Shared posts

30 Sep 21:37

Five favorite maps

by Jason Kottke

Bill Rankin of radicalcartography picks his five favorite maps. The historical meanderings of the Mississippi River map from an Army Corps of Engineers report is a favorite of mine too:

Mississippi Meandering

Tags: best of   Bill Rankin   lists   maps   Mississippi River
28 Sep 00:10

Clouds crashing in the sky

by Jason Kottke


There's an incredible 16-second sequence in this video of clouds, starting at around 10 seconds in. It looks as though the sky is a roiling ocean wave about to crash on the beach. I've watched it approximately 90 times so far today.

It's worth making the video fullscreen and pumping it up to the max quality (2160p!) to see it properly. (via colossal)

Tags: clouds   video
27 Sep 19:28

"I had a stroke at 33"

by Jason Kottke

When she was 33, Christine Hyung-Oak Lee had a stroke. It was not exactly a normal stroke and it ended up saving her life.

Our fridge was empty. I went to Andronico's grocery store and browsed the aisles, a blur of colors and letters and shapes. What was it we needed? I wondered. I could not figure out how the pieces fit together, that I would need onions because we used onions for everything, that I would need bread for sandwiches, that I would need meat for a possible entree. They were shapes and colors and textures. That fleshy pink package was a fleshy pink rectangle. The countless numbers of canned soup and canned vegetables were mere metal cylinders.

I emerged with one thing: a jar of Muir Glen spaghetti sauce. I grabbed it because I had seen it before, because I could read the label. If it was something I could understand, it must be something I needed. I did not need spaghetti sauce.

I still do not remember how it is I paid, whether by cash or by debit or credit card. I do not remember swiping or handing over bills. I just remember blinking in the cold winter sun at my car in the parking lot. Holding a jar of spaghetti sauce.

And wondering how to get home. I did not know how to get home.

I got in the car and started driving. If I just drove, I thought, I would somehow get home.

Each time I thought about whether I needed to make a left turn or right or stop or go, I felt lost. I had no idea. And so I pressed on without thinking, while relying on intuition. Each time I stopped, I recognized landmarks - a tree or a house or a store. I knew I was getting closer to home, but I did not know how to continue.

Intuition carried me when logic and memory failed.

I made it home.

And then I thought, I need to get to a hospital.

I picked up the phone and then I asked myself, What is the phone number for 911?

I looked at the numeric keypad, and I could not figure out what number each shape represented. And what is the number for 911?

I thought perhaps I should try calling my husband. I could not remember his phone number, either. It did not occur to me to look for it in the contacts list on my BlackBerry, either.

I finally decided I would mash a bunch of numbers on the keypad and talk to whomever it was I dialed on the landline. I did not think about the fact that I did not know where I lived, but I punched in a set of numbers anyway.

"Hello," a man said.

"Hi!" I said.

"Hi," he said.

"Who is this?" I asked.

"This is A-," he replied.

"Oh! I have been trying to reach you! I forgot your phone number and I didn't know how to get ahold of you! I called this phone number, because it was in my fingers."

Just go read the whole thing, what a great piece.

Tags: Christine Hyung-Oak Lee   medicine
27 Sep 18:55

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

by Jason Kottke

The world gets weirder all the time.

From Hilary Mantel's forthcoming collection, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, an excerpt of the title story in the NY Times Sunday Book Review.

I said, "It's the fake femininity I can't stand, and the counterfeit voice. The way she boasts about her dad the grocer and what he taught her, but you know she would change it all if she could, and be born to rich people. It's the way she loves the rich, the way she worships them. It's her philistinism, her ignorance, and the way she revels in her ignorance. It's her lack of pity. Why does she need an eye operation? Is it because she can't cry?"

When the telephone rang, it made us both jump. I broke off what I was saying. "Answer that," he said. "It will be for me."

And this line!

She lives on the fumes of whiskey and the iron in the blood of her prey.

