Nature Feed

Frog on the Window

Frogonthewindow

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 World Tech Podcast #55: A Must-Listen for Google Earth Enthusiasts

Worldpostcast55smClark 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!


Thoughts on the Use of SMS Phones with Disaster Relief Maps

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.

ShareMeanwhile, 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.


Nature Reports on the Lifting of the UN Ban on Pakistan Satellite Imagery

Declan Butler's latest article in Nature about Pakistan disaster relief and the availability of satellite photography is up:

UN opens access to earthquake shots: Relief workers applaud release of satellite imagery.

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:

Quake aid hampered by ban on web shots:

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.

The International Charter "Space and Major Disasters"

DigitalGlobe has at the moment limited recent images because of cloud and rain, and Google is already working with them.

Spaceimaging.com has good images; it charges NGOs a fee, but also sells it to the US National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

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:

Google earth under govt scrutiny

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.


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
Networking
Wireless Communication Installation, Deployment &
Maintenance
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 volunteers@pasha.org.pk. 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

52663616_79339a1494_m

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).

http://geo212.blogs.com/geospatial_air_du_temps_b/2005/10/images_pakistan.html

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.)


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.
Isthereanybodyoutthere

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.


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.

Quake_list


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 (kathryn.cramer@gmail.com 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.

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

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.

Islamabadruins_1

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:

Villagesburied

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.


GI ANT SQUID! GI ANT SQUID!

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:

Giant_squid

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?


Cellular Automata Caterpillar

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.

Cacaterpillar
(Regarding the ichor it's sitting in, we didn't know if it was injured or whether this was some other kind of secretion.)


A Windfall Kite, Mass Pike Sunday Drivers, & the Oncoming Storm

Img_0042Here 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.

Img_0067Looking 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.

Img_0069I hope the Louisiana drivers were more considerate of each other than the people I witnessed yesterday. 

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.

Oseiiod


Find the Flounder

Flounder
Seapoint Bach, Kittery Point, Maine

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?

Here are a couple more pictures from the same tide pool. (I don't think these have flounder in them.)
Babylobster

Orangething

PS: Chopped fresh kelp added to the cooking water of instant mac & cheese (Annie's White cheddar in this case) improves the consistency of the sauce.
Kelp

Armsup_1

Running_1

Hifashion_1


Un-Glasgow Photos

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.)

Dsc_2746

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).


The Guy You Really Wanted to Grow up to Be When You Were Three

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!)


A Few Shiny Pebbles on the Infobeach

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:

Research into the origins and characteristics of unicorns: mental illness as the unicorn. Abstract:

Ethical Hum Sci Serv. 2000 Fall-Winter;2(3):181-92.
Research into the origins and characteristics of unicorns: mental illness as the unicorn.
Simon L.
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.)

And Neural activity associated with metaphor comprehension: spatial analysis.

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]

and Neural correlates of metaphor processing.

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]


Rudy Rucker, Live, in Santa Cruz

Rudy Rucker announces an interesting event that I'd love to attend, except that I'm on the wrong coast. But if you live near Santa Cruz, go and then tell me about it. He says:

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.


Symmetry & Emptiness

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.

Wilczek begins:

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.)


Return of the Mathematical Kathryn

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.