We’ve been pretty excited about SpaceX lately with their Falcon 9 rocket launches and landings, the Dragon V2 crew module, and their new spaceport in Texas, but some members of congress don’t share our enthusiasm. Three members of congress in particular are trying to put unnecessary road blocks in front of SpaceX for their own interests. Maybe no one told them that where SpaceX is going, they don’t need roads?
Metaphorical roadblocks could still cause the company problems, though, as House of Representatives members Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) have sent a memo to NASA asking that they investigate an “epidemic of anomalies” in SpaceX missions and make a full report to congress. They say they’re concerned about SpaceX wasting taxpayer money on developing technology that keeps having problems.
However, as Phil Plait and SpaceNews have pointed out, Elon Musk has already said that SpaceX didn’t use any of its NASA funding dollars for the Falcon 9. Any funding they did receive on other projects was only supplemental and came through the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, which was created to coordinate private companies making deliveries of cargo and crew to the ISS, as a result of the Space Act.
SpaceX has successfully delivered cargo to the ISS several times now, their Falcon 9 rockets don’t have any more technical problems than any comparably sophisticated technology, and their Dragon V2 crew module looks nothing short of amazing, so what gives? Unfortunately, it seems that the House members are trying to cause trouble with SpaceX to defend the interests of competitor United Launch Alliance, which has its HQ in the home state of Gardner and Coffman—right in Coffman’s own district.
Add to that ULA and Space Launch System partner Boeing’s plant in Alabama, and it starts to look a lot like this call for transparency is more likely a defense of the interests of individual politicians. There’s nothing inherently wrong with transparency, but in this case, I won’t be a bit surprised when these same representatives want to pick over every little detail to bog down SpaceX and make them look bad as they have with calling minor, expected kinks in the grand scheme of the company’s success an “epidemic of anomalies.”
At least they’re honest about their love of transparency—it’s pretty easy to see right through them.
(via Slate, image via SpaceX)
Previously in SpaceX
Language and math have always been part of the core public school experience in the US; science, by contrast, has often been considered an optional topic. But the combination of a push for greater standards and a recognition of science's increasing role in our high-tech economy has resulted in the adoption of science requirements by many states. Now, an analysis of US census data suggests that the increased push for science may have a negative effect: an increase in the dropout rate in states that have adopted science requirements.
This isn't to say that science is bad for students. "That there is positive impact of rigorous coursework when chosen by students is not controversial," researchers based at the Washington University School of Medicine wrote in a recent study, "but there has been ongoing debate over the effects of requiring a more difficult high school curriculum for everyone."
The authors relied on data obtained by the US Census Bureau, through the actual census and annual surveys the Bureau performs. (For data junkies, it's worth noting that all of the data is publicly available from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series website.)
Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, January 12, 2014 7:49AM EST
CALGARY -- A Calgary-based seismic company claims its business is being undercut by regulatory agencies that have been publicly disclosing data it says it spent hundreds of millions of dollars to collect in Canada's offshore.
Geophysical Service Inc. makes -- or rather made -- its money by mapping the earth's layers beneath the ocean floor using sonogram-like technology, amassing a trove of valuable information that it would sell to oil and gas companies hunting for their next big find.
In a bevy of lawsuits, GSI says would-be customers have been getting hold of that data for free after files it submitted as part of the regulatory process -- a required step in obtaining a permit to do the mapping -- were improperly released.
GSI claims its intellectual property rights have been violated and its assets have been expropriated without compensation, rendering its data all but worthless.
The allegations have not been proven in court.
In its heyday, GSI was a 250-person operation that had a hand in some of Atlantic Canada's biggest offshore oil and gas discoveries. Through its predecessor companies, its history dates back to the 1930s.
Today its workforce can be counted on one hand. GSI doesn't do any seismic work anymore; it was forced to sell its two ships and hasn't booked revenues since 2009.
Instead of collecting and processing data, chief operating officer Paul Einarsson figures GSI spends 95 per cent of its time fighting its long-running and multi-fronted legal war against regulatory agencies, federal departments and its own one-time customers.
"I do this 10 hours a day," said Einarsson. "This is all I do."
Einarsson pegs the replacement cost of GSI data at $800 million to $900 million.
GSI has more than 30 lawsuits on the go, with more expected to be filed in the coming weeks. Some of the most high-profile cases are expected to be heard in court throughout 2014.
