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!