I love Hilary Mantel. Instant pre-order. (via @TomJunod)

Update: A member of Parliment's House of Lords is calling for Hilary Mantel to be investigated by the police for this story.

"If somebody admits they want to assassinate somebody, surely the police should investigate," Lord Timothy Bell, a friend and former PR adviser to Thatcher, told the Sunday Times. "This is in unquestionably bad taste."

The Guardian took Bell to task for his own taste:

Let us deal first with taste. This man's client-list presently glitters with Rolf Harris and Cuadrilla, the UK fracking company. He has previously managed the reputations of General Pinochet and Asma al-Assad, wife of the Syrian president. "I'm not concerned with taste," said Mantel in my interview with her. Apparently neither is Lord Bell.

English PEN released a statement in support of Mantel:

Lord Bell's call for the police to investigate Mantel for writing a work of fiction is disproportionate and wholly inappropriate. The fact that Ms Mantel's story has caused offence is not a matter for the police: authors are free to shock or challenge their readership by depicting extraordinary events or extreme acts.

'If depicting a murder in literature were equivalent to inciting murder, then Lord Bell's colleagues Lord Dobbs, Baroness James and Baroness Rendell would all need to be investigated by the police too,' said Robert Sharp, Head of Campaigns at English PEN. 'It is most disturbing when politicians and commentators in a democracy start calling for censorship on the grounds of offence or bad taste. Not only does it undermine the right to freedom of expression in the UK, it sends a very poor signal to politicians in authoritarian regimes who sue, threaten and sometimes kill writers and journalists for satirising or criticising the political class.'

Even if it's fake it's real?

Tags: books   Hilary Mantel   The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
27 Sep 18:53

Star Wars Episode II: The Friend Zone

by Jason Kottke

Better than the "real" thing.

Amidala friendzones Anakin, Obi-Wan hunts for drugs, and Jango Fett pumps the bass in this hilarious Auralnauts reimagining of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

You may have also seen their recent video of the Throne Room scene at the end of Star Wars without John Williams' score (reminiscent of these musicless musicvideos) or Bane's outtakes from The Dark Knight Rises. Still champion though: bad lip reading of NFL players. (via @aaroncoleman0)

Tags: movies   remix   Star Wars   video
27 Sep 18:19

Greenland's alarming black ice

by Jason Kottke


Greenland has been covered in dark ice this summer. Why is that such a problem? Because dark things absorb more heat than lighter colored things, causing the dark ice to melt faster than white ice would. Eric Hotlhaus explains.

There are several potential explanations for what's going on here. The most likely is that some combination of increasingly infrequent summer snowstorms, wind-blown dust, microbial activity, and forest fire soot led to this year's exceptionally dark ice. A more ominous possibility is that what we're seeing is the start of a cascading feedback loop tied to global warming. Box mentions this summer's mysterious Siberian holes and offshore methane bubbles as evidence that the Arctic can quickly change in unpredictable ways.

This year, Greenland's ice sheet was the darkest Box (or anyone else) has ever measured. Box gives the stunning stats: "In 2014 the ice sheet is precisely 5.6 percent darker, producing an additional absorption of energy equivalent with roughly twice the US annual electricity consumption."

Perhaps coincidentally, 2014 will also be the year with the highest number of forest fires ever measured in Arctic.

Tags: Eric Holthaus   global warming   Greenland
27 Sep 03:12

The Solitary Genius

by Dorothy


21 Sep 22:00


by Mary Tremonte
Leah Girardo Reintroduction $50 This is the first in a series about specific animals and their interactions with humans and the environment. This print is about the delicate relationship between gray wolves and wood warblers in Yellowstone Park. In 1996, wolves were reintroduced to the park, and had a great impact on the ecosystem. Within a short time songbird numbers increased and species returned to the park that had been absent. This print is a part of a series that depicts animals that are active at dawn and dusk or nocturnal. Through this series I am exploring the transformation of our natural, cultural and constructed environments under the night sky. These prints also explore the connections between humans and other animals through our interactions in shared environments. Many of the animals featured as a part of this series have been vilified, and are still considered pests or dangerous. I wanted to celebrate these survivors, who live among us in cities and other human occupied areas. one color relief block print 15” x 22” Stonehenge Acid Free Cotton Rag Paper signed, second edition of 8 girardowolf_400.jpg
16 Sep 22:04

The future of the American bird

by Jason Kottke

Less Nightmare Folder than Depressing Reality folder.

