Looking south from Hurricane Ridge into the heart of Olympic National Park
There will be few detailed blogs these next few weeks; I'm on the road leading our Canada/Pacific Northwest field class, and I will be just a bit busy. But I can't help putting up a few photos here and there. In today's pictures we see what happens when subduction zones get out of control, so to speak.
Subduction zones are places where oceanic crust sinks back into the Earth's mantle to be recycled at some future time as magma and lava. The mud and sand that blankets the coast and seafloor often will be scraped off against the edge of the continent to form a highly deformed and sheared deposit called an accretionary wedge. Much of the time, wedge deposits remain underwater or show as low-lying islands, but sometimes the rock gets pushed up into mountain ranges parallel to the coast and subduction zone. California's Coast Ranges resulted in part from such activity, but at Olympic National Park in Washington State, the results are nothing short of spectacular. The mountains have been pushed up into a series of peaks exceeding 7,000 feet in elevation, and with the intense amounts of snowfall, there are a surprising number of active glaciers.
Looking north from Hurricane Ridge across the Juan de Fuca Strait to Vancouver Island
Our trip reconnaissance this week took us to Hurricane Ridge, which has now become a newcomer to my list of the most incredible places I have ever stood. The view is astounding (when conditions are clear). We could look deep in the heart of the park at Mount Olympus, and could see north across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria Island. A marvelous place!
Few terms in the wine world are more controversial than "terroir", the French word meaning "of the soil". "Terroir" refers to the influence of soil and climate on the wine in your glass. But the meaning of "terroir" is not restricted to a technical discussion of soil structure or the influence of climate. Part of the romance of wine is that it (allegedly) expresses the particular character of a region and perhaps its people as well.
According to some "terroirists", when we drink wine that expresses terroir, we feel connected to a particular plot of land and its unique characteristics, and by extension, its inhabitants, their struggles, achievements, and sensibility. Can't you just feel their spirit coursing through your veins on a wild alcohol ride? The most extreme terroirists claim that the influence of soil and climate can be quite literally tasted in the wine. If this strikes you as a bit of, well, the digested plant food of bovines to put it politely, you are not alone. Many in the wine business are skeptical about the existence of terroir claiming that winemakers should make the best wine they can without trying to preserve some mystical connection with the soil. But the issue is an important one because the reputation of entire wine regions rests on the alleged unique characteristics of their terroir, not to mention the fact that the skill and discernment of wine tasters often involves recognizing these characteristics.
There is confusion, however, regarding what this concept of terroir conveys. Some uses of the term simply imply that wine grapes are influenced by climate and soil so that wines from a region with broadly similar soil types and macroclimates have common characteristics discernable in the wine. This is obviously true and unobjectionable. Factors such as the ability of soil to drain or absorb water, the presence of stones that radiate heat into the vineyard, and the effects of nutrients on plant metabolism are among the important known effects of soil on vineyards. The soil and climate in Bordeaux differs from the soil and climate in Burgundy and thus they grow different grapes and make wines of quite contrasting styles that are apparent in the glass.
But the vociferous defenders of terroir have something more controversial in mind. They claim that the distinctive character of the soil is directly transferred to the glass. As Matt Kramer writes in his book Making Sense of Wine, some wines "... allow us to eavesdrop on the murmurings of the earth." One chardonnay is described as exhibiting "a powerful flavor of the soil: the limestone speaks." This is a much more controversial claim because Kramer and others seem to be suggesting that there is some discernable likeness between the taste of the wine and the taste of the soil. If this strikes you as disgusting, you are not alone, especially when a wine is reputed to exhibit barnyard notes. They ought to be honest and label their wines Domaine de Poop. In fact, it is usually flavors of chalk, flint, or slate that is reputed to be in the wine, and the view that such a flavor likeness exists is widely held especially in France, Italy, and Germany.
Science has weighed in on the controversy, and the science seems to be on the side of the anti-terroirists. Science writer and wine expert Jamie Goode in a series of articles on this topic writes:
"But I'd exclude from my definition of terroir the concept that soils can directly influence the character of a wine, for instance, by flavour compounds in the soil being directly translocated to the grapes. This sort of mechanism is not impossible, but it does seem to be hugely implausible. I'm not a root physiologist, but I do have a PhD in plant biology, and I've yet to hear a convincing explanation for how soil components can directly alter the flavour of grapes and hence the finished wine... Suffice to say, stony, earthy or mineral flavours in a wine are not necessarily 'terroir' notes. If a wine grown on chalky soil tastes chalky, it's an unjustified leap of faith to say that this is the 'terroir' speaking. The minerals in the soil may be fortuitously imparting chalky notes to the wine indirectly by altering the vine's metabolism, but you'd only be able to tell this by comparing this wine with one made from the same grapes grown on different soils and vinified in a similar way."
"What about the flavors of soil and granite and limestone that wine experts describe as minerality - a term oddly missing from most formal treatises on wine flavor? Do they really go straight from the earth to the wine to the discerning palate?
Consider the grapevine growing in the earth. It takes in elemental, inert materials from the planet - air and water and minerals - and, using energy captured from sunlight, turns them into a living, growing organism. It doesn't just accumulate the earth's materials. It transforms them into the sugars, acids, aromas, tannins, pigments and dozens of other molecules that make grapes and wine delicious."
The science suggests that minerals are dissolved in soil moisture which is absorbed by the plant and influences the development of the grape vines. The minerals have no direct influence on flavor.
But here is where this debate gets muddled. Nothing in these referenced articles on the science of terroir deny that the unique characteristics of a region's soil can, with the proper vinification, influence the taste of the wine. In fact they repeatedly assert the plausibility of an indirect connection between soil and flavor, although the mechanisms have not yet been discovered. As McGee and Patterson write:
"It's possible, then, that soil minerals may affect wine flavor indirectly, by reacting with other grape and yeast substances that produce flavor and tactile sensations, or by altering the production of flavor compounds as the grape matures on the vine.
It seems to me this concedes everything the terroirists want. If the soil uniquely alters the grapes' metabolism in a way that influences flavor in the glass, then the flavor is a result of the soil, and the wine is an expression of those unique properties. The upshot of the science is that flavors in the wine are not copies or imitations, or likenesses of the way these minerals taste in the ground. But why anyone should care about that is beyond me. (I have yet to talk to anyone who makes a habit of tasting rocks. But if you are so inclined let me know the results.) What should matter to terroirists are the causal influences of unique factors in the soil of particular vineyards on the discernable flavors of wines from those vineyards. If such a connection exists, regardless of how direct it is, their claims to the uniqueness and special value of place-"somewhereness" as Matt Kramer puts it-will have been vindicated. Furthermore, the vindication suffers no loss of romance. For it is still true that centuries of careful husbandry and the matching of grapes and soil by dedicated viticulturalists have produced unique wines of extraordinary beauty that cannot be replicated elsewhere.
On the other hand, why should skeptics deny the possibility of such an indirect connection? Since we are talking about the causal influence of soil constituents on the metabolism of grapes, there is nothing mystical here. The terroirists seems to want more than they need and the skeptics (at least those whose skepticism is grounded in science) deny more than they must. There is plenty of room for agreement here with no compromise of basic principles.
So I will unilaterally declare a truce in the "terroir wars". Who says philosophy has no influence on worldly events?
For more ruminations on the philosophy of food and wine visit Edible Arts.
As if flying weren't costly enough, your
next plane ticket is going to be more expensive, thanks to the
federal government. Today the Transportation Security
Administration's (TSA) security fee rose by more than double.
Until Monday, a passenger was charged $2.50 for each leg of a
journey.For a nonstop round trip, the cost
was $5. For a round trip with a connection each way, the cost was
The fee was capped at two flights each way. That means you
couldn't get charged more than $5 each way or $10 round trip, even
if you took three flights to get your destination.
Now, passengers must pay a flat fee of $5.60 in each direction,
no matter how many plane transfers are made to get from one city to
For passengers flying a nonstop round trip, that means the fee
will increase from $5 to $11.20.
Passengers flying round-trip with a connection each way will see
their fees increase $1.20 to $11.20 per round trip, versus $10
before the fee increase.
Domestic flyers will also get hit with an additional $5.60 if
you have a layover that's four hours or longer.
"Business travelers who fly non-stop routes, and travelers in
secondary markets requiring connections,"
suggests Fox News, "will see the biggest impact."
"Due to new TSA fee hike, travelers will pay a
billion dollars more per year in added taxes/fees," tweeted Nick Calio, the
president and CEO of Airlines for America, an industry advocacy
The securirty agency, which operates with an annual budget of
over $7 billion, gets a lot of flak.
More than half of Americans believe all those pat-downs and
invasive body scans are mere security theater that have no real
deterrent on hijackings. And those skeptics are right.
