Category Science

Frank Jacobs: Publisher of Strange Maps

As told to Sarah Duguid:

always thought that mapophilia was a lonely affliction until I started my blog, Strange Maps, in 2006. I remember the first map I posted – it was a map of the location of asylums for the insane in Pennsylvania. It provided a bizarre geography of insanity, and it interested me because it was not the kind of map that would have a place in mainstream cartography. Equally, the map didn’t tell us much about mental health. I loved it because it was such an interesting juxtaposition of a condition that is so difficult to define with something as cool, rational and delineated as cartography.
I’d find strange maps online – I don’t draw my own – and then categorise them, describe them and link them to other maps. I have more obvious categories such as history, science and tech, and politics, as well as unusual ones: love, sex and happiness, life and death, truth and justice. One type is the allegorical map. In the 19th century, symbolic maps were very popular, especially during prohibition in America. Prohibitionists would draw moral maps. They’d describe the country of drunkenness and how to travel from it to the continent of sobriety. The road to success was drawn across chasms of despondency and mountains of procrastination.

The AI Revolution Is On

Stephen Levy:

Diapers.com warehouses are a bit of a jumble. Boxes of pacifiers sit above crates of onesies, which rest next to cartons of baby food. In a seeming abdication of logic, similar items are placed across the room from one another. A person trying to figure out how the products were shelved could well conclude that no form of intelligence–except maybe a random number generator–had a hand in determining what went where.
But the warehouses aren’t meant to be understood by humans; they were built for bots. Every day, hundreds of robots course nimbly through the aisles, instantly identifying items and delivering them to flesh-and-blood packers on the periphery. Instead of organizing the warehouse as a human might–by placing like products next to one another, for instance–Diapers.com’s robots stick the items in various aisles throughout the facility. Then, to fill an order, the first available robot simply finds the closest requested item. The storeroom is an ever-shifting mass that adjusts to constantly changing data, like the size and popularity of merchandise, the geography of the warehouse, and the location of each robot. Set up by Kiva Systems, which has outfitted similar facilities for Gap, Staples, and Office Depot, the system can deliver items to packers at the rate of one every six seconds.

2011: And Still No Energy Policy

Ed Wallace:

“First generation [corn] ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small.”
- Al Gore, speaking at a Green Energy Conference on November 22, 2010
“Ethanol is not an ideal transportation fuel. The future of transportation fuels shouldn’t involve ethanol.”
- Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, November 29, 2010
No one knows what brought on the blast of political honesty in the last eight days of November. Having been a rabid ethanol booster for most of his political career, there was former Vice President Al Gore reversing course and apologizing for supporting ethanol. Of course Gore’s reason for taking that position was perfectly understandable — for a politician. As he told the Athens energy conference attendees, “One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers of Iowa because I was about to run for President.”
Translated from politics-speak into English, pandering to farmers gets votes. But if your claimed position is to plan some sort of energy policy for everyone else, then getting farmers’ votes shouldn’t determine what’s the right thing to do for the nation’s fuel supplies.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki: You Are There. A talk by Seymour Abrahamson



Seymour Abrahamson spoke at a recent meeting of the Madison Literary Club.

17.9MB PDF Handout

Time Lapse Power Plant Video

Jeff Crewe:

“I am not making a political statement with this video,” writes the photographer Grewe, a tree-climbing arborist by day. “My intentions are purely artistic. The imagery is intense and I found audio to compliment it.”

Will Big Business Save the Earth?

Jared Diamond:

THERE is a widespread view, particularly among environmentalists and liberals, that big businesses are environmentally destructive, greedy, evil and driven by short-term profits. I know — because I used to share that view.



But today I have more nuanced feelings. Over the years I’ve joined the boards of two environmental groups, the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International, serving alongside many business executives.


As part of my board work, I have been asked to assess the environments in oil fields, and have had frank discussions with oil company employees at all levels. I’ve also worked with executives of mining, retail, logging and financial services companies. I’ve discovered that while some businesses are indeed as destructive as many suspect, others are among the world’s strongest positive forces for environmental sustainability.


The embrace of environmental concerns by chief executives has accelerated recently for several reasons. Lower consumption of environmental resources saves money in the short run. Maintaining sustainable resource levels and not polluting saves money in the long run. And a clean image — one attained by, say, avoiding oil spills and other environmental disasters — reduces criticism from employees, consumers and government.

Much more on Jared Diamond here.

Loma Prieta Plus 20 Years

Carl Nolte:

An earthquake that began beneath an obscure mountain in Santa Cruz County called Loma Prieta struck terror into Northern California 20 years ago this week on a beautiful fall afternoon, just as a World Series game was about to begin in San Francisco.


The quake lasted only 15 seconds, but it killed 67 people, smashed downtown Santa Cruz, wrecked San Francisco’s Marina district, broke the Bay Bridge – and changed much of the Bay Area.


Loma Prieta was one of those watershed events; in some ways, the disaster was a blessing in disguise. Out of it came a brand new San Francisco waterfront, the revival of a rundown neighborhood in Hayes Valley, major upgrades of classic buildings in downtown Oakland, and new laws on unreinforced old buildings. One of these years, a new eastern half of the Bay Bridge will open.

More notes and links on Loma Prieta, including my recollection(s) and that of Brian Zimdars.

SOLAR TRANSIT OF ATLANTIS AND THE HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE

Thierry Lagault:

Only image ever taken of a transit of a space shuttle (Atlantis) and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in front of the Sun, during the last repair mission of Hubble, obtained from Florida at 100 km south of the Kennedy Space Center on May 13th 2009 12:17 local time, several minutes before grapple of Hubble by Atlantis.

Thanksgiving in a Time of Fear & Uncertainty

Terry Heaton:

The brilliant mind of Kevin Kelly wrote about the origins of science a few weeks ago (The Origins of Progress, Anachronistic Science). If you want to expand your mind, read Kevin Kelly, for his is one of the most significant voices of contemporary culture. But Kelly uses science to try and answer a question about science that perplexes him: Why was science “discovered” in Western Civilization and not before? It’s a fascinating question, and one that is terribly important for us today, because we’re at the beginning of the post-modern, post-colonial era in the West.


I’ve been studying and writing about postmodernism for over ten years, and I see the conflicts of a culture in change everywhere. I actually prefer the term “postcolonial,” because, from a practical perspective, it fits better. Colonialism is a top-down, “teach a man to fish” philosophy ideally suited to the application of logic, reason and science. Where it runs into problems is when the top wants to maintain its position on top, but I digress.


The thing that Kelly refuses to acknowledge — as do most people of science — is the role of faith in the origins of science, and that brings me back to Thanksgiving 2008.


We’re in the midst of a second Gutenberg moment, in which knowledge (The Jewel of the Elites) is spreading throughout the globe like a giant mushroom cloud, and I would argue that this significantly will alter any future projections, just as the first Gutenberg moment did centuries ago.

Cyberwar Comes of Age

Adam Elkus:

The digitized specter of cyberwar is haunting the boardrooms, barracks, and law offices of America. China’s audacious September 2007 infiltration of secure Pentagon networks and government servers in several other nations has powerfully demonstrated that cyberwar’s moment has arrived. Cybersecurity analysts have estimated that 120 different nations are working to evolve cyberwar capabilities. Most of today’s current cyberwar operations involve hackers probing civilian and military networks for vulnerabilities and restricted information, operations that focus less on disruption than recon and surveillance.