Swallow Tailed Hawk

The Climate Report from the National Audubon Society makes for sobering reading. Due to shifting climates, over 300 species of US birds are in danger of losing their habitats or even extinction within the next century. Here are the primary findings:

Of the 588 North American bird species Audubon studied, more than half are likely to be in trouble. Our models indicate that 314 species will lose more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080.

Of the 314 species at risk from global warming, 126 of them are classified as climate endangered. These birds are projected to lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2050. The other 188 species are classified as climate threatened and expected to lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2080 if global warming continues at its current pace.

The NY Times has a piece on the Audubon Society's findings.

"Common sense will tell you that with these kinds of findings, it's hard to believe we won't lose some species to extinction," said David Yarnold, the president of the National Audubon Society. "How many? We honestly don't know. We don't know which ones are going to prove heroically resilient."

Can the birds just move? "Some can and some will," Mr. Yarnold said. "But what happens to a yellow-billed magpie in California that depends on scrub oak habitat? What happens as that bird keeps moving higher and higher and farther north and runs out of oak trees? Trees don't fly. Birds do."

Tags: global warming   National Audubon Society
16 Sep 22:02

Chris Ware, The Last Saturday

by Jason Kottke

<3 Chris Ware.

Chris Ware, Last Saturday

Chris Ware is publishing a new graphic novella called The Last Saturday on The Guardian web site, with a new installment appearing every Saturday. (via df)

Tags: Chris Ware
16 Sep 19:50

Cat versus Taxonomy

by Dorothy

I've been keeping Peterson's guide by our picture window, but I think I'll start giving the birds more personal names too.


15 Sep 14:40

Marching Band Transforms Into Giant TV Set And Plays Classic TV Tunes

by Meredith Woerner

Re-sharing for Laura, because marching band and there's a little Batman in there, too.

The Ohio State University marching band performed a glorious, TV-inspired halftime show. The show includes classic tunes such as the theme songs from Batman, The Simpsons, The Addams Family, I Dream of Jeannie, Game of Thones, MASH, The Lone Ranger and much more. It's just the best.


11 Sep 06:33

The weather taketh away

by Jason Kottke

Nightmare folder, or maybe a depression file?

From Matter, a list of things to enjoy now before climate change takes them away or makes them more difficult to procure. Like Joshua trees:

The Joshua trees of Joshua Tree National Park need periods of cold temperatures before they can flower. Young trees are now rare in the park.

And chocolate:

Steep projected declines in yields of maize, sorghum, and other staples portend a coming food crisis for parts of sub-Saharan Africa. But here's what will probably get everyone's attention in the developed world: Studies suggest cacao production will begin to decline in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, the source of half of the world's chocolate, by 2030.

And cherries:

Eighty percent of tart cherries come from a single five-county area in Michigan, all of which is threatened.

But as noted previously, we've got plenty of time to enjoy jellyfish:

Important cold-water fish species, including cod, pollock, and Atlantic Salmon, face a growing threat of population collapse as the oceans heat up. Studies suggest a radical fix: Eat lots of jellyfish, which will thrive in our new climate.

Also, The Kennedy Space Center, Havana, Coney Island, the Easter Island statues, and The Leaning Tower of Pisa will all be underwater sooner than you think.

Tags: food   global warming   lists
11 Sep 06:29

East Village, now and then

by Jason Kottke

Old New York

In 1984, Daniel Root took photos of the East Village in NYC. Root is revisiting the locations of those photos and posting comparisons to a Tumblr.