Research on the 13-year-old agency shows it so far
hasn't had a measurable effect on air travel safety.
The "TSA estimates the hike will generate $16.9 billion more
than current collections,"
explainsUSA Today. The heftier fee won't actually do
much (if anything) to improve security, though. "Congress agreed to
the increase in December to raise $12.6 billion to cut the
deficit," and nothing will go to security improvement until that's
Airlines for America
criticizes that the government treating "airlines and their
passengers as its own personal ATM," though some members of
Congress say they never intended for the TSA to charge this much.
Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has
contested that the TSA changed how defines a "round trip"
flight in order to work around the cap Congress placed on the
The most litigious "patent troll" in the US has lost a major case after the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found its patent was too abstract.
The ruling from last week is one of the first to apply new Supreme Court guidance about when ideas are too "abstract" to be patented. In the recent Alice v. CLS Bank case, the high court made clear that adding what amounts to fancy computer language to patents on basic ideas shouldn't hold up in court.
The patents in this case describe a type of "device profile" that allows digital images to be accurately displayed on different devices. US Patent No. 6,128,415 was originally filed by Polaroid in 1996. After a series of transfers, in 2012 the patent was sold to Digitech Image Technologies, a branch of Acacia Research Corporation, the largest publicly traded patent assertion company. A study on "patent trolls" by RPX found that Acacia Research Corporation was the most litigious troll of 2013, having filed 239 patent lawsuits last year.
You know you’re doing something right in your life if the Nobel Prize-winning author of 100 Years of Solitude talks to you like a giddy fan boy.
Back in October 1990, Gabriel García Márquez sat down with Akira Kurosawa in Tokyo as the Japanese master director was shooting his penultimate movie Rhapsody in August - the only Kurosawa movie I can think of that features Richard Gere. The six hour interview, which was published in The Los Angeles Times in 1991, spanned a range of topics but the author’s love of the director’s movies was evident all the way through. At one point, while discussing Kurosawa’s 1965 film Red Beard, García Márquez said this: “I have seen it six times in 20 years and I talked about it to my children almost every day until they were able to see it. So not only is it the one among your films best liked by my family and me, but also one of my favorites in the whole history of cinema.”
One natural topic discussed was adapting literature to film. The history of cinema is littered with some truly dreadful adaptations and even more that are simply inert and lifeless. One of the Kurosawa’s true gifts as a filmmaker was turning the written word into a vital, memorable image. In movies like Throne of Blood and Ran, he has proved himself to be arguably the finest adapter of Shakespeare in the history of cinema.
García Márquez: Has your method also been that intuitive when you have adapted Shakespeare or Gorky or Dostoevsky?
Kurosawa: Directors who make films halfway may not realize that it is very difficult to convey literary images to the audience through cinematic images. For instance, in adapting a detective novel in which a body was found next to the railroad tracks, a young director insisted that a certain spot corresponded perfectly with the one in the book. “You are wrong,” I said. “The problem is that you have already read the novel and you know that a body was found next to the tracks. But for the people who have not read it there is nothing special about the place.” That young director was captivated by the magical power of literature without realizing that cinematic images must be expressed in a different way.
García Márquez: Can you remember any image from real life that you consider impossible to express on film?
Kurosawa: Yes. That of a mining town named Ilidachi [sic], where I worked as an assistant director when I was very young. The director had declared at first glance that the atmosphere was magnificent and strange, and that’s the reason we filmed it. But the images showed only a run-of-the-mill town, for they were missing something that was known to us: that the working conditions in (the town) are very dangerous, and that the women and children of the miners live in eternal fear for their safety. When one looks at the village one confuses the landscape with that feeling, and one perceives it as stranger than it actually is. But the camera does not see it with the same eyes.
When Kurosawa and García Márquez talked about Rhapsody in August, the mood of the interview darkened. The film is about one old woman struggling with the horrors of surviving the atomic attack on Nagasaki. When it came out, American critics bristled at the movie because it had the audacity to point out that many Japanese weren’t all that pleased with getting nuked. This is especially the case with Nagasaki. While Hiroshima had numerous factories and therefore could be considered a military target, Nagasaki had none. In fact, on August 9, 1945, the original target for the world’s second nuclear attack was the industrial town of Kita Kyushu. But that town was covered in clouds. So the pilots cast about looking for some place, any place, to bomb. That place proved to Nagasaki.
Below, Kurosawa talks passionately about the legacy of the bombing. Interestingly, García Márquez, who had often been a vociferous critic of American foreign policy, sort of defends America’s actions at the end of the war.
Kurosawa: The full death toll for Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been officially published at 230,000. But in actual fact there were over half a million dead. And even now there are still 2,700 patients at the Atomic Bomb Hospital waiting to die from the after-effects of the radiation after 45 years of agony. In other words, the atomic bomb is still killing Japanese.
García Márquez: The most rational explanation seems to be that the U.S. rushed in to end it with the bomb for fear that the Soviets would take Japan before they did.
Kurosawa: Yes, but why did they do it in a city inhabited only by civilians who had nothing to do with the war? There were military concentrations that were in fact waging war.
García Márquez: Nor did they drop it on the Imperial Palace, which must have been a very vulnerable spot in the heart of Tokyo. And I think that this is all explained by the fact that they wanted to leave the political power and the military power intact in order to carry out a speedy negotiation without having to share the booty with their allies. It’s something no other country has ever experienced in all of human history. Now then: Had Japan surrendered without the atomic bomb, would it be the same Japan it is today?
Kurosawa: It’s hard to say. The people who survived Nagasaki don’t want to remember their experience because the majority of them, in order to survive, had to abandon their parents, their children, their brothers and sisters. They still can’t stop feeling guilty. Afterwards, the U.S. forces that occupied the country for six years influenced by various means the acceleration of forgetfulness, and the Japanese government collaborated with them. I would even be willing to understand all this as part of the inevitable tragedy generated by war. But I think that, at the very least, the country that dropped the bomb should apologize to the Japanese people. Until that happens this drama will not be over.
The whole interview is fascinating. They continue to talk about historical memory, nuclear power and the difficulty of filming rose-eating ants. You can read the entire thing here. It’s well worth you time.
In response to your article about the working mother who was arrested for allowing her child to play at the park while she was at work: Overreach by child welfare officials is an unfortunate and troubling phenomenon. I was widowed at 35 with four children. Following my husband's death from lung cancer, I decided to go back to college and finally finish my degree, with the hopes of improving my ability to provide for my kids, who at that time were between the ages of 10 and 5. I swiftly enrolled at a local community college to take summer classes. Everything was set, except for one emergent problem–I had no access to daycare.
I went through babysitters who didn't show up, babysitters who absconded with my money, babysitters who took my kids to play cards with their friends without telling me. Formal daycare was exorbitantly cost-prohibitive. A friend suggested that my kids, all school-aged, might be safer staying in their own home for a few hours while I attended classes than in the care of adult strangers. At the time, I agreed.
I believed I had no alternative options.
My decision to allow my kids to stay home for a few hours while I went to school for several hours, a mile away, turned out to be the most catastrophically life-altering decision I've ever made. A neighbor noticed me walking to school without the kids and called the police. When I arrived home several hours later, I found a note on the door, but no kids inside. Despite having been told my whereabouts, neither the police nor the CPS workers who removed my kids from our home made any effort to find me, instead regarding the situation as an emergency, procedurally.
This happened four years ago.
We were some of the lucky ones. I fought a protracted court battle with an appointed attorney and few resources. Against the odds, our family was restored.
Over the two years during which the case dragged on, my kids were subjected to, according to them, sexual molestation (which was never investigated) and physical abuse within the foster care system. They were separated from each other many times, moved around frequently, and attended multiple schools. This, of course, was all in the name of protection. Many of the things I was required to do to get my kids back had nothing to do with the supposed issue of inadequate supervision. Under one court order, I was required to allow CPS workers into my home to conduct a thorough "white glove" type inspection. According to the court order, if any of the workers felt anything was amiss, the return of custody would be delayed or denied. I was told to sweep cobwebs and scrub the oven to their satisfaction, which I did, obsequiously. They were pleased.
The kids were returned.
Still under court orders, I moved with the kids to my parents house, over a hundred miles away from the jurisdictional county. One of the requirements of the court order returning my children to me under protective county custody was that they were not to miss a single day of school. (This, also, having nothing to do with the reason why they were removed initially). The court order stated that if they missed even a single day of school, the county could again take custody. During the move, there was a delay before I could enroll them in a new school. CPS workers, acting on another court order, drove the hundred miles to my parents' home and, with the assistance of sheriff's deputies, physically pulled my kids out of the house screaming and crying. We had been sitting around enjoying a quiet family evening. They had been in no danger. This was traumatic for all of us. My parents witnessed how this system was not about protection, but power.
