this morning were "Well, New Orleans isn't gone yet."
My great-grandmother, Agnes Gleason Cramer, died and was buried somewhere in New Orleans in about 1908; we don't know where. She died when my grandfather was 10 months old, as I understand it from complications from childbirth. So my grandfather never knew his mother. A few years ago, we established that the family seemed to have no copies of her picture. Last night, I had a dream that her bones were floating out to sea.
David said, did you see the flounders? I said, no, I didn't see them. David points at the screen, showing me the flounder in the picture I took. Can you spot it?
I've begun a photo album of what we did while David went to Glasgow, which features such amazing shots as James Morrow climbing a tree, the skeleton of an extinct Stellar's sea cow, and even a live bear in a dumpster.
Typepad won't let me into the Configure screen this morning, so I'll have to wait until later to do the album design work. (Also, I've got to get on with my day in a few minutes.)
Elizabeth shows her teeth.
A tech note: The photos taken in Washington, DC are by far the sharpest, because they were taken with my brother-in-law Tom's expensive Nikon digital. The photos of kids in the kiddie pool were, in fact, taken by Tom. After DC, all the photos are taken with my video camera (most extracted from video footage).
When Peter was about 3, he often wanted to take pictures with our camera, and mostly what he wanted to take pictures of bugs. So when we developed the roll, there would be 14 pictures of our front walk. So any time he got near a camera, I was always saying, "Remember, don't take pictures of bugs."
Times have changed, and now we have a digital camera that will focus in close, and now we do take pictures of bugs.
Well, that Rick Lieder guy, not only does he have a digital camera, but he's got a better one than ours. And not only that, he's an artist. So he takes really good pictures of bugs, and has given their own website: bugdreams.com. Given that he's got a copyright notice superimposed on each one, I don't think he wants me to post a sample over here. So you should go look at them yourself. When you do, you will realize that he's the guy you really wanted to grow up to be when you were three.
(One of the best compliments I ever received was from one of my son's playmates at around that age. I was the mom who was willing to turn over rocks to find ants, and pick up worms, and stuff, so I was very popular. What he said to me was, "When I grow up, I want to be just like you: really good at finding bugs!)
I wrote to Alice Flaherty, expert on the neurology of writing, for help with references on the neurology of math. She suggested some places to look and some search terms, so I've been playing with PubMed and discovering interesting things such as that a lot more seems to be known about the neurology of metaphor than about the neurology of math. I came across a couple of articles with interesting descriptions which I though I'd share:
Ethical Hum Sci Serv. 2000 Fall-Winter;2(3):181-92.
Research into the origins and characteristics of unicorns: mental illness as the unicorn.
Kingsborough Community College, City University of New York, USA.
Basic research, particularly into the psychological and neurological underpinnings of schizophrenia and other "mental illnesses," is flawed because of its adherence to the ideology that unwanted, hard-to-understand behavior constitutes true medical illness. It is argued here that psychiatric diagnostic terms represent moral judgments rather than medical entities. By reducing experimental subjects to a moral label, and assuming that neurological differences associated with unwanted behavior are brain diseases, researchers fail to take into account the conscious experience, organization of self and self-image, patterns of motivation, history and social contexts of their patients. The failure to consider the psychology of their subjects renders the results of these studies ambiguous and irrelevant for any uses except bolstering the biomedical model of psychiatry.
PMID: 15278984 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
(I had recently noticed that the literature associated with various conditions affecting the social skills is often contaminated by the researchers' dislike of the research subjects.)
Neurosci Lett. 2005 Jan 3;373(1):5-9.
Neural activity associated with metaphor comprehension: spatial analysis.
Sotillo M, Carretie L, Hinojosa JA, Tapia M, Mercado F, Lopez-Martin S, Albert J.
Departamento de Psicologia Basica, Facultad de Psicologia, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, 28049 Madrid, Spain.
Though neuropsychological data indicate that the right hemisphere (RH) plays a major role in metaphor processing, other studies suggest that, at least during some phases of this processing, a RH advantage may not exist. The present study explores, through a temporally agile neural signal--the event-related potentials (ERPs)--, and through source-localization algorithms applied to ERP recordings, whether the crucial phase of metaphor comprehension presents or not a RH advantage. Participants (n=24) were submitted to a S1-S2 experimental paradigm. S1 consisted of visually presented metaphoric sentences (e.g., "Green lung of the city"), followed by S2, which consisted of words that could (i.e., "Park") or could not (i.e., "Semaphore") be defined by S1. ERPs elicited by S2 were analyzed using temporal principal component analysis (tPCA) and source-localization algorithms. These analyses revealed that metaphorically related S2 words showed significantly higher N400 amplitudes than non-related S2 words. Source-localization algorithms showed differential activity between the two S2 conditions in the right middle/superior temporal areas. These results support the existence of an important RH contribution to (at least) one phase of metaphor processing and, furthermore, implicate the temporal cortex with respect to that contribution.
