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October 2005

Fast Forward: Earthquake disaster relief and a little socializing

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:

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 &
System Analysts
Project Managers
ASP.NET/HTML developers
PHP developers
Java developers
SQL servers developers
mySQL developers
Graphic/Interface designers
Data Entry people
People for Information Gathering
Content creation/development/management specialists
Communication specialists able to deal with
telecom/satellite equipment

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 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.
Jehan Ara

  • 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.)

Hi-rez Earthquake Zone Map: One of the Most Beautiful Things I've Ever Seen


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.

Global Alert Disaster System: Red Earthquake Alert Pakistan

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.)

More Updated Rita Google Overlays

Anne Wright of NASA's Ames Research Center writes:

Updated NOAA Rita overlays for Google Earth are available from Images courtesy of NOAA

This revision includes approx 3,700 NOAA images of areas affected by
hurricane Rita, taken 9/25, 9/26, 9/30, 10/5, and 10/6. Included with these overlays are subsampled images, which may load more
quickly than the full-resolution 4k x 4k overlays.

Satellite and Aerial Photos of the Pakistan Earthquake Zone: the Face of Death

Declan Butler, an editor at Nature, has sent me links to some really good imagery of the Pakistan Earthquake zone:

Also, the International Charter Space and Major Disasters photos are up and I see for the first time a good shot of the epicenter with the names of cities and towns superimposed. This is what death looks like:


Muzaffarabad, now referred to as "The City of Death," had a population of 700,000. I notice that my map's comment system now being used. Here are the comments associated with my marker for Muzaffarabad:


Reading this my brain freezes and I am temporarily unable to divide 2 by 7, but what Najam Wali Khan is saying is that in that rather large city, the earthquake had a mortality rate of nearly 29%.

UPDATE: I'm told by a relief oganization on the ground in Pakistan that some of the companies holding these useful satellite images are not responding to inquiries in a timely manner. Come on guys! Get with the program. Relief agencies need maps to save lives and they need them yesterday!

Hey, wow, Patrick's got a blog!

Patrick O'Leary, author of The Impossible Bird and other fine novels, and poet-laureate of the Chevy Tahoe, has succumbed to temptation and now has a brand new blog. He asks that you be gentle with him since this is his first time out.

Another new one I should have mentioned a couple of days ago is Grace Davis's new disaster relief blog, Family to Family:

Dear Friends,

First, my deepest gratitude for your kind support of our modest but mighty blog project, Hurricane Katrina Direct Relief! As you know, this operation was simple: Our boots-on-the-ground Steel Magnolia, Victoria Powell of Madison, Mississippi, and her team of tireless Power Mom volunteers toured the disaster zone and reported what was needed in the communities to me, whereupon I would post these reports on the blog. This low key approach accomplished more than we thought possible or believable. Not only did our blog readers generously ship donations of clothing, supplies and food items to the shelters and churches, we were also able to assist a group of firefighters in Western Massachusetts in presenting a significant donation of firefighter equipment to the Gulf Coast. Pharmaceutical representatives shipped samples of medications to free/low cost clinics. Yard sales, donation stations, and benefit concerts were held on behalf of the communities described on the blog.  Additionally, we assisted in placing on-site volunteers, angels with chain saws and bobcats,to remove debris from whole towns.

The stories go on and on. This experience has been abundant with blessings. My kiddo said it best, "This is awesome, Mom!"

Though Hurricane Katrina has faded from the news, the work continues, and we're still energized.  What we're doing now is assisting families in their transition from the shelters and tent camps to their new homes.  Many of these folks are moving into completely bare apartments/mobile homes/modest houses.  Therefore, they dearly need our gifts and donations of household and personal items.

We have created a new blog for this project, Family to Family,  and hope you can take a moment and click on this link to see how you can aid our friends with their new lives.