Once subject to the scrutiny of this system, parents are at its mercy. Kids are held in de facto hostage as arbitrary demands are made. When those demands are met, new ones are imposed, or the adequacy of the performance is questioned. Rather than being innocent until proven guilty, parents are presumed guilty until they have passed a rigorous and unforgiving character-assassination attempt. Somehow, our family survived this and emerged intact, but not unscathed.
In a small and gossipy rural town, I have been referred to as, "that girl who got her kids taken away." I feel as if I have to work harder to prove that I'm parentally competent. An unexpected knock at the door still makes my heart beat rapidly. I'm more conscious of strangers' stares and comments when I go out with my children. Ultimately, I found this ostensibly well-meaning system of child protection to be an exercise in often baseless finger-pointing, pitting neighbor against neighbor, family member against family member. As people vie for power and victory, it all becomes so much less about kids' best interests and more about adults' selfish interests. In criminalizing previously culturally normal activities, such as an unaccompanied child playing at a public park, we open the door for any unorthodox parental decision to be subjected to similar unfavorable scrutiny.
We assume that only parents that fit an arbitrary sociocultural mold can be fit parents. Those whose poverty or inadequate childcare options result in intervention don't get much sympathy in our class-biased culture. People seem more willing to spew vitriol than offer actual substantive assistance. In my own case, four years have passed since our encounter with CPS. As any family who has endured something similar can attest, it is not something from which a family emerges unaffected. It's hard to say what should change or how. Parents are not perfect. They make mistakes. Some parents are abusive and truly horrible. Some otherwise well-meaning parents are simply caught in unfortunate, temporary circumstances. In many cases, the supposed cure turns into its own illness.
The stories need to be told. Many families are adversely affected and because of the stigma are not discussing it. As more people do so, hopefully it will allow for discourse, and thus, for change. I tried to do too much. I couldn't be in two places at once. I didn't have a social support structure. I thought I could do it all. I was wrong.
Inasmuch as I don't think this was, prima facie, a reckless decision, the negative and enduring impact that it had on me and my family made it so. In retrospect, I did have confidence in my kids' ability to take care if themselves in their own house for a few hours and did not believe they were in any imminent danger so as to necessitate removal by police, which is what happened. I'm not sure what the danger was at the time. There was a hypothetical danger, I suppose, but then again, there are sources of potential danger even in the presence of supervising adults.
My kids knew precisely where I was. Yet, no attempt was made to find me and say, "Hey, You shouldn't be allowing your kids to stay home alone, because we said so, and if you do it again..." I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have done it again. I was not out partying, at a bar, or anything. I was at college. I realized it wasn't an ideal situation. I did not think it was illegal or was associated with such severe consequences.
Having gone through this, I would never, ever do this again. In fact, I do not allow my kids to be unsupervised even now that they're older. I don't allow them to go outside unaccompanied. I still am in college, albeit on the Internet. We seem to have a society where parents who are micromanaging and eliminating all risk are adjudicated the "better" parents, and unsupervised kids are automatically suspect, even when no actual danger exists.I'm not sure how it is for other families, but having endured the amount of scrutiny placed on a parent during CPS involvement, I'm conscious of being "watched," of being held to a greater account.
I welcome additional emails concerning this issue. My contact information is in the bio below.
Remember last year when the Discovery Channel lied about their Shark Week megalodon movie being a documentary? Looks like they’re trying to one-up themselves this year with another “documentary,” and they just owned up to being behind the above video as a marketing ploy with Nissan.
In a press release from Bell Media PR, Discovery admits being behind what they call a “widely-circulated video of a shark swimming in Lake Ontario” (above) as a marketing effort to promote this years fake Shark Week documentary In Search of Canada’s Rogue Shark sponsored by the Nissan Rogue. Get it! Rogue Shark! Rogue Car! SYNERGY!
The whole premise of Rogue Shark appears to be “Hey, let’s go look for sharks and pretend like there’s any real chance we’ll find them in Lake Ontario and let’s call it Rogue Shark so Nissan will sponsor it.”
Part of the press release reads:
The campaign was developed for Nissan by Bell Media’s Brand Partnership team and in collaboration with Nissan’s marketing partners, OMD and TBWA. Dubbed “In Search of Canada’s Rogue Shark,” it covers the rugged Canadian terrain – in a Nissan Rogue, of course — [Editor's Note: OF COURSE - Glen] from the Pacific to the Atlantic, from the Bay of Fundy to the St. Lawrence – and even the Great Lakes – to understand these amazing fish and create awareness for the Canadian shark population…if it does indeed exist here.
Pssssst… hey…. Discovery Channel… come here a second, friend.
Stop doing shit like this. Stop making things up. We live on an incredible planet with no shortage of wonderful and amazing things you can make documentaries about. You don’t need to produce fiction or drum up hacky viral marketing ploys.
I get it. Shark Week is a big deal for you, and you always feel like you have to top yourself with something impressive and it gets harder every year. But you know what’s impressive? Actual sharks. They’re fascinating. You know how I know? Because you produced incredible content about them for years.
People watch your channel to discover the world they live in. You’re not The Syfy Channel. This isn’t Sharknado. Stop it. You’re better than this.
Learning continues long after college ends. What if being enrolled in college was also a lifelong condition?
That is how Christian Terwiesch, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, thinks graduate business programs might work in the future.
He and a colleague, Karl T. Ulrich, vice dean of innovation at Wharton, have published a paper on how the ascent of short video lectures—the kind popularized by massive open online courses and Khan Academy—might change the cost and structure of top business programs like Wharton’s. The short answer is that they probably won’t, at least not anytime soon.
But in an interview with The Chronicle, Mr. Terwiesch ventured a guess as to how Wharton might change further down the line. The business school eventually might have to provide chunks of its curriculum on demand over a student’s whole career, he said, rather than during a two-year stretch at the beginning.
The idea makes at least some sense. Students come to Wharton to learn skills, but they also come to meet people and become part of an exclusive club of future power brokers. A two-year immersion makes sense for making friends, but when it comes to learning skills, it does not always make sense to serve the whole meal upfront.
“A long time can elapse between learning a chunk of knowledge and applying it,” write the two professors. They compare a Wharton degree to a Swiss Army knife: “You buy it today to use one day, but you know neither when you will use it nor which part of the knife you will use first.” More often than not, they say, students experience graduate school and its benefits in this order: “learn-learn-learn-certify-wait-wait-wait-deploy.”
Buying the whole knife upfront made sense when taking courses required students to move to Philadelphia. But the professors, who are among those at Wharton who have been experimenting with MOOCs, are increasingly convinced that online courses can be sufficient to teach specific skills to capable, invested students.
What might Wharton look like in 2035? Mr. Terwiesch agreed to speculate: Students accepted to Wharton would still take part in an immersive program right away. But instead of two years, it would last 10 months—long enough to make friends, participate in experiential parts of the program, and become members of the club. They would pay a fee for the immersion, but not the balance of their tuition.
After that, students would graduate into the work force, but they would stay enrolled at Wharton on a subscription basis. One day, a Wharton subscriber working in investment banking might get put on a team that oversees mergers and acquisitions. Instead of aching to recall the lessons she learned back in business school (and later forgot), she takes an online “minicourse” from Wharton. “The new pattern becomes learn-certify-deploy, learn-certify-deploy,” the professors write in their paper.
Flexible, online business programs aimed at working professionals already exist, but they tend to be oriented to a fairly prompt, definitive graduation date. Mr. Terwiesch’s idea of an exclusive graduate school that enrolls students over the course of their whole careers is a spitball, to be sure, but it may prove to be a sticky one.
Google wanted to solve a problem we can all understand. People take so, so many photographs and yet they actually do very little with them. A chosen few are posted to Instagram. Most sit in vast wastelands of thumbnails on phones or in iPhoto never to be seen after the moment of their creation.
"You come back from a trip with 300 photos and no one is trying to help you do anything with them," said Google social web engineer Joseph Smarr. "You think about how people deal with that, and the main way is to not share anything. The second biggest thing is to share one little vignette or Instagram. Or the worst thing is they dump the whole 300 photos in an album. And that doesn't tell a story in a meaningful way. It's just a series of pictures. It's just a monotone drum beat with no fills: boom-boom-boom-boom."
So Smarr and his teammates—product designer Brett Lider and user experience designer Clement Ng—set a task for themselves. They wanted to create software that would have rhythm and flow like "actual storytelling." Actual human storytelling.
Their solution is available to all Google users as one of Google+'s genuinely awesome photo tools. (One can poke fun at Google+'s foibles, but they nailed photos.)
The product is called Stories, and it takes photos users upload and automatically packages them up into narratives.
