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23 Jul 16:13

Whither technical books?

by Matt Hall

Pile of geophysics booksLeafing through our pile of new books on seismic analysis got me thinking about technical books and the future of technical publishing. In particular:

  • Why are these books so expensive? 
  • When will we start to see reproducibility?
  • Does all this stuff just belong on the web?

Why so expensive?

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).

Where's the reproducibility?

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:

  1. Gary Mavko has shared a lot of MATLAB code associated with Quantitative Seismic Interpretation and The Rock Physics Handbook. The code to reproduce the figures is not provided, and MATLAB is not really open, but it's a start.
  2. William Ashcroft's excellent book, A Petroleum Geologist's Guide to Seismic Reflection contains (proprietary, Windows only) code on a CD, so you could in theory make some of the figures yourself. But it wouldn't be easy.
  3. The series of tutorials I'm coordinating for The Leading Edge has, so far, includes all code to reproduce figures, exclusively written in open languages and using open or synthetic data. Kudos to SEG!

Will the web win?

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.

Some questions for you

We'd love to know what you think of technical books. Leave a comment below, or get in touch

  • Do you purchase technical books regularly? What prompts you to buy a book?
  • What book keeps getting pulled off your shelf, and which ones collect dust?
  • What's missing from the current offerings? Workflows, regional studies, atlases,...?
  • Would you rather just consume everything online? Do you care about reproducibility?

400 posts

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 — 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.

23 Jul 14:02

Updating how we teach the process of science

by Laura Guertin
This week, I’m with a group of in-service middle school teachers for a week-long workshop on climate science.  It is always inspiring to connect with K-12 teachers to see and hear about their passion for their classrooms and for teaching – and always frustrating to hear that they have to do so with so few resources that include outdated textbooks.  And in those outdated textbooks we will find the “scientific …
23 Jul 12:30

Fieldwork should be safe and welcoming for all. Currently, it’s not.

by Chris Rowan

A post by Chris RowanHow 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[1] are not pretty:

  • 64% of all survey respondents stated that they had personally experienced sexual harassment.
  • Over 20% of respondents reported that they had personally experienced sexual assault.
  • The primary targets of harassment and assault were women trainees[2], and they were predominantly targeted by their male superiors.
  • Few respondents were aware of mechanisms to report incidents, and most who did report were unsatisfied with the outcome.

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:

  • making sure that you know your institution’s sexual harassment policy and reporting mechanism, and ensure that your colleagues and students are also aware of it.
  • Investigating the issue of pre fieldwork training for researchers[3].

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[4]. 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.

  1. 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.  ↩

  2. 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.  ↩

  3. 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.  ↩

  4. For example. It’s no surprise that many people do not get to the stage of making a complaint in the first place.  ↩

24 Jul 20:53

Dropped cell phone calls become rain gauges in West Africa

by abranscombe
A shaky cell phone connection during a rainstorm can be an annoying nuisance. But now scientists are showing that these weakened signals can be used to monitor rainfall in West Africa, a technique that could help cities in the region better prepare for floods and combat weather-related diseases.
21 Jul 06:21

I'm Sorry, This Trench is Full; Those Rocks Will Have to Go Elsewhere

by Garry Hayes
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!
21 Jul 04:40

The War on Terroir

by Dwight Furrow

by Dwight Furrow

6a019b00fffe15970b01a73df0ad7a970d-150wiFew 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.

21 Jul 19:01

Your TSA Security Fees Just Doubled, But Security Won't Improve

by Zenon Evans

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.

CNN reports:

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."

"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 group.

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.

21 Jul 19:46

Scopes Monkey Trial: Guilty

July 21 is verdict day in the infamous Scopes "Monkey" Trial of 1925. The verdict came in from a jury in Dayton, Tenn., that John Thomas Scopes had committed the crime of teaching evolution to...

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17 Jul 13:49

Biggest “patent troll” slapped down hard by appeals court

by Joe Mullin

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.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

18 Jul 15:20

A visit to the basement where Dungeons & Dragons was born

by Ethan Gilsdorf
Ethan Gilsdorf celebrates the origins of D&D and presents Jon Peterson's exclusive video tour of the place where E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson set out on their first adventures Read the rest
18 Jul 15:30

Akira Kurosawa & Gabriel García Márquez Talk About Filmmaking (and Nuclear Bombs) in Six Hour Interview

by Jonathan Crow

marquez kurosawa

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.

via Thompson on Hollywood H/T Sheerly

Related Content: 

Watch Kurosawa’s Rashomon Free Online, the Film That Introduced Japanese Cinema to the West

Andy Warhol Interviews Alfred Hitchcock (1974)

Listen to François Truffaut’s Big, 12-Hour Interview with Alfred Hitchcock (1962)

Akira Kurosawa & Francis Ford Coppola Star in Japanese Whisky Commercials (1980)

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 eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

The post Akira Kurosawa & Gabriel García Márquez Talk About Filmmaking (and Nuclear Bombs) in Six Hour Interview appeared first on Open Culture.