A decision in a case against the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board is expected soon and a case against the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board is expected to go to court later this year.
Other defendants include the National Energy Board, which oversees oil and gas activity in the North, various federal government departments and a slew of oil and gas explorers, large and small, that GSI says have accessed its data without paying for it.
Late last year, GSI filed a more than $170-million suit against U.S. energy heavyweight ExxonMobil and its Canadian subsidiary, Imperial Oil Ltd. (TSX:IMO), alleging "breaches of contract" and copyright infringement. Imperial spokesman Pius Rolheiser confirmed both his company and Exxon had been served, but declined to further comment as the matter is before the courts.
In an effort to modernize in the early 2000s, regulators began asking for digital versions of the data, rather than hard copies. One of their aims, Einarsson said, was to attract more oil and gas investment to the offshore -- something he describes as tantamount to "welfare" for big oil and gas explorers.
"It really meant a huge expansion of the disclosure of the data," said Einarsson.
GSI has been forced to rely on Access-to-Information requests to find out if data is being improperly disclosed by the regulators -- a slow and frustrating process for Einarsson and the company's remaining staff.
The boards are to keep non-exclusive, or speculative, data, which GSI collects in the hopes it can license it out, confidential for 10 years after it's submitted. But GSI argues its data should never be given away.
The guidelines do not set out what is supposed to happen once the confidentiality period is up, Einarsson said.
"It doesn't mandate disclosure. It doesn't override copyright. It doesn't override federal laws. It doesn't override our ownership laws. It just says nothing," said Einarsson.
The first major case began in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in November and Einsarsson is expecting a decision this month or next.
In that case, GSI was not seeking damages against the Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board and provincial government, but instead asked for a declaratory judgment that the law doesn't authorize the regulator to demand the data in the first place.
It also sought a permanent injunction "enjoining it from disclosing or otherwise making available to any person whatsoever and in any manner or format whatsoever the complete records, or alternatively the electronic records."
Kathleen Funke, a spokeswoman for the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board board declined to comment, as the matter is before the courts, "other than to say that we believe we have followed proper guidelines as set forth by the Accord Acts and our own geological and geophysical guidelines."
The National Energy Board, Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board and the federal department of Natural Resources declined to comment as the matter is before the courts.
In a statement of defence filed in the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench this summer by the NEB, the federal regulator argues that the data is not protected by copyright, denying the material was an "original work" and that "skill, judgement or labour" were applied. The NEB also argues it did not benefit financially from the data and "acted in the public interest."
Teresa Scassa, Canada research chair in information law at the University of Ottawa, said copyright can be a "fussy thing" when it comes to data. The information itself may not be original, but the way in which it's compiled or arranged may be.
She said governments are not supposed to make public confidential information that's been provided by a private-sector company as part of a regulatory process. But the boards could argue there's an overriding public interest in making GSI's data public or that its data isn't sufficiently original to be protected under copyright.
"I wouldn't say either argument is a slam dunk," she said.
The GSI case, she said "will raise some very interesting issues that will have implications far outside of that context."
With revenues having dried up and legal bills mounting, Einsarsson says he'll keep up the fight as long as he possibly can.
It's not about saving his company; "I'm done," he says.
"It's the principle," he said. "I want to see it through because I want justice to be done. I don't want somebody else to have to do this. I want to teach these guys a lesson that they can't do this to Canadians."
Science fiction author Nalo Hopkinson, a professor at UC Riverside, sounds the alarm about a change in management at the Eaton Science Fiction Collection, the largest public science fiction and fantasy in the world. Read the rest
Anyone remember Michael Crichton’s Westworld (or the Simpsons parody)? In this dystopian 1973 sci-fi, tourists visit a triumvirate of fantasy theme parks staffed by robotic historical re-enactors: Roman World, Medieval World, and the titular West World, with its “lawless violence on the American Frontier.” When a virus infects the parks’ androids, James Brolin must fight a ruthless robot gunslinger—played by a stone-faced Yul Brenner—to the death. The film may look laughably dated, but the fears it taps into are anything but: 2001, Terminator, Battlestar Galactica, I, Robot, and even a Westworld remake in the works—the perennial theme of man vs. machine, as old in film at least as Fritz Lang’s silent Metropolis, becomes ever more relevant in our drone-haunted world.