Maybe that sounds easy, but that's because you're a human. Teaching a machine a sense of narrative and place isn't quite so easy, even using all of the information that Google knows about a user.
So, I spent time with the Google team that built Stories. I learned how they did it and began to consider what that says about computers' ability to understand the human world enough to help us live in it.
* * *
The early prototypes look nothing like the finished product.
At first, Smarr and Lider created something that looked more like a personal report card, a bunch of data compiled like the nerd-famous "annual reports" produced by one-time Facebook designer Nicholas Fenton. A May 2012 design mockup features Lider's check-ins and hiking stats, interactions with people, and musical choices. It's a fairly comprehensive and detailed set of information about a person, artfully chosen and arranged. The idea was to create something like a Facebook News Feed, only for a single person: an algorithmic distillation of your own personal news.
But that was just a mockup. When they began to see what they could actually create with all of Google's data about its users and all its processing might, they discovered something: "Our history is noisy and incomplete," Smarr said. At the same time, they were honing their concept. And they kept coming back to photographs.
Lider ran user group studies, asking people to talk about each of the last ten photographs that they took. Why'd they take it? Who was it for?
There were three broad categories. The first was obvious: they took the photograph for someone. The second category makes sense, too: people used photographs for memory augmentation, to remember a beer they'd liked or a place they wanted to come back to. The third category, though, was "documentation of adventures." And when they asked people how often they actually used the pictures that they took, "recorded adventures had the lowest percentage of people acting upon their intentions," Lider said.
The first two categories have obvious apps and services associated with them. Every messaging app in the world helps people send pictures they've taken for someone. And Evernote, among others, exists to help people remember things.
But adventure recording? That didn't have an App Store-leading app. In fact, people tended to blame themselves for not using those photographs they'd taken. They'd say they were lazy for not getting the photos to friends or into a form that they themselves could enjoy.
Smarr, Lider, and Ng began to sense an opportunity. Lider ran more user tests. He had people come in and play with print outs of photographs.
He'd literally ask them to lay them out on a table. Most people organized the images left to right in a chronological strip. They clustered photos from the same place together, and even place an "establishing shot" of that place at the beginning of each location section.
It's not a photo album. It's not a collage. It's... a kind of narrative biography, Lider realized. So he started looking into the history of that art. This research led to the project's codename: Project Boswell, after James Boswell, Samuel Johnson's biographer. (Seriously!)
"The moment in history we focused in on was when narrative biographies started coming out in the 19th century. Biographies up to that time had been lists of dates and 'just-the-facts' and then you saw famous people and wealthy people commissioning biographers to write narrative biographies. And the most famous of them was this guy James Boswell," Lider said.
"So we thought, what if we could democratize this? I think a big story of Google and technology is the bringing of things to people that were formerly only available to the elite. So the idea that we could be your personal storyteller, be your personal biographer, help you articulate the narrative arcs of points of your life was really exciting to us."
"Sherlock Holmes at one point says, 'I'd be lost without my Boswell," Smarr added. "We liked the idea of this little agent following you around, trying to help you, and remember where you've been."
"If you think of Google Now as your in-the-moment assistant," Lider continued, "Boswell is retrospective."
"If Now is the assistant, Boswell is a friend," added Ng. "He'll go on adventures with you."
So, they had a concept: They would put a narrative biographer on every smartphone.
Now they just had to build it.
* * *
"We started trying to figure it out," Smarr said. "Could we string these photos together, pick the best ones, figure out the locations, and actually draw it, and guess when the story started and ended, and give it a title automatically?"
Maybe it sounds like a simple task: mashup smartphone data and photographs to stitch a story together. Assuming a user uploads the photos to Google, and they take some of them with a smartphone, Google's stockpile would contain location data, visual cues, and a time indicator.
But sometimes the photos would arrive from cameras without GPS. Sometimes the date stamps would be wrong. Sometimes the location data would be incorrect. It could be a mess, and unpredictability was baked into users trips.
"You basically are given this stream of user data, which is whatever they gave you, sometimes it's a lot, sometimes it's a little, sometimes it's pretty complete, sometimes it's pretty incomplete, and you try to make sense of it," Smarr said.
There are three really useful signals for the good bot Boswell. The first is geotagged photos, those pin one's location down precisely. The second is Google Now or Google Maps data, which indicate where someone went. The last is the coolest. The team can infer a user's location by doing machine vision on certain landmarks. So, if someone goes to New York and takes pictures of the Flatiron Building (like everyone is wont to do), then Google can recognize that there is a landmark it knows, and tag that location, even if it was taken on a camera that does not embed location metadata in the image.
"We have a whole bunch of algorithms that we run over the data," Smarr said, "and we basically try to figure out if we have enough signal that we have some clue of where you went." Once the algorithms hit a threshold level, the design software kicks in, autogenerating the digital object.
There are a bunch of little touches worth dwelling on. First, the design runs left to right, based on Lider's research on how people thought of scrapbooks. Viewed on a mobile device, a series of images do Ken Burns-style pans and zooms and a title sits at the bottom, "Trip to New York," one of mine says, with a little editing pencil that encourages personalization.
Swipe in and you notice that a light gray line connects both photos and little dotted-edge boxes that read, "Add a narrative." It's like they created the armature of a scrapbook and then let the humans finish it off.
At each location that Stories can detect, there is an image of that place inlaid within a round circle; it's linked to Google, so a user or anyone else who a user shares a story with can investigate the locations in a trip. (Maybe less useful for Queens, as one of mine reads, but more useful for something like ... the Seychelles or something.)
That gray line is almost playful as it tears around the screen at different angles, sometimes with little time-stamps embedded in its trajectory.
The images on a mobile device also have a little bit of what I could call "jitter" as one swipes around. It's a nice effect, something in line perhaps with the Google "material design" ethos. It feels as if these images are sitting on something, not totally flush with the screen background. It adds to that scrapbook feel.
Unlike an Instagram, where every photo is the same size and shape, Stories uses all different sizes and shapes of photographs. Animations are in there, too, thanks to the "auto-awesome" effects Google has had for years, which create collages and animations out of strings of photos. "The idea is to make you feel that it is something put together by a person, not a machine," Ng said.
And it does feel that way—or at least idiosyncratic, if not human— which really helps a product that can't do everything perfectly. Even in cases where the story Google generates is not the one I would have told, or it includes a random picture, there is a personality to these little narratives that I actually find more sympathetic than the average software product. I don't mind forgiving Boswell his imperfections. At least he tries to do something with my sorry adventures.
"We're trying to present the essence of the thing," Smarr said, "and it is harder to distill the essence than it is to regurgitate the user's data back at them."
Tuesday night on The Daily Show, Hillary Clinton showed why she gives a great interview. When Stewart mocked the pretense that she’s not yet decided to run for president, Hillary didn’t stiffen or get flustered. She impishly played along with the gag, displaying a relaxed self-awareness rarely evident during her 2008 presidential run.
On style, she was terrific. It was when the conversation turned substantive that the problems began.
Near the end of the interview, Stewart asked a broad question that ended, “What is our foreign policy anymore?” Here’s the key chunk of Hillary’s reply.
What I found when I became secretary of state is that so many people in the world—especially young people—they had no memory of the United States liberating Europe and Asia, beating the Nazis, fighting the Cold War and winning, that was just ancient history. They didn’t know the sacrifices that we had made and the values that motivated us to do it. We have not been telling our story very well. We do have a great story. We are not perfect by any means, but we have a great story about human freedom, human rights, human opportunity, and let’s get back to telling it, to ourselves first and foremost, and believing it about ourselves and then taking that around the world. That’s what we should be standing for.
As a vision for America’s relations with the world, this isn’t just unconvincing. It’s downright disturbing. It’s true that young people overseas don’t remember the Cold War. But even if they did, they still wouldn’t be inspired by America’s “great story about [promoting] human freedom, human rights, human opportunity.” That’s because in the developing world—where most of humanity lives—barely anyone believes that American foreign policy during the Cold War actually promoted those things. What they mostly remember is that in anticommunism’s name, from Pakistan to Guatemala to Iran to Congo, America funded dictators and fueled civil wars.
Barack Obama has acknowledged as much. He begins the foreign policy chapter of The Audacity of Hope by discussing his boyhood home of Indonesia, a country that for much of the Cold War was ruled by a “harshly repressive” military regime under which “arrests and torture of dissidents were common, a free press nonexistent, elections a mere formality.” All this, Obama notes, “was done with the knowledge, if not outright approval, of the U.S. administrations.” Hillary Clinton, by contrast, in her interview with Stewart, painted the Cold War as a glorious freedom struggle through which America inspired the globe.