Kids Dying of Hypothermia in Earthquake-affected Areas

From the Indian Express: Kids die in chill, parents say give us sweaters, not food

URI, TANGDHAR, NEW DELHI, OCTOBER 11: Tonight is the third consecutive night under an open sky and Dardkote has lost another child to the rain and the cold. This takes the toll of children killed by the night chill to seven across the quake-hit villages here. Everyone here is afraid that number will rise given that the season’s first snow has begun to fall.

According to the Met forecast for the next 72 hours for Baramulla and Badgam districts, the rain will continue. Both the minimum and maximum temperatures are going to fall by nearly a degree each day. Minimum temperatures are already touching 7 degrees Celsius and are expected to fall further.

This is because of a western disturbance over Pakistan and although the low pressure area is weakening, it is likely to impact the area for the next few days.

So parents desperately want just one thing: tents for shelter and warm clothes, sweaters, for their shivering children.

Earthquake Story Problem

Cnn101105Pakistan has about 2 percent of the world's population living on less than 0.7 percent of the world's land.

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.

Indian minister for science and technology, has ruled out the possibility of establishing any mechanism to share seismic data with Pakistan.

From the Daily Times of Pakistan, this is just too sad:

NEW DELHI: Even as a top Indian government official rushes to Washington to put India on the Global Seismographic Network so it is better informed of earthquakes, Kapil Sibal, the Indian minister for science and technology, has ruled out the possibility of establishing any mechanism to share seismic data with Pakistan. He has a reason for keeping Pakistan at arm’s length, because the same seismic data that gives intensity and epicentre information can also reveal the exact location and intensity of any underground nuclear test.

These places are on huge fault zones. How many people have to die before they share data?

What the world needs is this: Desktop datamining capabilities so good that any 14-year-old in New Jersey who wants to know can tell who's doing nuclear testing and where.

Nineteen Earthquakes trying to occupy the same place.

Firefoxscreensnapz002CommunityWalk 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.


Updated NOAA Rita overlays for Google Earth Available

Anne Wright from NASA announces:

Updated NOAA Rita overlays for Google Earth are available from Images courtesy of NOAA. This revision includes approx 3,200 NOAA images of areas affected by hurricane Rita, taken 9/25, 9/26, 9/30, and 10/5. Included with these overlays are subsampled images, which may load more quickly than the full-resolution 4k x 4k overlays.

The Neelum River has been blocked because whole villages have fallen into the water

Via DAWN, via   South Asia Quake Help:

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!

CommunityWalk Site for Islamabad Earthquake

Communitywalk_siteCommunityWalk 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 ( or make a comment).

WARNING: Community Walk crashes Safari.

Islamabad Earthquake

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.

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

IslamabadearthquakeThere'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.

My Kids Meet Wolfram Tones

WolframTonesGiven 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.

Hi from Champaign, Illinois: Visiting Wolfram Research

I've uploaded a bunch of photos from the Wolfram Technology Conference, most from Theodore Gray's fascinating collection of the elements.

Here Gray poses with a copy of Michael Swanwick's Periodic Table of Science Fiction for which he wrote the introduction.

UPDATE: Gray has on his web site the story of the literal periodic table he's sitting on in this picture (many more pictures in my Flickr account).

For well over a hundred years the world has failed to take proper notice of the word "Table" clearly contained in the name of the famous Periodic Table of the Elements.

One evening while reading Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks, I became momentarily confused. He begins a chapter with a description of a periodic table display he loved to visit in the Kensington Science Museum, and in mis-reading the paragraph, I thought it was a table, not the wall display it actually is. While my confusion only lasted a few seconds, when I found out there wasn't a Periodic Table in the British Museum, it left a hole I felt I had to fill.

Actually I would never had had this confusion, or built the table, if I hadn't been thinking for the previous month about the need for a new conference table in my group's common office area. I had already built the Triangle Table to be our coffee table, but we needed a conference table too, and I certainly wasn't going to buy one of those expensive ugly ones from the office supply catalogs.

