Thursday, April 12, 2012

GIMPshop: my exploration into the open source world

So for this class I have been assigned to be one of the graphics editors for the class... which means that the pragmatic scientist that I am needs to take the back seat and allow the creative Marissa to flow through. This means, naturally, that I have to create something. My co chair is wonderful, a competent and capable photoshop ninja who can throw posters and infographics together in her sleep. I have never done anything more digitally creative than draw a fish in paint... it was a beautiful fish, mind you. I got the award for best fish in my 6th grade year. But to do something well I was going to need to get more equipment. So I went to the internet to look up how much this was going to cost me to make a collage comic for the class.

Photoshop: $695 USD
InDesign: $849 USD

No choice there when you are on a college budget and can barely afford housing and I made the plunge (and disabled several notes from my computer that complained that I was downloading something evil from the interwebs)

However my little GIMPshop hated the fact that I had the latest and greatest Mac product. (MAYA had the same problem when I attempted to get into the Animation program) So I looked up 'hacks' or pieces of code that would make the program talk to my computer, but to no avail. I went to my Fiance, as I always do when my computer has decided to hate me (or I have flubbed up in Terminal when I am calculating my astronomy data and broken something in my system) And he tells me the most interesting story about what happened with the creator of GIMPshop.

Apparently he had taken GIMP, the open source version of a photo editor and changed how it was oriented to make it function almost the exact same way as Photoshop. While the opensource creators of GIMP were not impressed, the general public were. This became popular until a mysterious man bought the domain name of and linked it to the creator's web site and required people to enter their e-mails so he could sell them to spam companies before they could download the problem. This angered the developer so much that he refused to update the software with the new operating systems that were being developed... hence my unfixable problem.

But there is a happy ending to this story, for me at least, because my Fiance found a different opensource program that does the same thing and I was able to make the comic for my class. but it was an excellent example of why openness can be exploited by some for the detriment of the entire system.

Living and learning in a digital world

It's that time of the year again, the turning point of the semester. A time when you look back at the semester and realize what you have (or have not) learned over the past 4 months of your life.

With new classes and trying to adjust after my mission and getting engaged...a lot has happened in the last 4 months. But this post isn't about that, it's about what I have learned from my strangest class this semester: Digital Civilizations, where regurgitation is not the end, nor required in the class in the slightest... The class is more about creation... about working to make something worthwhile for the world to digest and to think about...

Dear America: Please be Politically Literate

This weekend I explored the dangerous abyss that is political forums. I was disgusted to find nothing but name calling and chinese spam (good study for my chinese class though, 太厚了!). I decided that maybe if I tried another political party that I might find some more intelligent discussion on politics, rather than discussion on how terrible the other side was. But to no avail.

Maybe politics is a taboo subject to talk about because we cannot speak about such things as learned people of reason... most people who talk about politics seem obsessed with demonizing their opponent instead of telling the general population what they stand for in the area of policies. If you don't agree with you about a movie and I have a good argument, you and I can still be friends... if the same two people don't agree on politics, you have to survive a huge barrage of name calling and stupidity before any cognizant conversation can be said.

This said, for the last two years I have taken a break from politics in general, in part because my little sister is planning her presidential campaign and I got tired of talking politics with her... and in part because the types of people who talk about politics in forums and social networks seem to not have any grasp on how our national government (or world economics) works at all.

Now I'm not advocating one side or the other (both presidential candidates are being rather childish in my humble opinion), but I would like to have the American public be a little more politically literate. Back in the early days of the USA there was something called a political literary test... a test that was forced on the colored voters after they got the right to vote. This doesn't mean that I advocate someone being forced not to vote because of the color of their skin... this means that EVERYONE should have some knowledge of the system they are voting on. This literacy test was a way to ensure that the people who were taking it knew enough about the government that they would be able to think about the candidates and make an educated decision. The Founding Fathers made this country a representative democracy in order to stop the mob mentality, or people voting because of factors rather than their policies and how they are going to serve the country.

We don't dare send people out in cars without a test, why not have the same requirement for people to be able to vote in elections. The questions don't need to be difficult, but knowing what are the responsibilities of the people we are electing into office would definitely help us recognize the claims that can he worked out from the claims to change things are in the arena of an entirely different branch of government.

Please please please be informed before you vote... try your hardest to see what the candidate is going to DO rather than focus on what they claim the other candidate is going to do this next election... if more people did that, less muck would be thrown about and debates might actually be more educational than ill disguised verbal sparring.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Inviting others/ Event Parcipitation

One of the most important things that we have learned in this class is how important to have social proof. As we were working towards our larger event I talked to my friends about it on facebook, inviting them to the event... picking my friends who were already starting to work in the digital world themselves... My friend Paul, for example, who has started his own business teaching others to dance, using social media to help him find new clients. Another friend from my mission, who loves learning and developing the next new thing. Another member of my CHinese class who was interested in Open Government... plenty of people who would have a stake in the concepts that were being presented.