For Hillary, America’s current problem is that once the Cold War ended, we “withdrew from the information arena.” As a result, across the world, a new generation no longer remembers the great things we supposedly did in the past, and America has stopped telling them about the great things we are still doing today. Her answer: “get back to telling” the story of America’s greatness, not only to the rest of the world but “to ourselves first and foremost.”
Really? Is America’s biggest post-Cold War foreign policy problem really that we’ve failed to adequately remind others, and ourselves, how good we are? After all, George W. Bush told Americans endlessly that the “war on terror” was another grand American crusade for freedom, in the tradition of World War II and the Cold War. In his second inaugural address and other thundering rhetorical displays, he announced to the world that America would champion liberty far and wide, as in days of old.
The problem isn’t that Bush didn’t tell foreigners about all the good America was doing. It’s that in their eyes, Bush’s behavior massively contradicted his rhetoric. In Iraq, most foreign observers saw America spreading not democracy and freedom, but violence and chaos. In many developing countries, people noticed that their dictatorships were using “antiterrorism” as an excuse to repress domestic opposition, in the same way they had used “anticommunism” during the Cold War. In the Bush years, in other words, America’s problem wasn’t insufficient self-confidence. It was a president whose blind faith in American virtue kept him from seeing what his own government was doing to besmirch it. In 2005, when Amnesty International said American detention policies violated human rights, Bush replied, “It’s an absurd allegation. The United States is a country that promotes freedom around the world.”
If Hillary’s charge that America doesn’t believe sufficiently in its own virtue—and doesn’t sufficiently preach it to the world—was aimed at the Obama administration, then the critique becomes even stranger. First of all, because Obama is the best public spokesperson in American history. Never before has an American president been better positioned—by virtue of his biography, cultural sensitivity, and eloquence—to plead America’s case overseas. The problem is that however much non-Americans admire Obama personally, many don’t see his actual policies—from drones to Guantanamo to spying to Israel-Palestine—as much different from Bush’s.
But the really weird part of Hillary Clinton’s claim that America must “get back to telling” the story of how great we are “to ourselves” is how much it echoes the right’s attack on Obama. Since Obama took office, a parade of conservative politicians and pundits have accused him of insufficient faith in America’s greatness. Mitt Romney entitled his campaign bookNo Apology: Believe in America. In 2013, Dick Cheney declared, “I don’t think that Barack Obama believes in the U.S. as an exceptional nation.”
For more than five years, the right has claimed the major problem with American foreign policy is that it’s not sufficiently grounded in the belief that America is an exceptional nation fated to lift up humanity by spreading its power, as it did in generations past.
Now, bizarrely, Hillary Clinton is leveling the same critique. Which still doesn’t make it right.
Shell Oil Co.’s latest major discovery in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to have a resource base of about 100 million barrels of oil equivalent, the company said July 15.
The Netherlands-based Royal Dutch Shell PLC (NYSE: RSD-A), which has its Shell Oil headquarters in Houston, said the discovery was made at its Rydberg exploration well in the Norphlet play.
The well is located 75 miles offshore in nearly 7,500 feet of water in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. It was drilled to a total depth of more…
Synthetic seismograms can be created by doing basic calculus on traveltime functions. Integrating slowness (the reciprocal of velocity) yields a time-depth relationship. Differentiating acoustic impedance (velocity times density) yields a reflectivity function along the borehole. In effect, the integral tells us where a rock interface is positioned in the time domain, whereas the derivative tells us how the seismic wavelet will be scaled.
Computing acoustic impedance and reflection coefficients
Converting the logs to 2-way travel time
Creating a Ricker wavelet
Convolving the reflection coefficients with the wavelet to get a synthetic
Making an awesome plot, like so...
If you find yourself stretching or squeezing a time-depth relationship to make synthetic events align better with seismic events, take the time to compute the implied corrections to the well logs. Differentiate the new time-depth curve. How much have the interval velocities changed? Are the rock properties still reasonable? Synthetic seismograms should adhere to the simple laws of calculus — and not imply unphysical versions of the earth.
My name is Ross [----] and I will be a senior at [----] High school in Missouri this year.
I am considering either geology or geophysics as a major for college. I am specifically looking for guidance regarding the future job outlook for both of these careers in the next 20 years.
I am also considering majoring in petroleum engineering and need some insight about the advantages and disadvantages concerning this career compared to geology/geophysics. Also, would it benefit me do double major in two of these three careers.
My final question is regarding colleges. Currently, Missouri University of Science and Technology is my top choice. I have also looked into University of Kansas and Texas A&M. What is your opinion on these colleges and are there any other colleges you would recommend for these majors?
Thank You and could you please email me back at [----]
********* my reply ********
I would suggest you go for petroleum engineering at the best school you can get into and afford. If you start in petroleum engineering and find it not to your liking or too difficult, you can fall back on geophysics or geology. The situation in reverse is generally not true, to change into engineering is quite difficult.
Of the schools you mention only Texas A&M has all 3 degrees: petroleum engineering, geophysics, and geology. Another option if your grades are good enough is the Colorado school mines, which offers all three.
If you wind up majoring in geology or geophysics, I strongly suggest you minor in the other field. The minor is generally a small amount of effort using technical electives, yet increases your chance of employment later.
Finally, petroleum engineering allows you to go to work with a BS degree (but there are very few elective courses). Both geophysics and geology are more flexible but require a masters degree to go to work, which means an extra two years.
Employment outlook in any of the three fields is excellent for the next 20 to 30 years. Despite all the talk about renewable energy sources, over 60% of the world's energy comes from fossil fuels. This is unlikely to change over the career timeframe you're talking about.
Earlier this week, a recording of a customer-service call from hell—one man's attempt to break up with Comcast, made with an agent who was extremely unwilling to be broken up with—went viral. Yesterday, in response, a new video went up on YouTube. A girl named Srikanth Nandyala had turned the text of the call into, appropriately enough... a love song. A ballad, to be specific. An incredibly emo affair that captures, perfectly if totally ironically, the pathos of the Comcast call: the confusion, the conversion of love into loss, the bafflement that a relationship that was so strong for so many years could, indeed, come to an end.
Just one more instance of remix culture making quick work of mockery—and one more instance, too, of conversations spreading across platforms. The Comcast thing started as a call; from there, it was converted into an audio file and, from there, into a phenomenon. Which led to it being converted into lyrics, and into video, and into what most things will become, eventually: satire.
Sometimes, the movies have to invent disasters—a killer asteroid here, a global warming monster there—before they reach proportions dramatic enough for the big screen. Other times, disasters happen on their own, in a way that makes it hard not to wonder if they were planned in advance by a group of Hollywood executives eager for their next hit. Take the BP oil spill: On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in an undersea oil leak that gushed for 87 straight days. According to Deadline, that explosion spawned a New York Times article that in turn sparked a bidding war, making it only a matter of time before someone made a movie about it. That movie is Deepwater Horizon, and that time is soon.
Producers have hired J.C. Chandor to direct the movie. Chandor previously directed Margin Call—a ...
This week, in the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court ruled that a religious employer could not be required to provide employees with certain types of contraception. That decision is beginning to reverberate: A group of faith leaders is urging the Obama administration to include a religious exemption in a forthcoming LGBT anti-discrimination action.
Their call, in a letter sent to the White House Tuesday, attempts to capitalize on the Supreme Court case by arguing that it shows the administration must show more deference to the prerogatives of religion.
"We are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need," the letter states.
The Hobby Lobby decision has been welcomed by religious-right groups who accuse Obama of waging a war on religion. But Tuesday's letter is different: It comes from as group of faith leaders who are generally friendly to the administration, many of whom have closely advised the White House on issues like immigration reform. The letter was organized by Michael Wear, who worked in the Obama White House and directed faith outreach for the president's 2012 campaign. Signers include two members of Catholics for Obama and three former members of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
"This is not an antagonistic letter by any means," Wear told me. But in the wake of Hobby Lobby, he said, "the administration does have a decision to make whether they want to recalibrate their approach to some of these issues."
Last week, the administration announced it would issue an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, a reform long sought by gay-rights groups. Such an order would essentially impose on contractors the provisions of the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which passed the Senate but hasn't been taken up by the House.
But the text of the order has not yet been released, so it is not known whether it will include a religious exemption. (A White House spokesman declined to discuss the order.) ENDA, the proposed federal legislation, does include such an exemption: It specifically does not apply to a broad array of faith-based organizations, from churches to religious-service groups to religious newspapers, meaning those groups could still decline to hire gay or transgender people if they believe it conflicts with their faith. The exemption was included despite fears from some LGBT activists that it could constitute a license to discriminate.
Balancing religious freedom with other concerns, be they gay rights or health-care mandates, is difficult, said Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at Catholic University and a signatory to the letter. The faith community simply wants to make sure its side is heard and respected as the administration tries to thread this delicate needle.