16 Jul 10:00

This Widow's 4 Kids Were Taken After She Left Them Home Alone

by Conor Friedersdorf

The following is a reader's emailed response to "Working Mom Arrested for Letting Her 9-Year-Old Play Alone at Park." I am withholding her name, though I know it. I cannot independently confirm every detail in her story, but after a bit of online sleuthing, nothing I've learned about her is inconsistent with it.

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.

16 Jul 22:32

Discovery’s Shark Week Will Kick Off With Another Bullshit “Documentary” Instead of Real Science - Discovery Channel, stahp.

by Glen Tickle

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.

At least you used to be.

(via Bell Media PR)

Previously in shark lies from Discovery

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17 Jul 09:00

Would Graduate School Work Better if You Never Graduated From It?

by Steve Kolowich

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.

17 Jul 10:00

How to Teach Google What a Story Is

by Alexis C. Madrigal

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. 

Stories mockup, May 2012 (Google).

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!) 

James Boswell, human biographer (Wikimedia)

"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. 

* * *

From left to right: Smarr, Lider, and Ng at Google's San Francisco office (Alexis Madrigal)

"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. 

A meaty excerpt from one of my stories (Alexis Madrigal)

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."

17 Jul 14:25

An Interactive Chart Showing Which Jobs STEM Majors Really End Up In

by Ria Misra

An Interactive Chart Showing Which Jobs STEM Majors Really End Up In

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.


17 Jul 16:10

Hillary Clinton’s Bizarre Critique of U.S. Foreign Policy

by Peter Beinart

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.

16 Jul 12:42

Shell makes another major oil discovery in Gulf play

by Olivia Pulsinelli
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…
02 Jul 21:15

Well tie calculus

by Evan Bianco

As Matt wrote in March, he is editing a regular Tutorial column in SEG's The Leading Edge. I contributed the June edition, entitled Well-tie calculus. This is a brief synopsis only; if you have any questions about the workflow, or how to get started in Python, get in touch or come to my course.

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.

This tutorial starts from nothing more than sonic and density well logs, and some seismic trace data (from the #opendata Penobscot dataset in dGB's awesome Open Seismic Repository). It steps through a simple well-tie workflow, showing every step in an IPython Notebook:

  1. Loading data with the brilliant LASReader
  2. Dealing with incomplete, noisy logs
  3. Computing the time-to-depth relationship
  4. Computing acoustic impedance and reflection coefficients
  5. Converting the logs to 2-way travel time
  6. Creating a Ricker wavelet
  7. Convolving the reflection coefficients with the wavelet to get a synthetic
  8. Making an awesome plot, like so...

Final thoughts

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.

Matt is looking for tutorial ideas and offers to write them. Here are the author instructions. If you have an idea for something, please drop him a line.

13 Jul 22:25

Advice to high school senior

by Prof. Christopher L. Liner
Jul 13, 2014, at 1:55 PM
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 ********
Dear Ross,

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.

Good luck

16 Jul 19:57

This Girl Just Turned the Comcast Call From Hell Into an Emo Ballad

by Megan Garber

It was inevitable, probably.

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. 

Via @jcstearns

14 Jul 20:32

Newswire: The BP oil spill is being made into a disaster movie

by Dan Selcke

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 ...

02 Jul 17:05

Hobby Lobby Is Already Creating New Religious Demands on Obama

by Molly Ball

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.

Religious Exemption Letter to President Obama

01 Jul 00:53

Free Download: They Might Be Giants Play Their Entire First Album Live

by Dan Colman


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.

via Laughing Squid/BoingBoing

Free Download: They Might Be Giants Play Their Entire First Album Live 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 eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

The post Free Download: They Might Be Giants Play Their Entire First Album Live appeared first on Open Culture.

01 Jul 10:33

Nobody cares about the future of the Internet

by Cory Doctorow

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

01 Jul 11:30

Google Is About To Take Over Your Whole Life, And You Won't Even Notice

by Mark Wilson

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.

Read Full Story

01 Jul 15:27

Thousands Of Koi Thrive In The Flooded Basement Of This Abandoned Mall

by Lauren Davis

Thousands Of Koi Thrive In The Flooded Basement Of This Abandoned Mall

Bangkok's New World Mall was once a shopping center, but today it serves as a giant fish pond, its waterlogged lower level completely overtaken by koi.


01 Jul 16:34

Why Is It So Hard to Understand Government Shouldn't Force Employers to Purchase Birth Control or Permit Guns on Premises?

by Ed Krayewski

america!The (leftie) internet went bonkers yesterday over the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby  decision, 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 of compensation.

30 Jun 18:53

Barbie's Dream Hearse Available To Rent For Barbie's Funeral

by Meredith Woerner

Barbie's Dream Hearse Available To Rent For Barbie's Funeral

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.


30 Jun 18:45

Somebody Mashed Up Frozen and the Game of Thrones Trailer - Winter is--oh, wait. It's here. Hah.

by Victoria McNally

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.

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