Ev 30 Years Ago

Wish the images were bigger...370x250 is more of a 1984 resolution.

Tags: Daniel Root   NYC   photography
09 Sep 12:39

The Dailies (No Comments)

by Dakota

The Dailies

08 Sep 08:26

The Dailies (No Comments)

by Dakota

The Dailies

08 Sep 08:26

The Dailies (No Comments)

by Dakota

The Dailies

29 Aug 11:54

Hark, A Vagrant: Black Canary



buy this print!

Of course the metalheads would be into it!

Rock on, rock on always.

29 Aug 11:53

Hark, A Vagrant: Ida B Wells


I really need to read this biography.

buy this print!

Ida! If she's not your hero, she should be. She's mine.

I gave an interview for the Appendix Journal, and cited her as a figure I'd like to make a comic about, but found it a hard thing, so that it never happened. The reason is easy - if you read about the things Ida Wells fought against, you won't laugh. You'll cry, I guarantee. And I thought, well I can't touch that woman with my dumb internet jokes, she's serious business. And she is.

But then, people use my comics as a launching device to learn history, and I would hope that part of what I do is to celebrate history, not just poke fun at the easy targets.

Anyway, I first saw a picture of Ida B. Wells at the Chicago History Museum. She was protesting the lack of African American representation at the Chicago World's Fair. And I am not sure what it was, but the image stuck with me. You could feel a power in the presence of the lady with the pamphlets. I found out later that she was also handing out information on the terrible truths of lynching in America, a crusade that she is best known for, and rightly so. Her writing on the topic is readily available on the internet, and if you read it, well you'll spend a good deal of time wondering at the terribleness of humanity, but you'll also note that she knew how to handle a volatile topic like that with an audience who didn't want to hear it. But, Ida fought against injustice wherever she saw it. You'll be happy to know, that at the 1913 Suffragist Parade in Washington, she was told to go to the back, but joined in the middle anyway.

I'll leave you with this, a review of Paula J. Giddings' Ida: A Sword Among Lions, from the Washington Post. Go forth, marvel at this woman, who was the best. Did I mention she was one of the first women in the country to keep her name when she married? A founding member of the NAACP? Ida! Just pioneer everything.
25 Aug 20:00

Being Mortal

by Jason Kottke

I seriously cannot wait to read this.

Surgeon and New Yorker writer Atul Gawande has a new book about death coming out in October called Being Mortal.

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession's ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person's last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.

This piece Gawande wrote for the New Yorker in 2010 was probably the genesis of the book. I maintain a very short list of topics I'd like to write books about and death is one of them. Not from a macabre Vincent Price / Tim Burton perspective...more like this stuff. Dying is something that everyone has to deal with many times during the course of their life and few seem to have a handle on how to deal with it. That's fascinating. Can't wait to read Gawande's book.

Tags: Atul Gawande   Being Mortal   books   death   medicine
25 Aug 17:12

An ode to the Steadicam

by Jason Kottke

Speaking of Haskell Wexler, you should see Medium Cool if you haven't yet:

A short appreciation of the Steadicam and its inventor, Garrett Brown. (Brown also invented the football SkyCam.) Features footage from Rocky, Return of the Jedi, and The Shining.

From Wikipedia:

The Steadicam was first used in the Best Picture-nominated Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory (1976), debuting with a shot that compounded the Steadicam's innovation: cinematographer Haskell Wexler had Brown start the shot on a fully elevated platform crane which jibbed down, and when it reached the ground, Brown stepped off and walked the camera through the set. This technically audacious and previously impossible shot created considerable interest in how it had been accomplished, and impressed the Academy enough for Wexler to win the Oscar for Best Cinematography that year. It was then used in extensive running and chase scenes on the streets of New York City in Marathon Man (1976), which was actually released two months before Bound for Glory. It landed a notable third credit in Avildsen's Best Picture-winning Rocky (1976), where it was an integral part of the film's Philadelphia street jogging/training sequences and the run up the Art Museum's flight of stairs, as well as the fight scenes (where it can even be plainly seen in operation at the ringside during some wide shots of the final fight). Garrett Brown was the Steadicam operator on all of these.