"It would be nice if we had just a little bit more leverage," said Schneck, a onetime cochair of Catholics for Obama. "I am a very strong supporter of LGBT rights, and I am really excited about the prospect of extending provisions against discrimination in federal contracts. But I am also aware that this is an issue that provokes real differences among some of the most important religious organization on the front lines of providing care for the poorest and most vulnerable." Those groups, he said, need to be allowed to work with the government while following the dictates of their faith.
To these religious leaders, Hobby Lobby ought to prompt the White House to reexamine the way it weights religious rights against other priorities. Liberals opposed to the decision, on the other hand, argue it creates a slippery slope to more and more carve-outs from important legislation for claims based on faith. This executive order could be the next battleground for those competing points of view.
They Might Be Giants released their eponymous debut album in November, 1986 and it immediately attracted the attention of Village Voice music critic, Robert Christgau, who, in giving the album an “A,” said “the hits just keep on coming in an exuberantly annoying show of creative superabundance”. Almost thirty years later, the band performed the seminal first album live in its entirety during its 2013 world tour. And now, as a special gift to fans old and new, they’re making available a recording of those performances for free. It runs 47 minutes. To get the recording, click the “Free Album Download” button below, and follow the instructions. Or click here.
John Oliver told us that "If you want
to do something evil, put it inside something that sounds
incredibly boring," and there's no domain in which that is more true than the world of Internet governance.
Read the rest
Google's new design ethos, living on and beyond every screen, could make Google an amorphous problem solver of unimaginable scale.
"I have a weird question for you," I stammered, sitting in a hotel room across from Matias Duarte and Jon Wiley, the Google design leads for Android and Search, respectively. As a reporter, you tend to ask a lot of stupid sounding questions, and it's generally no big deal. But I was about to ask an extremely stupid sounding question--the type of question that, just by breathing it into the air, might out me as actually stupid, tainting every future conversation we'd have to come.
The (leftie) internet went bonkers yesterday over
the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobbydecision,
a narrow ruling that only let "closely held" corporations whose
owners had a religious objection to paying for certain kind of
contraceptives (abortifacients) off the hook from Obamacare's
"contraceptive mandate." Employees, of course, would still be
free to purchase supplemental insurance to cover birth control and
to see their doctor to get a prescription for birth control. They
can't purchase birth control over the counter but that's not
because of the Supreme Court or employers with objections—it's
because the federal government
prohibits the sale of birth control over the counter.
Nevertheless for a certain kind of spouter of partisan talking
points, the Supreme Court ruling—that the government could not, in
fact, bully people into doing something if those people have
religious objections—was more evidence of the "war on women"
Democrats plan to keep running on.
Meanwhile in Georgia, a new gun bill that permits lawfully
licensed residents to carry their firearms into a wide range of
"public accommodations" (like bars) and actual government buildings
goes into effect today*. Opponents of the bill, generally
liberals, tend to be the same people who opposed the Hobby
Lobby ruling, while conservatives who applauded the Hobby
Lobby ruling for protecting religious liberty applaud
Georgia's law for protecting their Second Amendment rights.
Libertarians have to laugh or they'd cry. The partisan break on
Hobby Lobby and Georgia's gun law doesn't make sense if
principles mattered. After all, if an employer has a right not to
be coerced by the government to purchase something for an employee,
that same employer ought to have a right not to be coerced by the
government to permit something on his property. Whether the
specific objections are religious shouldn't even matter—either you
have a right to run your workplace and business as you please or it
belongs to the government. For too many partisan ideologues,
liberal and conservative, the latter applies. Their political
preferences trump any lip service to principles.
*UPDATE: The law
allows private property owners to "exclude or eject" people
carrying firearms. Private property owners shouldn't need a law to
let them exclude who they want, nor one to require specific kinds
We often laud intellectual diversity of a scientific research group because we hope that the multitude of opinions can help point out flaws and improve the quality of research long before it is finalized and written up as a manuscript. The recent events surrounding the research in one of the world's most famous stem cell research laboratories at Harvard shows us the disastrous effects of suppressing diverse and dissenting opinions.
The infamous "Orlic paper" was a landmark research article published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature in 2001, which showed that stem cells contained in the bone marrow could be converted into functional heart cells. After a heart attack, injections of bone marrow cells reversed much of the heart attack damage by creating new heart cells and restoring heart function. It was called the "Orlic paper" because the first author of the paper was Donald Orlic, but the lead investigator of the study was Piero Anversa, a professor and highly respected scientist at New York Medical College.
Anversa had established himself as one of the world's leading experts on the survival and death of heart muscle cells in the 1980s and 1990s, but with the start of the new millennium, Anversa shifted his laboratory's focus towards the emerging field of stem cell biology and its role in cardiovascular regeneration. The Orlic paper was just one of several highly influential stem cell papers to come out of Anversa's lab at the onset of the new millenium. A 2002 Anversa paper in the New England Journal of Medicine – the world's most highly cited academic journal –investigated the hearts of human organ transplant recipients. This study showed that up to 10% of the cells in the transplanted heart were derived from the recipient's own body. The only conceivable explanation was that after a patient received another person's heart, the recipient's own cells began maintaining the health of the transplanted organ. The Orlic paper had shown the regenerative power of bone marrow cells in mouse hearts, but this new paper now offered the more tantalizing suggestion that even human hearts could be regenerated by circulating stem cells in their blood stream.
A 2003 publication in Cell by the Anversa group described another ground-breaking discovery, identifying a reservoir of stem cells contained within the heart itself. This latest coup de force found that the newly uncovered heart stem cell population resembled the bone marrow stem cells because both groups of cells bore the same stem cell protein called c-kit and both were able to make new heart muscle cells. According to Anversa, c-kit cells extracted from a heart could be re-injected back into a heart after a heart attack and regenerate more than half of the damaged heart!
These Anversa papers revolutionized cardiovascular research. Prior to 2001, most cardiovascular researchers believed that the cell turnover in the adult mammalian heart was minimal because soon after birth, heart cells stopped dividing. Some organs or tissues such as the skin contained stem cells which could divide and continuously give rise to new cells as needed. When skin is scraped during a fall from a bike, it only takes a few days for new skin cells to coat the area of injury and heal the wound. Unfortunately, the heart was not one of those self-regenerating organs. The number of heart cells was thought to be more or less fixed in adults. If heart cells were damaged by a heart attack, then the affected area was replaced by rigid scar tissue, not new heart muscle cells. If the area of damage was large, then the heart's pump function was severely compromised and patients developed the chronic and ultimately fatal disease known as "heart failure".
Anversa's work challenged this dogma by putting forward a bold new theory: the adult heart was highly regenerative, its regeneration was driven by c-kit stem cells, which could be isolated and used to treat injured hearts. All one had to do was harness the regenerative potential of c-kit cells in the bone marrow and the heart, and millions of patients all over the world suffering from heart failure might be cured. Not only did Anversa publish a slew of supportive papers in highly prestigious scientific journals to challenge the dogma of the quiescent heart, he also happened to publish them at a unique time in history which maximized their impact.
In the year 2001, there were few innovative treatments available to treat patients with heart failure. The standard approach was to use medications that would delay the progression of heart failure. But even the best medications could not prevent the gradual decline of heart function. Organ transplants were a cure, but transplantable hearts were rare and only a small fraction of heart failure patients would be fortunate enough to receive a new heart. Hopes for a definitive heart failure cure were buoyed when researchers isolated human embryonic stem cells in 1998. This discovery paved the way for using highly pliable embryonic stem cells to create new heart muscle cells, which might one day be used to restore the heart's pump function without resorting to a heart transplant.
The dreams of using embryonic stem cells to regenerate human hearts were soon squashed when the Bush administration banned the generation of new human embryonic stem cells in 2001, citing ethical concerns. These federal regulations and the lobbying of religious and political groups against human embryonic stem cells were a major blow to research on cardiovascular regeneration. Amidst this looming hiatus in cardiovascular regeneration, Anversa's papers appeared and showed that one could steer clear of the ethical controversies surrounding embryonic stem cells by using an adult patient's own stem cells. The Anversa group re-energized the field of cardiovascular stem cell research and cleared the path for the first human stem cell treatments in heart disease.
Instead of having to wait for the US government to reverse its restrictive policy on human embryonic stem cells, one could now initiate clinical trials with adult stem cells, treating heart attack patients with their own cells and without having to worry about an ethical quagmire. Heart failure might soon become a disease of the past. The excitement at all major national and international cardiovascular conferences was palpable whenever the Anversa group, their collaborators or other scientists working on bone marrow and cardiac stem cells presented their dizzyingly successful results. Anversa received numerous accolades for his discoveries and research grants from the NIH (National Institutes of Health) to further develop his research program. He was so successful that some researchers believed Anversa might receive the Nobel Prize for his iconoclastic work which had redefined the regenerative potential of the heart. Many of the world's top universities were vying to recruit Anversa and his group, and he decided to relocate his research group to Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital 2008.