But are evil—or at least dangerously malfunctioning—robots something we should legitimately fear? Not according to visionary sci-fi author and Disney enthusiast Ray Bradbury in a letter to English writer Brian Sibley, penned in 1974, one year after the release of theme-park horror Westworld. The main body of Bradbury’s letter consists of a vigorous defense of Walt Disney and Disneyland, against whom “most of the other architects of the modern world were asses and fools.” Sibley recalls that his initial letter “expressed doubts about Disney’s use of Audio-Animatronic creations in Disneyland.” “At the time,” he explains, “I… had probably read too many sci-fi stories about the danger of robots taking over our human world—including, of course, some by Ray—and so saw it as a sinister rather than benign experiment.”
After his praise of Disney, Bradbury writes two agitated postscripts exploding what Sibley calls “ill-informed and prejudiced views” on robots. He classes automated entities with benign “extensions of people” like books, film projectors, cars, and presumably all other forms of technology. Notwithstanding the fact that books cannot actually wield weapons and kill people, Bradbury makes an interesting argument about fears of robots as akin to those that lead to censorship and enforced ignorance. But Bradbury’s counterclaim sounds a misanthropic note that nonetheless rings true given the salient examples he offers: “I am not afraid of robots,” he states, emphatically, “I am afraid of people, people, people.” He goes on to list just a few of the conflicts in which humans kill humans, religious, racial, nationalist, etc.: “Catholics killing Protestants… whites killing blacks… English killing Irish….” It’s a short sampling that could go on indefinitely. Bradbury strongly implies that the fears we project onto robotic bogeymen are in reality well-grounded fears of each other. People, he suggests, can be monstrous when they don’t “remain human,” and technology—including robots—only assists with the necessary task of “humanizing” us. “Robots?” Bradbury writes, “God, I love them. And I will use them humanely to teach all of the above.”
June 10, 1974
Dear Brian Sibley:
This will have to be short. Sorry. But I am deep into my screenplay on SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES and have no secretary, never have had one..so must write all my own letters..200 a weekl!!!
Disney was a dreamer and a doer..while the rest of us were talking ab out the future, he built it. The things he taught us at Disneyland about street planning, crowd movement, comfort, humanity, etc, will influence builders architects, urban planners for the next century. Because of him we will humanize our cities, plan small towns again where we can get in touch with one another again and make democracy work creatively because we will KNOW the people we vote for. He was so far ahead of his time it will take is the next 50 years to catch up. You MUST come to Disneyland and eat your words, swallow your doubts. Most of the other architects of the modern world were asses and fools who talked against Big Brother and then built prisons to put us all up in..our modern environments which stifle and destroy us. Disney the so-called conservative turns out to be Disney the great man of foresight and construction.
Enough. Come here soon. I’ll toss you in the Jungle Ride River and ride you on the train into tomorrow, yesterday, and beyond.
Good luck, and stop judging at such a great distance. You are simply not qualified. Disney was full of errors, paradoxes, mistakes. He was also full of life, beauty, insight. Which speaks for all of us, eh? We are all mysteries of light and dark. There are no true conservatives, liberals, etc, in the world. Only people.
(Signed, ‘Ray B.’)
P.S. I can’t find that issue of THE NATION, of the NEW REPUBLIC, which ever it was, with my letter in it on Disney. Mainly I said that if Disneyland was good enough for Captain Bligh it was good enough for me. Charles Laughton and his wife took me to Disneyland for my very first visit and our first ride was the Jungle Boat Ride, which Laughton immediately commandeered, jeering at customers going by in other boats! A fantastic romp for me and a hilarious day. What a way to start my association with Disneyland! R.B.
P.S. Can’t resist commenting on you fears of the Disney robots. Why aren’t you afraid of books, then? The fact is, of course, that people have been afraid of books, down through history. They are extensions of people, not people themselves. Any machine, any robot, is the sum total of the ways we use it. Why not knock down all robot camera devices and the means for reproducing the stuff that goes into such devices, things called projectors in theatres? A motion picture projector is a non-humanoid robot which repeats truths which we inject into it. Is it inhuman? Yes. Does it project human truths to humanize us more often than not? Yes.
The excuse could be made that we should burn all books because some books are dreadful.
We should mash all cars because some cars get in accidents because of the people driving them.