The Shining (1980) pushed Brown's innovations even further, when director Stanley Kubrick requested that the camera shoot from barely above the floor. This prompted the innovation of a "low mode" bracket to mount the top of a camera to the bottom of an inverted post, which substantially increased the creative angles of the system, which previously could not go much lower than the operator's waist height. This low-mode concept remains the most important extension to the system since its inception.

(via @robinsloan)

Update: Here's Brown talking about the Steadicam and his career. And here's Stanley Kubrick's introduction to the Steadicam, via a letter from a colleague. (via @poritsky & @LettersOfNote)

Tags: Garrett Brown   movies   video
22 Aug 19:41

Olafur Eliasson, Riverbed

by Jason Kottke

I want to go to Denmark to see this show so bad. Also, to live forever and ever.

New work from Olafur Eliasson: he installed a riverbed in the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark.

Olafur Eliasson Riverbed

Tags: art   museums   Olafur Eliasson
22 Aug 16:17

World's oldest eel dies

by Jason Kottke

Oh, Sweden.

In the days before running water, towns used to place an eel or two in the well to keep the water supply free of bugs, algae, and other critters. A Swedish well-eel that lived to be at least 155 years old died recently. Eels generally live to be around seven years old in the wild.

Åle was put in the well in the fishing village of Brantevik on the southeastern tip of Sweden by eight-year-old Samuel Nilsson in 1859. This was a common practice in a time when running water was rare (Stockholm only got public water mains in the 1850s; it took more than a century after that for waterworks to be installed in smaller towns) and a good eel could keep the home's water supply free of bugs, worms, eggs, algae and any other number of critters. European eels will even eat carrion, so they're extremely helpful additions to a well.

This particular eel has been a star for close to a hundred years, garnering articles in the paper, TV news stories and documentaries, even making an appearance in the Swedish Tom Sawyer, Bombi Bitt and I written by Fritiof Nilsson Piraten in 1932. Thomas Kjellman, current owner of the cottage, remembers Åle from when he was a boy. His family bought the house in 1962 with the understanding that the eel came with the property.

Luckily the family has a backup eel which is around 110 years old, swimming around in what is apparently a Fountain of Youth for eels.

21 Aug 16:26

Behind the scenes with the Coen brothers

by Jason Kottke


When Alex Belth was 25 years old, he worked with Joel and Ethan Coen on The Big Lebowski, first as a personal assistant and then as an assistant editor. He recently published a short Kindle book about the experience.

The Dudes Abide is the first behind-the-scenes account of the making of a Coen Brothers movie, and offers an intimate, first-hand narrative of the making of The Big Lebowski -- including never-before-revealed details about the making of the film, and insight into the inner workings of the Coen Brothers' genius.

An excerpt of the book was published on Deadspin.

Joel told Goodman about re-recording dialogue for the profanity-free television version of Fargo. They rewrote the line, "I'm fucking hungry now" to "I'm full of hungry now."

"Why didn't we write it like that originally?" said Joel. "It's funnier."

Goodman said, "Who else is coming on this show?" (In Los Angeles, movie people call a movie a "show.")

There was Steve Buscemi as Donny, Julianne Moore as Maude, Jon Polito as Da Fino.

Joel said, "Our friend Luis, who was an assistant film editor on Hudsucker, will be playing the enraged Mexican."

"Yeah, you'll like Luis," Ethan said in a creaky voice. "He makes a big statement."

"Turturro is coming in to play the pederast," Joel said. "He said he'd do his best F. Murray Abraham."