There were naysayers and skeptics who had resisted the adult stem cell euphoria. Some researchers had spent decades studying the heart and found little to no evidence for regeneration in the adult heart. They were having difficulties reconciling their own results with those of the Anversa group. A number of practicing cardiologists who treated heart failure patients were also skeptical because they did not see the near-miraculous regenerative power of the heart in their patients. One Anversa paper went as far as suggesting that the whole heart would completely regenerate itself roughly every 8-9 years, a claim that was at odds with the clinical experience of practicing cardiologists. Other researchers pointed out serious flaws in the Anversa papers. For example, the 2002 paper on stem cells in human heart transplant patients claimed that the hearts were coated with the recipient's regenerative cells, including cells which contained the stem cell marker Sca-1. Within days of the paper's publication, many researchers were puzzled by this finding because Sca-1 was a marker of mouse and rat cells – not human cells! If Anversa's group was finding rat or mouse proteins in human hearts, it was most likely due to an artifact. And if they had mistakenly found rodent cells in human hearts, so these critics surmised, perhaps other aspects of Anversa's research were similarly flawed or riddled with artifacts.
At national and international meetings, one could observe heated debates between members of the Anversa camp and their critics. The critics then decided to change their tactics. Instead of just debating Anversa and commenting about errors in the Anversa papers, they invested substantial funds and efforts to replicate Anversa's findings. One of the most important and rigorous attempts to assess the validity of the Orlic paper was published in 2004, by the research teams of Chuck Murry and Loren Field. Murry and Field found no evidence of bone marrow cells converting into heart muscle cells. This was a major scientific blow to the burgeoning adult stem cell movement, but even this paper could not deter the bone marrow cell champions.
The skeptics who had doubted Anversa's claims all along may now feel vindicated, but this is not the time to gloat. Instead, the discipline of cardiovascular stem cell biology is now undergoing a process of soul-searching. How was it possible that some of the most widely read and cited papers were based on heavily flawed observations and assumptions? Why did it take more than a decade since the first refutation was published in 2004 for scientists to finally accept that the near-magical regenerative power of the heart turned out to be a pipe dream.
One reason for this lag time is pretty straightforward: It takes a tremendous amount of time to refute papers. Funding to conduct the experiments is difficult to obtain because grant funding agencies are not easily convinced to invest in studies replicating existing research. For a refutation to be accepted by the scientific community, it has to be at least as rigorous as the original, but in practice, refutations are subject to even greater scrutiny. Scientists trying to disprove another group's claim may be asked to develop even better research tools and technologies so that their results can be seen as more definitive than those of the original group. Instead of relying on antibodies to identify c-kit cells, the 2014 refutation developed a transgenic mouse in which all c-kit cells could be genetically traced to yield more definitive results - but developing new models and tools can take years.
The scientific peer review process by external researchers is a central pillar of the quality control process in modern scientific research, but one has to be cognizant of its limitations. Peer review of a scientific manuscript is routinely performed by experts for all the major academic journals which publish original scientific results. However, peer review only involves a "review", i.e. a general evaluation of major strengths and flaws, and peer reviewers do not see the original raw data nor are they provided with the resources to replicate the studies and confirm the veracity of the submitted results. Peer reviewers rely on the honor system, assuming that the scientists are submitting accurate representations of their data and that the data has been thoroughly scrutinized and critiqued by all the involved researchers before it is even submitted to a journal for publication. If peer reviewers were asked to actually wade through all the original data generated by the scientists and even perform confirmatory studies, then the peer review of every single manuscript could take years and one would have to find the money to pay for the replication or confirmation experiments conducted by peer reviewers. Publication of experiments would come to a grinding halt because thousands of manuscripts would be stuck in the purgatory of peer review. Relying on the integrity of the scientists submitting the data and their internal review processes may seem naïve, but it has always been the bedrock of scientific peer review. And it is precisely the internal review process which may have gone awry in the Anversa group.
Pygmalion and Glatea by Louis Gauffier (via Wikimedia - Public Domain)
Just like Pygmalion fell in love with Galatea, researchers fall in love with the hypotheses and theories that they have constructed. To minimize the effects of these personal biases, scientists regularly present their results to colleagues within their own groups at internal lab meetings and seminars or at external institutions and conferences long before they submit their data to a peer-reviewed journal. The preliminary presentations are intended to spark discussions, inviting the audience to challenge the veracity of the hypotheses and the data while the work is still in progress. Sometimes fellow group members are truly skeptical of the results, at other times they take on the devil's advocate role to see if they can find holes in their group's own research. The larger a group, the greater the chance that one will find colleagues within a group with dissenting views. This type of feedback is a necessary internal review process which provides valuable insights that can steer the direction of the research.
Considering the size of the Anversa group – consisting of 20, 30 or even more PhD students, postdoctoral fellows and senior scientists – it is puzzling why the discussions among the group members did not already internally challenge their hypotheses and findings, especially in light of the fact that they knew extramural scientists were having difficulties replicating the work.
"I think that most scientists, perhaps with the exception of the most lucky or most dishonest, have personal experience with failure in science—experiments that are unreproducible, hypotheses that are fundamentally incorrect. Generally, we sigh, we alter hypotheses, we develop new methods, we move on. It is the data that should guide the science.
In the Anversa group, a model with much less intellectual flexibility was applied. The "Hypothesis" was that c-kit (cd117) positive cells in the heart (or bone marrow if you read their earlier studies) were cardiac progenitors that could: 1) repair a scarred heart post-myocardial infarction, and: 2) supply the cells necessary for cardiomyocyte turnover in the normal heart.
This central theme was that which supplied the lab with upwards of $50 million worth of public funding over a decade, a number which would be much higher if one considers collaborating labs that worked on related subjects.
In theory, this hypothesis would be elegant in its simplicity and amenable to testing in current model systems. In practice, all data that did not point to the "truth" of the hypothesis were considered wrong, and experiments which would definitively show if this hypothesis was incorrect were never performed (lineage tracing e.g.)."
Discarding data that might have challenged the central hypothesis appears to have been a central principle.
According to the whistleblower, Anversa's group did not just discard undesirable data, they actually punished group members who would question the group's hypotheses:
"In essence, to Dr. Anversa all investigators who questioned the hypothesis were "morons," a word he used frequently at lab meetings. For one within the group to dare question the central hypothesis, or the methods used to support it, was a quick ticket to dismissal from your position."
The group also created an environment of strict information hierarchy and secrecy which is antithetical to the spirit of science:
"The day to day operation of the lab was conducted under a severe information embargo. The lab had Piero Anversa at the head with group leaders Annarosa Leri, Jan Kajstura and Marcello Rota immediately supervising experimentation. Below that was a group of around 25 instructors, research fellows, graduate students and technicians. Information flowed one way, which was up, and conversation between working groups was generally discouraged and often forbidden.
Raw data left one's hands, went to the immediate superior (one of the three named above) and the next time it was seen would be in a manuscript or grant. What happened to that data in the intervening period is unclear.
A side effect of this information embargo was the limitation of the average worker to determine what was really going on in a research project. It would also effectively limit the ability of an average worker to make allegations regarding specific data/experiments, a requirement for a formal investigation."
This segregation of information is a powerful method to maintain an authoritarian rule and is more typical for terrorist cells or intelligence agencies than for a scientific lab, but it would definitely explain how the Anversa group was able to mass produce numerous irreproducible papers without any major dissent from within the group.
In addition to the secrecy and segregation of information, the group also created an atmosphere of fear to ensure obedience:
"Although individually-tailored stated and unstated threats were present for lab members, the plight of many of us who were international fellows was especially harrowing. Many were technically and educationally underqualified compared to what might be considered average research fellows in the United States. Many also originated in Italy where Dr. Anversa continues to wield considerable influence over biomedical research.
This combination of being undesirable to many other labs should they leave their position due to lack of experience/training, dependent upon employment for U.S. visa status, and under constant threat of career suicide in your home country should you leave, was enough to make many people play along.
Even so, I witnessed several people question the findings during their time in the lab. These people and working groups were subsequently fired or resigned. I would like to note that this lab is not unique in this type of exploitative practice, but that does not make it ethically sound and certainly does not create an environment for creative, collaborative, or honest science."
Foreign researchers are particularly dependent on their employment to maintain their visa status and the prospect of being fired from one's job can be terrifying for anyone.