We should burn down all the theatres in the world because some films are trash, drivel.
So it is finally with the robots you say you fear. Why fear something? Why not create with it? Why not build robot teachers to help out in schools where teaching certain subjects is a bore for EVERYONE? Why not have Plato sitting in your Greek Class answering jolly questions about his Republic? I would love to experiment with that. I am not afraid of robots. I am afraid of people, people, people. I want them to remain human. I can help keep them human with the wise and lovely use of books, films, robots, and my own mind, hands, and heart.
I am afraid of Catholics killing Protestants and vice versa.
I am afraid of whites killing blacks and vice versa.
I am afraid of English killing Irish and vice versa.
I am afraid of young killing old and vice versa.
I am afraid of Communists killing Capitalists and vice versa.
But…robots? God, I love them. I will use them humanely to teach all of the above. My voice will speak out of them, and it will be a damned nice voice.
via Letters of Note
Ray Bradbury: “I Am Not Afraid of Robots. I Am Afraid of People” (1974) is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooks, Free Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.
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Sanjay Kumar of Geospatial Media in a recent blog highlights a problem that has been in many sectors a festering sore for years, maintaining geographic data. Sanjay was visiting the newly-built headquarters of a large company (I assume Trimble) in Denver last week. Trimble has just completed a new headquarters building using its own geospatially-enabled design and construction technology (aka eating its own dog food) ranging from surveying, laser scanning, machine control to building information modelling (BIM), which resulted not only in efficiency in construction process saving time and cost, but also offered enterprise wide information with regard to the assets and facilities of the building for maintenance and safety functions.
Sanjay contrasted this forward-looking use of geospatial data and technology with the experience of a person invited to visit the new HQ building being denied a visa by the US immigration agency because the agency's GIS is out-of-date and indicated there was no building at the address of Trimble's new HQ.
Based on his recent experience Sanjay goes on to generalize about the 'too little too late' approach with regard to harnessing and utilising the value of geospatial information and tools that characterizes too many geospatially-enabled programs. Despite having gone through the entire process of commoditization and industrialization via initiatives like Google Earth and Bing Maps, spatial enabling of industrial work-flows in the field of engineering and construction, mechanization of agriculture, management of emergency services, and critical utility in defence and national security, geospatial technology gets attention too late in enterprises and governments and often too little effort is made to create high quality frequently updated geospatial information.
As I have blogged about on numerous occasions primarily in the context of utility and communications infrastructure, geospatial data quality including currency is a huge problem in many sectors of the World economy.
At last year's ESRI User Conference, Sam Pitroda, adviser to the previous Prime Minister of India offered a vison of IT enabling a better future for India's 400 million people living below the poverty line. A key part of that vision is creating "a nationwide platform for GIS to [geo]tag every physical asset. With this, we have platform for cyber security, lots of government and public service applications."
That is an incredible vision, but if we aren't able to maintain the currency of the information including location of our infrastructure, geotagging all of our assets will simply exacerbate the existing problem of maintaining geographic data.
Data is perishable, just like meat, vegetables or fruit. The business problem is finding the equivalent of refrigeration so that geographic data maintains its value. A solution to the problem is to treat information about assets as at least as valuable as the assets themselves. For example, I remember visiting a Telefonica Sao Paulo engineering facility several years ago. All the design and construction work at TelefonicaSP is done by outside contractors. My first question is how do you ensure that as-builts are reported accurately and get into the asset database in a timely fashion ? It is very simple - contractors don't get paid until the as-builts are in the database and have been verified. Heathrow is implementing a software system right now based on a similar business process but that is aimed at automatically ensuring as-builts are reported accurately, consistently and in a timely fashion by contractors. As we move toward a new way of planning, designing, building and operating and maintaining infrastructure, this type of solution for maintaining the currency of geolocation data is going to have to become standard in the construction industry.
If we don't treat geospatial data as a valuable, but perishable commodity, as Sanjay concludes, geospatial will remain highly under-valued and under-utilized technology vis-a-vis its potential and offerings.
Chronicle scribe Max Landis is teaming up with IDW Publishing to create a TV series based on Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently series of humorous sci-fi novels—all as part of comics publisher IDW’s plans, announced last year to follow Marvel’s lead into TV production. As revealed by The Hollywood Reporter, Landis is attached to the project as an executive producer and is also set to write the pilot. He expressed enthusiasm for the character, originated by Adams in 1987’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, saying, “This is a dream project of mine.”