(thx, brad)

Tags: Alex Belth   books   Coen brothers   movies   The Big Lebowski
21 Aug 16:23

An Oral History of Wildlife Sound Recording

by Cheryl Tipp


Over the past few months we've been working on a very special project that sets out to record and document the fascinating experiences of British wildlife sound recordists, from the scientist to the hobbyist, and everyone in between. Interviews with Wildlife Sound Recordists explores all aspects of wildlife sound recording, from childhood memories and early encounters with nature to changes in recording technology, recording expeditions and the role natural sounds have played in the lives of our interviewees.

Inspired by the British Library's Oral History department and following on from the wonderful Interviews with ethnomusicologists collection, launched last year by colleagues in World and Traditional Music, this initial foray into the world of oral history has cemented a new-found appreciation in the wildlife section for the importance of collecting personal accounts. Already evolving into an important and unique resource for both present and future generations of researchers, this collection will provide great insight into areas such as the history of sound recording, natural history broadcasting, the scientific field of bioacoustics and how lifelong relationships with nature can be formed through the medium of sound.

Despite having only 7 interviews under our belt so far, connections are already beginning to emerge, whether that be in the form of similar experiences, shared friendships and colleagues or a likeminded approach to the subject.  In equal measure, the interviews also demonstrate the various ways in which our interviewees have found themselves involved with wildlife sound recording.

David Tombs pic
Former BBC sound recordist David Tombs with a homemade microphone

Two of the interviews shed light on the academic life of a wildlife sound recordist, with primatologist Dr David Chivers and anthropolgist Professor Simon Bearder lending their stories to the collection. The field of bioacoustics, or the study of acoustic communication in animals, has been an important strain of zoological research for decades. From the early experiments of Professor William Thorpe, who demonstrated through the analysis of sound recordings that birdsong is learnt rather than inherent, to the discovery of new species and even improving our understanding of the evolution of human language, this area of science has significantly increased our understanding of the natural world.

Recording the experiences of scientists working in this field is one of the key aims of this project. In the following extract, Professor Simon Bearder describes his early involvement in the study of Bushbaby vocalisations at the University of Johannesburg.

Simon Bearder_early research into Bushbaby vocalisations

One of the most important interviews in the collection is with the co-founder of the British Library's wildlife collection, Patrick Sellar. A lifelong fascination with sound coupled with a deep love of nature and a good level of dogged determination saw him become a key figure in the wildlife sound recording community, both in the UK and beyond. Here Patrick speaks about the formation of the British Library's collection of wildlife sound recordings with BBC radio producer Jeffery Boswall.

Patrick Sellar_formation of the British Library's wildlife collection

Patrick also speaks about what he has learnt from a lifetime of wildlife sound recording.

Patrick Sellar_lessons from wildlife sound recording

Two of the interviews cover the experiences of former BBC sound recordists. Here Nigel Tucker recalls a BBC expedition to the USA to record the voice of the north American songbird Phainopepla with fellow recordist David Tombs.

Nigel Tucker_recording expedition to the USA

Field recordist Mark Peter Wright, our interviewer for the project, describes how an oral history training course at the British Library sparked an idea that has proven to be an incredibly effective tool in encouraging recordists to recount specific recording experiences:

Following a classic oral history method of having the participant talk around a physical photograph, I decided to try something similar through sound. I asked each recordist to prepare sound files from their archive that were in some way memorable to them. During the interview we would playback these recordings and talk through the audible and non-audible contexts behind the record.

For me, this process was one of the most insightful and fascinating experiences of the project. Playing back sounds from a personal archive whilst the recordist recalls memories from the experience felt, to me, like a very active use of archival material. It brought past and present into one space as recordists literally spoke with and through their recordings and memories.  

In the following clip, former BBC sound engineer David Tombs plays a recording of Red-throated Divers in Shetland while discussing his memory of the experience.

David Tombs_Red-throated Divers

The 7 interviews presented today represent just the beginning of what we hope will be an ongoing oral history project. Over time, Interviews with Wildlife Sound Recordists will develop into a comprehensive collection offering unique and diverse accounts of a genre of sound recording that has contributed so much to scientific research, education and a greater appreciation of the natural world.