This is an anonymous account of a whistleblower and as such, it is problematic. The use of anonymous sources in science journalism could open the doors for all sorts of unfounded and malicious accusations, which is why the ethics of using anonymous sources was heavily debated at the recent ScienceOnline conference. But the claims of the whistleblower are not made in a vacuum – they have to be evaluated in the context of known facts. The whistleblower's claim that the Anversa group and their collaborators received more than $50 million to study bone marrow cell and c-kit cell regeneration of the heart can be easily verified at the public NIH grant funding RePORTer website. The whistleblower's claim that many of the Anversa group's findings could not be replicated is also a verifiable fact. It may seem unfair to condemn Anversa and his group for creating an atmosphere of secrecy and obedience which undermined the scientific enterprise, caused torment among trainees and wasted millions of dollars of tax payer money simply based on one whistleblower's account. However, if one looks at the entire picture of the amazing rise and decline of the Anversa group's foray into cardiac regeneration, then the whistleblower's description of the atmosphere of secrecy and hierarchy seems very plausible.
The investigation of Harvard into the Anversa group is not open to the public and therefore it is difficult to know whether the university is primarily investigating scientific errors or whether it is also looking into such claims of egregious scientific misconduct and abuse of scientific trainees. It is unlikely that Anversa's group is the only group that might have engaged in such forms of misconduct. Threatening dissenting junior researchers with a loss of employment or visa status may be far more common than we think. The gravity of the problem requires that the NIH – the major funding agency for biomedical research in the US – should look into the prevalence of such practices in research labs and develop safeguards to prevent the abuse of science and scientists.
Things we did not know existed until today: Barbie's Dream Hearse, which is perfect to ferry Barbie from her Dream House to the Dream Morgue, and then the Dream Cemetery Plot or wherever her preferred resting place is. What a fun thing.
The Internet likes three things: mash-ups, Game of Thrones, and Frozen. Oh, and kittens. Okay, The Internet likes four things. There are no kittens in this video, but everything else is there, in all its genre-smashing glory! Except for angry comments. Damn it, the Internet likes five things.
Best part (other than Hans as Joffrey, which is a given)? Baelish’s lines being given to the shop owner. Imagine him sitting there, silently judging and waiting for his opportune moment. Slowly collecting leverage on all the people who come in looking for snowshoes.
“Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.” The Art of War, by Sun Tzù
In 1863, after more than two years of Civil War, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia launches a decisive attack towards the north, in direction of the town of Harrisburg in Pennsylvania. Spotted by the Union Army a skirmish near the small farm town of Gettysburg starts, soon escalating into one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. history. In three days (July 1 to July 3) nearly 50.000 Americans were killed or wounded. The outcome of this military campaign and battle was strongly influenced by geological events almost one billion years in the making.
Fig.1. Simplified geological map of the Gettysburg campaign (after EHRLICH 2009; BROWN 2006; CUFFEY 2008, modified, with edits suggested by BENTLEY 2014), for more and a better geological & tectonic description of the Appalachian Mountains and surrounding areas see also Callan Bentley´s Mountain Beltway Blog.
The Gettysburg campaign started almost a month earlier in the town of Fredericksburg, where both armies had passed the winter along the shores of the Rappahannock River. An easily defendable terrain, the attacks of the Union Army towards south were successfully stopped by the Confederates. June 3 part of the Confederate troops marches first towards west and follows then the south-north trending Great Valley.
Both the Piedmont area, where Fredericksburg is located, as the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains, are formed by hard igneous and metamorphic rocks, more than a billion years old. Such rocks, when eroded, form a rocky and rough terrain, not a very good ground for the soldiers or horses to pass there. However the Blue Ridge Mountains provided shelter from Union spies and attacks by the enemy’s cavalry.
In the flat Great Valley, filled by soft, erodible ancient sediments, the roads were easily trafficable and the Confederate soldiers quickly advanced. The well developed, and therefore fertile soils, provided also plenty of food to support the advancing army.
The roughly parallel bands of mountains and large plains, of great tactical use for the Confederate Army, follows the outline of the Appalachian Mountains, formed in the late Paleozoic, some 400 million years ago, during the collision of ancestral North America with ancestral Africa.
The gently rolling landscape with small hills in the Gettysburg area and in similar sedimentary basin regions, crossed by the Union Armies during their pursuit of the Confederates, is formed by sediments deposited in a second tectonic phase. During the Triassic, some 220 to 200 million years ago, the supercontinent ofPangaea broke apart and large rift-basins opened. This chain of tectonic basins (Culpeper and the Gettysburg-Newark basin) were subsequently filled with sediments coming from the slowly eroding Appalachians, mostly layers of hard sandstone, interbedded in soft siltstone and shale-formations.
Not only large-scale orogenic processes, also local fault systems played an important role in the Gettysburg campaign, as trafficable gaps in the Blue Ridge and South Mountain formed where tectonic movements have crushed the rocks. The weakened rocks are easily removed by weathering and running water and so form broad valleys in the mountain barriers.
In the night of June 28 general Robert Edward Lee (1807-1870) learned from a spy that the Union Army was concentrated around the town of Frederick. Lee therefore positioned his soldiers in the towns of Chambersburg, Cashtown and Carlisle. The Cashtown gap was the only trafficable road for heavy artillery at the time and shaped by tectonic movements along the Cashtown strike-slip fault. Lee could here quickly cross the South Mountain ridge into the Gettysburg basin and eventually face the enemy.
On the same day general George G. Meade (1815-1872) replaced Joseph Hooker (1814-1879) as commander of the Union Army. Meade, anticipating an attack from the west, immediately send troops from Frederick to the nearby Parrs Ridge, to secure this strategic advantageous topographic height. Similar to the Blue Ridge, also Parrs Ridge is formed by weathering-resistant schist and quartzite.
Meade send also the cavalry and three infantry corps to Gettysburg, however the flat terrain of the sedimentary basin couldn’t provide cover and was therefore not considered good battleground.
Unfortunately and unprepared the Union soldiers encountered the scouting Confederate soldiers. What at first seemed to be a lesser skirmish soon developed to a fierce battle when more and more Confederate reinforcements pulled through the tectonic gaps and the rest of the Union Army rapidly advanced towards Gettysburg on the sedimentary flats.
The ruling for the Hobby Lobby case has come rolling downhill from SCOTUS, like a giant turd. (PDF here, dissents start on page 60, thank you Elise.) A couple of months ago and after a Facebook kerfuffle, I had a nice in-comment chat with a friend of mine who is a lawyer. And he explained to me why he thought the ruling would probably go the way it did today, and it made sense. Ultimately it was about the letter of the law and the way it applies, rather than the principle that has us all foaming at the mouth. You know, that whole “women are people and your boss has no business making your medical decisions” thing. Yeah. That doesn’t really matter so much.
Not a lawyer. Not going to try to rehash my very smart friend’s point. Just saying now that I am still incredibly disappointed, but thanks to Aaron, I am entirely unsurprised.
Rather than railing about SCOTUS and the way this country seems set on just fucking over women at every opportunity, I think there’s another important take home here:
Being forced to depend upon employment and the good will of your employer for your access to healthcare is a shitty, shitty system.
The reason I’ve come to believe that healthcare is a human right is because it’s about survival, and about control. Someone else controlling your healthcare, your decisions, puts them in no small measure in control of your life. Well, America is supposed to be all about “freedom.” We’re so about freedom we got freedom coming out of our goddamn ears. And there’s this unending drumbeat talking about about how freedom is destroyed by dependence on the government. Keep your government hands off my healthcare!
So tell me, what kind of freedom is it to have your healthcare in the hands of a corporation? How is having your ability to get healthcare and, it seems, even some of the decisions you make completely controlled by a corporation better? (And don’t give me that fucking line about “don’t like your job? find a new one!” have you even looked at the fucking economy for the last five years? IF you’re even lucky enough to have a job!) You don’t want to be dependent on the government, great. Why the fuck do you want to be dependent on a corporation? An entity whose sole driving force is making a profit.
When I worked for AT&T and was still in my conservative phase (yes, I did have one, I have the humiliating voting history to prove it), even then I’d get taken aback by some egregious abuse of corporate power against employees or the environment and get told: well, you can’t blame the corporation. It’s just there to make money. Just doing what it has to do to fulfill that purpose. (Which even then made me ask and deregulating that is a good thing how? But that’s another song and dance.)
But fine, if all corporations do is make money and fuck everything else, why the fuck do you think it’s a good idea to put someone who literally only gives a shit about money in charge of your health? In charge of your life?
The government ain’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But at least I can pretend I have a tiny voice, a sliver of input, a crumb of power in a democracy. Maybe YA has missed the boat, with its ceaseless totalitarian government dystopias. At this point, I’m far more concerned about the benevolence of our corporate overlords.