Thursday, May 29, 2008

Misidentified photographs

I set of photographs recently published as showing the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing really represent the effects of the 1923 Kanto earthquake (an event which seems to have produced a similar number of deaths). I remember noting that the bodies in the photos didn't seem to show the burns I would expect to see, but I didn't really question the identification.

Finger pointing ensues:

Hoover contains over 5,600 collections with hundreds of thousands of individual items. The Institution’s Assistant Director Richard Sousa indicated that the size of the holdings prevented a thorough authenticity check of all archived material.

“Our goal is not to authenticate every piece of information we get,” Sousa said. “But we do document, in each case, where it came from. We do not go through and cross-reference every single piece of material.”

“I’d be surprised if the Library of Congress did that, or any big archive,” he added.
Le Monde correspondent Sylvain Cepel, who wrote both the newspaper’s initial report on the photographs and subsequent pieces in the wake of the correction, said that a catalog description from an institution like Hoover implied the materials had been checked for accuracy.

“If you go to the Library of Congress,” Cepel said, “and you find some letter by Eisenhower, and it’s written on the box, ‘this is a letter of Eisenhower’s,’ you would not think this is not by Eisenhower but by Adlai Stevenson!”
When we trust other people not to have made mistakes, we've just made a big one of our own ....

The photos are here and still aren't pretty. But if you really want to see ugly, dig into the comments, most of which take the line of "As long as I have a grievance to cling to, I refuse to admit that anyone else has suffered enough!"

Two causes for joy

One of the things I gave up during my SI career, for lack of both time and money, was my subscription to The New York Review of Books. A few weeks ago I renewed and yesterday my first new issue arrived in the mailbox (call me old-fashioned, but I do still love the pleasure of opening a mailbox and finding delightful surprises). I can't wait to read what Robert Darnton has to say about "The Library in the New Age."

Also, my Zotero extension is working once again. It turns out that the Download Statusbar extension I recently added causes some kind of conflict. I don't need a download status bar very badly, so out it goes and my bibliographical collection is available to me once again. Happiness abounds.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

McClellan on Bush

McClellan whacks Bush, White House

Among the most explosive revelations in the 341-page book, titled “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception” (Public Affairs, $27.95):

• McClellan charges that Bush relied on “propaganda” to sell the war.

• He says the White House press corps was too easy on the administration during the run-up to the war.

• He admits that some of his own assertions from the briefing room podium turned out to be “badly misguided.”

Uh ... "revelations?" The only thing surprising here is that even the Republicans can't deny the obvious any longer. I expected more gumption out of them.

And elsewhere:
"Here's a man who owes his whole career to George W. Bush, and here he's stabbing him in the back and no one knows why," Duffy said. "He appears to be dancing on his political grave for cash."
Or maybe it's just that even toadies don't like being hung out to dry, like McClellan was over the Plame affair? George Bush seems to treat most of his associates like his Secret Service detail - they're there to take bullets for him.

Correct response to rising gas prices

As gas goes up, driving goes down

Demand goes up; supply stays level; price goes up; demand goes down - finally. What $3.00/gallon couldn't do, $4.00/gallon has. Despite the bite it puts on my own finances, I've been wanting this for years.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

EPA libraries re-open ... sort of

Sigh. We are this close to being just an oversized banana republic.


It takes years to build a library (not the building - the collection and the expertise to make it useful to users); even with a new President next year, this damage will not be easily repaired. Is it too far over the top that my mind generates images of Administration hacks gleefully flying airplanes into our country's knowledge structures?

[Via Library Juice]

Monday, May 26, 2008

Respecting knowledge, and alphabetizing

While I've been on the topic of ignorance not respecting knowledge, here's another example - one that is exceedingly self-defeating. In the IT world, building your own wheel when you could pull one off the shelf is a sign of incompetence, not a demonstration of skill.

My main reason for posting this, though, is just to point out the Shark Tank web site. The stories of clueless users are amusing and I'm tech-savvy enough to usually laugh along with the writer - I already knew that the bubble sort has О(n²) complexity, for example, and that this gets very bad as your lists get very large. But once in awhile, I come across a story that surprises me and I have to think, Hmm, I'm not sure I would have known not to do such-and-such, either. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

Unfortunately, the stories don't always provide enough information for me to understand exactly what should have been done rather than such-and-such, but I still find it a valuable exercise. I may avoid some terrible error some day because of it.