21 Aug 16:21

They seek him here, they seek him there: citizen science and the hunt for the New Forest Cicada

by Cheryl Tipp

"So we think that it's still around, but as the years pass it becomes more difficult to keep our hopes up." :(

If you happen to be in the New Forest over the next couple of months, why not take part in an ambitious citizen science project that seeks to track down the last remaining individuals of a species of insect that is on the verge of extinction in the UK. The New Forest Cicada Project, developed by researchers at the University of Southampton, embraces the citizen science philosophy with its smartphone app that uses the internal microphone of your phone to scan the surrounding environment for the high-pitched calls of this most elusive of insects, the New Forest Cicada. The British Library provided recordings for the project and I spoke to Lead Developer, Dr Davide Zilli to find out more about this entomological call to arms.

What is the New Forest Cicada project and why was it launched?

We started the New Forest Cicada Project back in 2012 at the University of Southampton. We are trying to involve people in rediscovering the very endangered New Forest Cicada, an insect native to the UK that has only ever been observed in the New Forest, Hampshire (hence the name). It's actually the only species of cicadidae we have in the UK, but if you have been abroad to a warm country, cicadas will have kept you awake during the summer with their loud call. Our British cicada, however, emits a very high-pitched sound, at the upper edge of our hearing range, and for this reason it's almost impossible for adults above the age of 40 to hear it. It's also very elusive, so the best way to spot it is actually to listen to its call, if you can hear it. And that's where we come in. Modern smartphones have a very sensitive microphone that can pick up this high frequency call, so we developed an app that can help the millions of visitors to the New Forest to detect the presence of the cicada, and hopefully one day to rediscover its presence in the forest.

How does the app work?

For the user it's really easy. When you tap the centre of the screen, the app starts a 30 second "survey", recording the sound coming through the microphone. After that time, it analyses the recording and tells you immediately whether there is a cicada around or not. An algorithm on the phone looks for a specific frequency in the recording, around 14 kHz, that's characteristic of the cicada call and few other sounds. There are only a couple of other insects that the call of the cicada can be confused for, and we take those into account in the algorithm we have developed. Once the phone is connected to the internet, it will also send us a report so that we can send an entomologist for a detailed survey, should a cicada be found. We are also interested in the negative reports, as it's almost just as important to know where the cicada is certainly not present.


Recordings of New Forest Cicada from the British Library were used in the development of the app. Were these important and how were they used?

Absolutely. In fact one of the recordings from the British Library, which was taken in 1971 by an entomologist called Jim Grant, is still the only recording of the cicada we have from the New
Forest. We have plenty more sounds of the same species from elsewhere in Europe (some of which we recorded ourselves), but this is the only one of the actual New Forest Cicada. The sounds were used to study the features that we could exploit for our automated detection, and eventually to calibrate our algorithm to detect the cicada.

Cikáda chlumní - Cicadetta montana
The New Forest Cicada, Cicadetta montana, the only species of cicada to occur in the UK (photo courtesy Jaroslav Maly)

How important is citizen science to the project?

The New Forest covers an area of over 600 km2 so it would be impossible for the few entomologists that are still searching for the cicada to survey it all. That's why we developed the app. The large number of visitors (13 million day-visits, according to the New Forest National Park's website) can be much more effective in surveying new sites where the cicada could have moved. This involvement of the general public in scientific research is often referred to as 'citizen science', and it's a practise that has delivered great results in a plethora of different projects. For people to get involved, however, the project must be fun and engaging, and it's great if there is a learning experience (in this case discovering about endangered species), which is what excited us in the first place.

Have you had any success so far?

Yes and no. The app was downloaded over 2000 times worldwide last year, and more than 6000 reports were submitted by users. Unfortunately none of these reports were positive, and the cicada has not yet been rediscovered. It's a great success that so many people contributed enthusiastically, but we need to continue our efforts until the cicada is found.

What improvements might you make to the app to improve results?