And I would never have built the table if I didn't happen to have a nice pantograph engraving machine with a complete set of fonts from the closing out auction of a local hospital (new $1700, mine for $50 with fonts).

So really the table is a result of three unlikely and totally unrelated factors coming together at the same time, which probably explains why, to the best of my knowledge, no one else has ever built one like it.

HIs page also contains a discussion of how it was made and many photos of its construction. He was also interviewed on Science Friday about this in 2002 (mp3).

I found the table and its accompanying collection fascinating because, though I have met many collectors, I had never met anyone before who collected elements. It seems such a logical thing to collect, but it had never occurred to me that anyone would do that.

I like my pictures of it, but what that little niche in the Wolfram offices needs is Rosamund Purcell to do it justice. These are objects she would really understand; she is the poet laureate to collection photography.


Criminalizing Pregnancy?

Not that I think that this bit of legal surrealism is likely to actually become law, but why are Indiana Republicans cooking up legislation to discourage motherhood? It seems to have all kinds of strange provisions, but especially has it in for anyone pregnant without a ring on her finger or—and this is the part that would raise deep outrage in this neck of the woods, where as nearly as I can tell a significant number of the children are conceived under circumstances involving medical assistance—anyone needing the help of a fertility clinic to get pregnant.

It contains such bizarre passages as:

The intended parents shall pay the fees and other costs of the criminal history check . . .

. . .  and  . . .

Before intended parents may enter into a gestational agreement and before conception occurs, the intended parents shall obtain an assessment from a licensed child placing agency in the intended parents' state of residence.

Never mind that this is evil, wrong, and dangerous, these people seem completely innocent of the reproductive habits of the class able to make large contributions of political parties. And I think that's just too funny.

(Via Feministe and Booman Tribune.)

Bruce Sterling, Furturist, Lets the Bush Adminiatration in on One of the Tricks of the Trade

Bruce Sterling lets the Bush Adminiatration in on one of the tricks of the futurist trade:

It's easy to predict the future when all you have to do is predict the past. Every time people in power who deny the Greenhouse get their ass kicked, they always proclaim that nobody could have imagine such a thing. We don't have to "imagine" it, guys. All one has to do is document it.

He directs his reader back to his writeup of the Canberra fire in January of 2003.

There's a lot of great stuff, and I don't want to try to quote it all, gutting it from it's very interesting context. This is definitiely a READ THE WHOLE THING post. 

Sterling concludes with remarks on Bush's idea that the military take over disaster relief (an idea that even Jeb isn't too keen on, by the way):

There's no cure for demolished cities that a contemporary army can give. A plethora of Katrinas doesn't mean Army control of evacuation. You can't park the populations of drowned cities somewhere off camera while Delta Force rebuilds their town. The only effective response to really savage and continuous weather violence has got to be vigorous civil defense and a paramilitarized general populace. Those millions of evacuees who were cluttering highways this week – they're the labor force. They and no one else are the ones who will have to do the heavy lifting, because it's their cities and their world that has been destabilized by climate change.

(Via Xeni Jardin at boingboing.)

Rudy Rucker's New Book is Out!

Lifeboxcoversmall_1I'm so pleased: Rudy Rucker's The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul just came in the mail. (I had preordered it.)

Rudy gave a presentation on the material covered in the book at the Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in Ft. Lauderdale, last spring. I was inspired by the presentation to turn my attention back to mathematics and begin to work out how to go about using the program Mathematica with children. 

So I have already been inspired by this book and I haven't even cracked it yet.

We're having a New York Review of Science Fiction work weekend, and already, several people have wandered by and, spying the book on top of the frog terrarium next to my desk, exclaimed, Hey wow, I didn't know this was out yet.

(Full disclosure: My husband is the editor of some of Rucker's recent fiction, though not of this book.)

PS: Apparently, you can download some of Rucker's recent talks, though I have not tried it.