Gently (real name Svlad Cjelli, aka Dirk Cjelli) is a sort of affable con man who styles himself as a holistic detective—i.e., one who solves cases not by investigating a mystery, but the society that surrounds the mystery. He usually accomplishes this by frittering the day away doing nothing much at all ...
by Brooks Riley
Personal experiences of art should not be foisted on others except in small doses, given that words can only provide semantic guideposts to such an experience. That's why I never wanted to write a companion piece to my earlier one‚ Holding Albrecht. But recently I found myself longing to see Albrecht Dürer's Paumgartner Altar again, which was nearly destroyed by an acid attack in 1988, removing it from view for over twenty years. After my earlier epiphany at the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung in Munich, holding and beholding the Dürer engravings up close in an empty room, with all the time in the world to delight in their intricate wit and daunting craftsmanship, I felt uneasy as I slouched over to the grandiose Alte Pinakothek, shouldering a dread of crowds, dread of the official museum-going experience, dread that my memory of Dürer's paintings might have let me down.
It was one of those cold spells in May, some of which have names. Not the Eisheiligen of mid-May (five saint days of chill), and too soon for the Schafskälte of early June, this was just a no-name dreary day. I would be visiting old friends, not just the paintings themselves, but also the faces in those paintings. If you live in Germany, you see Dürer's faces everywhere, the genetic variances of a Volk, still in circulation 500 years later. Just look at Oswolt Krel, a young businessman from Lindau. His eyes have darted to the left, his face a mask of worry over some transaction gone wrong. Is it 1499 or 2008?
The Alte Pinakothek is not my favorite museum. It exudes all the charm of a mausoleum, with its hundreds of cubic meters of useless space. In spite of being closed for renovation for four years in the Nineties, the museum failed to replace the tacky plastic strips glued to the bottom of every picture frame, identifying the painting only for those limber enough to bend over the rope barrier to read them. Such cheap labeling is unworthy of a museum which is otherwise world-class. But okay, I'm not here for the labels, I'm here to see the paintings. That too seems to be a problem on a cloudy day. The room featuring the two paintings I most want to see is lit by a skylight far too high to provide enough natural light to see them properly. Sadder but wiser, the museum has also placed ropes in front of every painting, not that a determined demented destroyer would ever be deterred by a textile barrier.
Now for the good news. The Paumgartner Altar has been beautifully restored, well worth the 20-year wait to see it again. My fear that it might be too colorful (a problem with many restorations) was laid to rest. As with so much of Dürer, this triptych is full of oddities, especially the center panel. Dürer seems to be working with his own brand of magic realism, deliberately defying the laws of perspective he knows so well, pumping the religious myth by dwarfing the mortals: not the ones who are naturally diminished by distance, but the ones in the foreground who are on a level with the Madonna and child—a depiction that suggests ‘toys-R-us'. (They so offended an Elector of Bavaria that he had them deleted in the 17th century)
At the back of the courtyard, a wooden cross haphazardly balanced on the ruin of an arch eerily foretells the holy infant's eventual fate. Under the arch, two men converse, ignoring the nativity in the foreground. Behind them, the homey hillsides in the distance, framed by the arch, remind me of Jakob Wassermann's biography of another famous Nuremberger, Kaspar Hauser. Dürer would have loved Kaspar's reaching out to ‘touch' the landscape outside his window in the tower where he was first housed, driven by his fundamental ignorance of distance and perspective, the side-effects of formative years of incarceration in the dark.
This nativity scene seems almost post-modern: Deconstructed elements of the story are present but do not add up to one—it's more Neo Rauch than Northern Renaissance. No one is looking at the baby except its mother (with what looks like horror). The wee pious group below (all Paumgartners) seem to be looking in its direction, but it's doubtful they can see anything with all the cherubs flocking around the baby. Whatever Dürer was after, the center panel cares more about geometry and solids, location and dislocation, distraction and indifference, distance and proximity, incident and discourse than it does about its holy subject: It's an intriguing mess that raises more questions than it answers.