Speaking of sorting, I had a chance to do some at work the other week. The contents of our rare book room had gotten considerably disordered at some point, plus there were a couple tables of books outside the RBR that needed to be blended in. I began by creating groups of books within certain call number ranges; then I could deal with each small subset in turn. It worked rather well - I got done sooner than my supervisor expected.

I first started using this method - a variant of quicksort - when I was faced with graded papers or exams that I wanted to alphabetize by student name. I began by tossing them into four piles of A-F, G-L, M-S, and T-Z (in practice, I usually had to treat the W's as a separate subgroup). Then it was fairly easy to sort each of these smaller piles and just stack them with the A's on the top. It turned out to be much less tedious than flipping through the pile to find the correct place for a paper, one at a time.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Old book

Dr. Day on Diseases of Advanced Age, 1851

I was going to make a comment on "curvature of the spine," but the book's spine isn't where the trouble is.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Yellowstone on Mars

'Yellowstone Park' found on Mars

Because Yellowstone is so cool, every planet needs one.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

UM hunts for orphaned works

Discovering the Undiscovered Public Domain

From John Wilkins

Wilkins argues that researching copyright status should be a normal function of libraries because it serves the institution's interests, produces much valuable information at modest cost, and because libraries are the best place to find experienced and savvy people who know how to research a publication history.

Three variations

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge." - Charles Darwin

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Girls = Evil

Unfortunately, the proof has a couple of errors: require does not translate into equals, and "time and money" would be represented as Time + Money, not Time x Money. And it's the love of money, not money itself, that is the root of all evil.

Other than that, though, the math is flawless.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Equal rights

Fred Clark, at Slacktivist, comments on the likely response to the California ruling in favor of gay marriage:

We'll also hear a great deal, I suppose, about "activist judges." If the people want rights to apply equally to everybody, this argument goes, then they should pass laws that say so, not simply rely on a constitution that says so.

Or Antonin Scalia might say, if we'd intended the Constitution to mean what it says, we'd have done what it says.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Historical films

Boston 1775 has some posts about the new HBO miniseries on John Adams that are worth reading. I don't have HBO, so I'll have to wait until the DVD's hit Netflix.

I usually end up hating a historical film, for reasons similar to these. The larger the budget spent on researching buttons and fabrics, the more annoyed I get when the only difference between the characters' world and mine is the costumes and constructions. Oftentimes, historical films only work when they're based on a period novel - say, Jane Austen's stories, where the author understood her world intimately and it would be impossible for her to mistake her world for the 20th Century or later.

Despite that, however, I've been enjoying HBO's Rome on DVD and will be interesting in seeing the John Adams series when it's available.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Complexity illustrated

I can get addicted to this, so be careful. Unfortunately, we're not told what the simple rules are that yield this behavior.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Owning history

Afarensis reviews James Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage and I could scarcely agree more with this statement from the book:

All cultures are dynamic, mongrel creations, interrelated such that we all have a stake in their preservation. National retentionist cultural property laws deny this basic truth. They depend on the myth of pure, static, distinct, national cultures. And not just about living cultures, but about ancient cultures, too. They define and seek to regulate access to ancient cultures on the grounds that they belong to the modern nation as the work of its descendents and the origins of its modern culture and identity. They promote a sectarian view of culture and encourage the politics of identity at a time when nationalism and sectarian violence are resurgent in the world.
Well said.

Library pics for the prurient

Hot Library Smut.
Go ahead. Check it out. No one's looking.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Master your demons

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Romantic baseball cards, 1910

From Yale's Beinecke Library, via Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities:

Less risque:

Puts "America's pastime" in a new light.

Monday, May 5, 2008

About those bottles ...

Goodbye, hard-plastic Nalgene

And then it gets worse:

“You probably run a greater risk of having a piano fall on your head.”
Is there no end to the hazards?

Everyone I knew at Yellowstone was a heavy user of Nalgene bottles and I have to say ... I always blamed the weed.

[I'm still going to use my bottle, though.]

[UPDATE: Once again, I left the damn bottle somewhere. I am not going to buy a new one - this is getting old.]

The "evidence" for ID

An ID apologist writing to the Eugene Register-Guard claims to be impressed with the "scientific evidence" and then proceeds to deliver five arguments that could have come straight from the 12th Century:

1) Something is eternal. If there had ever been absolutely nothing, that condition would have persisted.