We are confident that the app works because we tested it in Slovenia, where the same species of cicada is still present. Entomologists are using it there for their own professional surveys too. However, we think we can do more to encourage people to participate, and to explain why it is important that we protect the environment. The cicada is evidence that citizen science is a powerful tool that can be used to tackle these sorts of problems.

Are you confident that the New Forest Cicada is still out there?

There is no real reason why it would have vanished. There have been periods in the past (for example, between the 40s and the 60s) when no one observed the insect and it was thought
to have been extinct, but was then found in different areas. Some people think that a recent change in grazing policies could have changed its environment. Enclosures around the historic sites where the cicada used to be found have prevented ponies from grazing freely, and the low vegetation where female cicadas lay their eggs has now overgrown. However, it seems more likely that the
cicada would have just moved to a different site, and it's therefore now more difficult to find. So we think that it's still around, but as the years pass it becomes more difficult to keep our hopes up.

If you would like to join the hunt for the New Forest Cicada, visit the project's website as well as your app store to get yourself ready for action. Who knows, perhaps you'll be the one to rediscover this magnificant insect?

19 Aug 07:19

The Cello and The Nightingale

by We had a deal, Kyle

Siffleur or no, still great.

In 1924 the BBC transmitted its first live outside broadcast: a duet between cellist Beatrice Harrison and the nightingales nesting in the garden of her Surrey home. Capturing the song of the Nightingale.

The nightingale concerts became a yearly fixture on BBC Radio. 1942's recording captured the sound of Wellington and Lancaster bombers departing on a raid; the BBC cut the transmission to avoid broadcasting an early warning to Germany. In 2012 Vikram Seth chose the wartime recording as his favorite Desert Island Disc. [segment starts at 14:20]

Eighty years after the 1924 broadcast doubts were raised: was that night's reluctant nightingale actually the work of a talented siffleur?
What really happened in that garden in Surrey was that an extremely well known bird impressionist - Maude Gould, sometimes known as Madame Saberon - was contracted by the BBC as a 'backup' to things not working. The trampling around of all the technical staff and all the heavy equipment scared any birds off and the recording is actually that of Maude Gould whistling to Ms Harrison's playing.
19 Aug 04:25

Policing by consent

by Jason Kottke

We're doing everything wrong.

In light of the ongoing policing situation in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer and how the response to the community protests is highlighting the militarization of US police departments since 9/11, it's instructive to look at one of the first and most successful attempts at the formation of a professional police force.

The UK Parliament passed the first Metropolitan Police Act in 1829. The act was introduced by Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel, who undertook a study of crime and policing, which resulted in his belief that the keys to building an effective police force were to 1) make it professional (most prior policing had been volunteer in nature); 2) organize as a civilian force, not as a paramilitary force; and 3) make the police accountable to the public. The Metropolitan Police, whose officers were referred to as "bobbies" after Peel, was extremely successful and became the model for the modern urban police force, both in the UK and around the world, including in the United States.

At the heart of the Metropolitan Police's charter were a set of rules either written by Peel or drawn up at some later date by the two founding Commissioners: The Nine Principles of Policing. They are as follows:

1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.

2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.

4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.

5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.

6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.

9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

As police historian Charles Reith noted in 1956, this philosophy was radical when implemented in London in the 1830s and "unique in history and throughout the world because it derived not from fear but almost exclusively from public co-operation with the police, induced by them designedly by behaviour which secures and maintains for them the approval, respect and affection of the public". Apparently, it remains radical in the United States in 2014. (thx, peter)

Tags: crime   Ferguson   legal   lists   London   Robert Peel   UK
11 Aug 22:00

Animated GIFs of human x-rays

by Jason Kottke


From Cameron Drake, a collection of animated GIFs of human x-rays, featuring the hand, elbow, shoulder, knee, and ankle. Imagine this, except in motion:

x-ray GIF

Here's how Drake made them. (via bb)

Tags: Cameron Drake   xrays
11 Aug 21:12

The Dailies (1 Comment)

by Dakota

Me at work today.

The Dailies