As odd as it is, nothing about this triptych's center panel can compete with the two Paumgartner brothers left and right of it, about whom I wrote in my earlier piece. In spite of their sartorial splendor and a dead dragonette, they look like who they are, wealthy burghers of Nuremberg with other things on their minds. They are the cinema verité for whom Dürer cares the most. They are bigger than life but not idealized. No fantasy landscapes inflate their origins (although said Elector had them added in the 17th century). Without a context, the two come across as recognizable human beings, with clear fraternal differences that could tell tales across the centuries.
It's this absence of context that makes Dürer's self-portrait from 1500 so powerful. It seems to be saying: ‘Do not look at where I am, look at who I am.' He painted it at the age of 28, the year he officially achieved manhood (a late Bar Mitzvah by today's standards). His maturity is evident, especially compared to the self-portrait two years earlier, in which a foppish young narcissist dresses up as a wannabe Casanova complete with Italian landscape outside the window.
When I was young, I thought the Dürer of 1500 was looking at me. Now I know he's asking me to look at him (You talkin' to me?). ‘I am a man now. See me as I really am.' Dürer was already famous and successful. Until 1500 that fame had probably gone to his head. But now he's moved on, he's no longer the rock star. The Dürer of 1500 is the one who will write 4 books on geometry, another 4 books on the human figure, the one who will correspond with Erasmus, Rafael and probably Piero della Francesca, the one who will lean in to Luther, the one who will write a thesis on aesthetics glorifying the genius of the moment over the painstaking failure of effort.
The man who invented the logo will make fun of his own invention. The man who loves geometry and math (his books were the first books on mathematics to be written in German instead of Latin) will lampoon his obsessions in the bewildered gaze of a young Melencolia. The man who looks like a wise young hippie of my generation will document his travels in breathtaking watercolors no patron would deign to commission. The man with the acid pen will draw a rhinoceros from someone's else's description of it.
It is dark in the Alte Pinakothek on this dreary day, dimming the radiance I know is there. A painting can convey so much more than its visual vocabulary might suggest. As I strain to hold the gaze directed at me from Dürer's self-portrait, I know what he's thinking. I nod back.
"Suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune"? Yeah, that sounds about right.
Leafing through our pile of new books on seismic analysis got me thinking about technical books and the future of technical publishing. In particular:
Should technical books really cost several times what ordinary books cost? Professors often ask us for discounts for modelr, our $9/mo seismic modeling tool. Students pay 10% of what pros pay in our geocomputing course. Yet academic books cost three times what consumer books cost. I know it's a volume game — but you're not going to sell many books at $100 a go! And unlike consumer books, technical authors usually don't make any money — a star writer may score 6% of net sales... once 500 books have been sold (see Handbook for Academic Authors).
Compared to the amazing level of reproducibility we saw at SciPy — where the code to reproduce virtually every tutorial, talk, and poster was downloadable — books are still rather black box. For example, the figures are often drafted, not generated. A notable (but incomplete) exception is Chris Liner's fantastic (but ridiculously expensive) volume, Elements of 3D Seismology, in which most of the figures seem to have been generated by Mathematica. The crucial final step is to share the code that generated them, and he's exploring this in recent blog posts (e.g. right).
I can think of three examples of more reproducible geophysics in print:
None of this comes close to Sergey Fomel's brand of fully reproducible geophysics. He is a true pioneer in this space, up there with Jon Claerbout. (You should definitely read his blog!). One thing he's been experimenting with is 'live' reproducible documents in the cloud. If we don't see an easy way to publish live, interactive notebooks in the cloud this year, we'll see them next year for sure.
So imagine being able to read a technical document, a textbook say, with all the usual features you get online — links, hover-over, clickable images, etc. But then add the ability to not only see the code that produced each figure, but to edit and re-run that code. Or add slider widgets for parameters — "What happens to the gather if if I change Poisson's ratio?" Now, since you're on the web, you can share your modification with your colleagues, or the world.
Now that's a book I'd be glad to pay double for.
We'd love to know what you think of technical books. Leave a comment below, or get in touch.
The last post was our 400th on this blog. At an average of 500 words, that's about 200,000 words since we started at the end of 2010. Enough for a decent-sized novel, but slightly less likely to win a Pulitzer. In that time, according to Google, almost exactly 100,000 individuals have stopped by agilegeoscience.com — most of them lots of times — thank you readers for keeping us going! The most popular posts: Shale vs tight, Rock physics cheatsheet, and Well tie workflow. We hope you enjoy reading at least half as much as we enjoy writing.