2) Biological life is evidently not eternal, being represented by organisms that without exception come from similar temporarily living organisms and then die.

3) Matter-energy is evidently not eternal, as it inescapably spends itself with every energy transaction at a net cost to the whole system. This process cannot have gone on eternally, because it would culminate in the eventual “heat death” of the universe in some finite amount of time (barring the oscillating universe mythology that belongs somewhere beyond science fiction).

4) Our consistent experience is that mind manipulates matter, not vice-versa, suggesting that an eternal mind having formed matter is more plausible than matter having created information-rich structures such as the human mind. Here, and with the next point, the “design demands a designer” argument fits.

5) Our consistent experience is that every effect must have an adequate cause. Thus, the universe viewed as a sequence of causes and effects points back to a first cause which is itself uncaused (see point No. 1 above). Just as logically, the universe viewed as a single huge effect also requires a sufficient cause outside itself.

Abstract logic proceeding from first principles - you can argue your way to anything you like that way. Anything. That's why science was such an advance in knowledge. It involves accepting, once and for all, that the world is too complex to be understood by pure human cogitation, so you have no choice but to just look closer and see what it's actually doing.

Ironically, ID defenders argue that the world is too complex to be uncreated, but simple enough to be understood though pure reasoning. The record suggests otherwise. Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato were some smart guys and promoted thinking as a worthy activity, but I don't know that they left us with any knowledge. And who wants his doctor to be a follower of Galen's four-humors model?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Do mountain bison roam Yellowstone?

From the Jackson Hole News:

Bob Jackson — a bison behavior expert, outspoken critic of the National Park Service and former Yellowstone ranger — says mountain bison lived on the high-elevation plateau south of Lamar Valley for thousands of years before the plains bison were reintroduced to the park. Though the two subspecies have likely interbred, he said, the mountain bison likely retained much of their genetic heritage and their “culture,” which has enabled them to survive for thousands of years without leaving the park.
or maybe not:
But according to Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash, recent reviews of scientific literature, conducted in conjunction with work on the park’s winter-use plan, suggest that Yellowstone bison have always ranged outside the park in the winter.

“There was a time when scientists thought there might be two subspecies, the mountain bison and the plains bison,” Nash said. “But most scientists really don’t see that distinction any more.”

Illusion Sciences Blog

Illusion Sciences

Oh, this goes on the RSS feed right now!

System v. impressions

Here's an interesting test (via Cognitive Daily): can you tell when someone is faking a smile?

I scored 10/20 (no indication of how that compares with other people). Interestingly, I missed 9 of the first 13, then judged correctly on 6 of the last 7. Somewhere around halfway through, I decided that a sign of a fake smile was when the corners of the mouth moved up and out before the rest of the mouth moved. So I began watching exclusively for that clue and ignored any other impressions. It might have been chance, but that does turn out to be one of the cues that distinguishes a controlled smile from a spontaneous smile, and my score did improve dramatically. To see the other tells, you'll just have to take the test yourself.

"Expelled" flunks out

I notice that "Expelled" opened in two Ann Arbor theaters a couple weekends ago, but is already gone. You can still catch it in the ueber-suburbia of Canton, if you really must.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Nice to hear

"Better-educated Women Are A Healthier Weight"

Good news for skinny geek males everywhere.

Destroying the evidence

"Torture victim's records lost at Guantánamo"

The records on al-Qahtani, who was interrogated for 48 days - "were backed up ... after I left, there was a snafu and all was lost"

The CIA admitted last year that it destroyed videotapes of al-Qaida suspects being interrogated at a secret "black site" in Thailand.

Cameras that run 24 hours a day at the prison were set to automatically record over their contents

Can it get any more disgraceful? The answer, I'm afraid, is probably, "Yes, just stay tuned."

Self-powered streetlight

"Ann Arbor Tries Out Solar, Wind Street Light"

Copyright enforcement

"Universities Baffled By Massive Surge In RIAA Copyright Notices"

"Public universities are in a unique position since the industry puts pressure on us through state legislatures to try to impose what are widely considered to be draconian content monitoring measures and turn us into tech police forces in support of a specific industry,"
the MPAA, for instance, radically overestimated how much movie piracy was attributable to college students. For more than two years, the industry claimed that more than 40 percent of illegal movie downloads came from college students -- costing the industry billions of dollars. Then in January of this year, the estimate was reduced to 15% for college-aged students, and only 3% occurring on campus networks.