PMID: 15555767 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2004 Aug;20(3):395-402.
Neural correlates of metaphor processing.
Rapp AM, Leube DT, Erb M, Grodd W, Kircher TT.
Department of Psychiatry, University of Tuebingen, Osianderstrasse 24, D-72076 Tuebingen, Germany. Alexander.Rapp@med.uni-tuebingen.de
Metaphoric language is used to express meaning that is otherwise difficult to conceptualize elegantly. Beyond semantic analysis, understanding the figurative meaning of a metaphor requires mental linkage of different category domains normally not related to each other. We investigated processing of metaphoric sentences using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Stimuli consisted of 60 novel short German sentence pairs with either metaphoric or literal meaning. The pairs differed only in their last one to three words and were matched for syntax structure, word frequency, connotation and tense. Fifteen healthy subjects (six female, nine male, 19-51 years) read these sentences silently and judged by pressing one of two buttons whether they had a positive or negative connotation. Reading metaphors in contrast to literal sentences revealed signal changes in the left lateral inferior frontal (BA 45/47), inferior temporal (BA 20) and posterior middle/inferior temporal (BA 37) gyri. The activation in the left inferior frontal gyrus may reflect semantic inferencing processes during the understanding of a metaphor. This is in line with the results from other functional imaging studies showing an involvement of the left inferior frontal gyrus in integrating word and sentence meanings. Previous results of a right hemispheric involvement in metaphor processing might reflect understanding of complex sentences.
PMID: 15268917 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
I’ll be performing with Phil Curtis at a small-scale event called ELSA, that is, ELectron SAlon #11, on Friday, June 3rd , starting at 8 PM .
I’ll read my story “Ain’t Paint” which appears in my forthcoming The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul. Phil will create some appropriate heuristic electronic music on the spot, and for video, we’ll use live demos of nine of my CAPOW software Zhabotinsky scrolls; the guys shown below. . . .
Phil and I will go first, so if you want to see us, you actually have to be there at 8. Usually at ELSA events there’s some free wine and food. It’s almost like a party.
Set 1: Rudy Rucker and Phil Curtis
Set 2: Run Return, an electronica duo with Kevin Dineen and Tommy Fugelsang
Set 3: The inimitable DJess and mixmaster, Ms Pinky, a. k. a. P. Minsky, with friends.
The venue is Next Door, 1207 Soquel Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062, 831-429-1596. Next Door is next to the Rio Theater, see map.
In the May 12th issuse of Nature, Nobel prize winner Frank Wilczek has a nice writeup of my father's recent paper in the March 18th Physical Review Letters, "Quantum Opacity, the RHIC HBT Puzzle, and the Chiral Phase Transition" by John G. Cramer, Gerald A. Miller, Jackson M. S. Wu, Jin-Hee Yoon.
The concept that what we ordinarily perceive as empty space is in fact a complicated medium is a profound and pervasive theme in modern physics. This invisible, inescapable medium allows us to select a unique direction as up, and thereby locally reduces the symmetry of the underlying equations of physics, so cosmic fields in ‘empty’ space lower the symmetry of these fundamental equations everywhere. Or so theory has it. For although this concept of a symmetry-breaking aether has been extremely fruitful (and has been demonstrated indirectly in many ways), the ultimate demonstration of its validity—cleaning out the medium and restoring the pristine symmetry of the equations—has never been achieved: this is, perhaps, until now.
Then he goes on to explain why my dad (& co.)'s paper is so important. (Unfortunately, you need a subscription to Nature to read the rest. I was working from a pdf, retyping. So any typos are mine.)
Some of you have probably been wondering what has become of me, since I haven't posted much lately.
After more than 15 years, I seem to be heading back in the direction of mathematics. This is partly Rudy Rucker's fault. If anything really comes of this I'll explain in more detail later, so he can take full credit. But the short version is that hearing him talk at the ICFA in March got me thinking in that direction.
I've got a new project that involves the program Mathematica, and am busily reading. The books I've been reading in the past few days are The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics by Stanislas Dehaene and Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being by George Lakoff and Rafael E. Núñez. (I also dug out all the math books I boxed and put into storage two months before Peter was born.)
So who knows: this might evolve into a math blog; I might fall silent (at least on my blog); or I might return to blogging as usual. I've also been writing fiction. We'll see where it goes.