How prevalent is sexual harassment and assault during fieldwork? A paper in PLOS One that grapples with this question is getting some justified attention in the press and online at the moment, and the answer is of concern to anyone who works in a field-based science like geology. In the paper, Kate Clancy and coauthors Katie Hinde, Robin Nelson and Julienne Rutherford present ‘the first systematic investigation of field site work environment and experiences, particularly as they relate to sexual harassment and assault’. The results, from interviews of more than 600 people working in 32 different field-based disciplines are not pretty:
This is a difficult subject to get totally accurate data on, and the authors acknowledge there are risks of some self-selection in a study based on a voluntary survey (although this cuts both ways: they could be as many or more people choosing not to participate because their experiences were too traumatic, as were motivated to participate because of their experiences). But really, the absolute frequencies are unimportant. They are clearly a long way from being zero, and even one incident of harassment or assault is one too many. Also, whilst this might be the first attempt to systematically study this problem, there is a certain lack of surprise at the outcome which is almost as terrible as the numbers themselves.
@Allochthonous Disturbing, but completely unsurprising.
— Kim Hannula (@stressrelated) July 17, 2014
This is a serious issue. The very nature of the geosciences, where time in the field is still an essential part of earning your undergraduate degree, and many graduate degrees and later research are fundamentally tied to field work, means that career progression requires women to enter and persevere in environments where they are at measurable risk of experiencing harassment – or worse. If we wish to undo the highly-skewed-to-white-male post-PhD gender ratio in the geosciences (which is measurably worse than in many other sciences), we are not exactly presenting the safe and welcoming culture that will make it happen.
So what to do? Kate Clancy has previously listed some suggested actions, which boil down to:
This is a good start, but I don’t think it can end there. If our aim is to truly make the climate within our field more friendly to women and other minorities, I don’t think we can sit back and say that because there is a policy and a process for reporting and resolving complaints, we have no other responsibility. Our frontline defence against sexual harassment and assault should not be forcing people to compound the trauma and emotional damage that they have already suffered to bring people to account for their behaviour – with the additional risk of having their reputations and their future prospects in their field damaged, with no guarantee of a good outcome. We can, we must, be more proactive than that. We need to attack this behaviour at its root, by making it clear upfront that it is not acceptable, that a complaint will be taken seriously, and that people who do break the code of conduct will be dealt with harshly. The latter two may require taking an uncomfortable look at our own behaviour and actions: how often are we inclined to turn a blind eye, or brush off troubling behaviour as nothing of consequence? This is a particular risk in the peculiarly intense environment of field trips, which can skew perceptions and standards of acceptable behaviour, whilst simultaneously isolating the vulnerable from their normal support network, and increasing the perceived power differential between students and mentors. Our oversight is dulled, precisely when we should be more vigilant. Perhaps that is something training can effectively address.
I don’t have any easy answers to all this, but what I do know that just as anywhere else, women working in the field have a right to feel – and be – safe and secure. Currently they are not, and the onus is on us to change that. A discussion of how to do so is already taking place within anthropology, as evidenced by this study, and in other field-based sciences like ecology. Geoscientists should be part of this important conversation too.
4% of the respondents identified as geologists. Overall, the survey was dominated by anthropologists, who were the original targets of the survey, and were more likely to have been reached by the authors’ recruitment efforts. ↩
Harassment and assault were documented for both men and women, but women were 3.5 times more likely to report having experienced sexual harassment and more than 5 times as likely to report having been assaulted. ↩
At least in geology, as far as I know, fieldwork risk assessments do not routinely address this particular risk, but there’s no reason it could not be added. ↩
|Looking south from Hurricane Ridge into the heart of Olympic National Park|
|Looking north from Hurricane Ridge across the Juan de Fuca Strait to Vancouver Island|
by Dwight Furrow
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."
Food scientist Harold McGee, writing, with Daniel Patterson, in the New York Times agrees:
"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 $10.
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 another.
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."
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," explains USA 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 paid.
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 agency's fees.
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.
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.
Akira Kurosawa & Gabriel García Márquez Talk About Filmmaking (and Nuclear Bombs) in Six Hour Interview is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooks, Free Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.
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What do students who receive a Bachelors degree in a STEM major end up doing with it? The answer, as this chart shows, is all over the place.
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 book No 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.