Try as I might, personalize as I will... this event cannot dissuade them from other wednesday night parties, or final homework attempts to finish everything before the deadlines of a dying semester. I branched out, and started talking to my friends personally. Talking to the varied people in my chinese class... some are very interested in going, but alas no one has that night free.

Determined I continue my quest to invite someone to go, but again and again I am turned down ... for a club party or for homework or a date for engagements photos. I invite them to watch the video stream, and even that is too time consuming for them.

The time of the event was exciting. I arrived, excited to see which of my friends had actually shown up, and realized that none of them had made the time to attend. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I interacted on twitter (my first time on twitter, sans the practice in class) I got to answer questions and ask questions and attempt to make everything more interesting for the people sitting next to me, even writing down their questions on twitter for them.

I then had to leave early to prepare the snacks for the trip... enjoying the presentation with the two people who I was helping prepare the treats. We enjoyed the presentations on the ustream, even though our hands were too busy to actually interact over the ustream.

It was a fun event, lack of friends notwithstanding... but as soon as I was about to leave, my little sister came in panting, she had forgotten about the event and had been racing to make it in time. Which meant that at least someone had paid attention to my invitations. Then she told me she remembered because two people had invited her, me and David Perkins (one of her students she TAs for in the Physics dept)

Next time I am going to try and have two people invite my friends to activities so they become more interested in attending.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Symbolism and Art:Comic

I've been working a bit on our class project, trying to help people understand more about our digital concepts. I took the images together like this artist did below... where each image means something (bands) 

Where to see the solution

I love the symbolism here, allowing us to see what they are trying to get at with the more complex concepts.... the same problem that we are  having with tying together our concepts for the book.
This is what I have so far... see if you can see some of your concepts in the comic....

Friday, March 23, 2012

The 'Limitation' of Creativity

One of the things that interests me is the fact that people seem convinced that creativity only applies to things like art and music. If you create a beautiful piece of prose or artwork, you are creative. If you design an elegant experiment, you are brilliant. However, if a scientist tries art, they often give up, because they have no creativity.

But what is creativity? For me creativity is that ability to think outside of the box...any box, artistic or otherwise. One of my best friends is one of the most creative people I know, writing programs that creativity resolve problems like a computer talking to a communications device, or fixing physics demos when I can't even identify a problem. However, because I can do artistic things like draw a picture that looks like the object I am attempting to draw I am automatically considered the more creative one.

Why the limitation? In the old days creativity was attributed to the Gods. People were not geniuses, they had geniuses... akin to the little muses. When you came up with a good idea, your genius gave it to you. Does that not happen to scientists as well? Do they not have an idea for an elegantly designed experiment that can be just as hard to properly execute as a play? Maybe we need to redefine the definition of creativity and imagination.

Creativity is critical thinking ability to resolve problems that can't be solved in the normal way. Copernicus was made famous because he thought creatively and discovered another solution to a common problem. I look at several nobel prize winners in virology and was surprized to see what they studied before their prizewinning research. Wendell M. Stanley was a football player who became the chemist who crystalized viruses and discovered the fact that they had characteristics of organic and inorganic matter... John Enders discovered how to grow viruses outside of the body and he started life as a pilot. Their ability to think outside the box made leaps and bounds in science that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

What is the benefit of thinking outside of the proverbial box? You can think outside of conceptions of a field and come up with something new. One example is found in the video below...where a computer engineer discovered a way to find life in ways that we would expect with computer viruses and statistics. Amazing to think that using creative juices in science as well as art can bring us further than anything else.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Comic Collage

So there have been a lot of concerns about how to connect ideas visually, especially since our ideas are rather diverse for the e-book. Now what artforms compile many different ideas into one image? Collages.

In a collage you can take hundreds of different images and combine them to make one image. For example, the image you see to the left is actually a skyline from about 4 different cities that has been compiled into one whole metropolis.

This is what we are going to do for our e-book. Through taking images from different sources and compiling them together to make a whole image from the composite parts. 

The 'comic' characters are going to be students in the class who are interacting as line drawings with the compiled background of real images, like the character to the left and the music notes, or the character above and her cardbox.
Each little piece of the collage will represent a different aspect of the content of the e-book. As you can see with this little detail this artist added a scene from one of his favorite movies into the little windows...(rear window anyone?) As the book starts out we will only have a little bit of a background and it will become more complex as we learn more digital concepts.

 Another example of a little detail that  can make the environment more applicable to the concepts that we are talking about, enabling the reader to start connecting the content visually. (eg meteror attacking metropolis) In this image you can see how the artist added details that add a new dimension to the image and make it meaningful.

So each piece of the collage will be images representing our digital concepts and content. Instead of having a scene from rear window, we can have a Radio with a family listening to a fireside chat from a president or a business meeting done with interpretive dance. Choose ideas that will demonstrate your content and if you have more than one idea then we can use more than one piece of background.

images were mostly taken from Jamie Kinroy's blog

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Broad Street Pumps: Use of imagery to save lives

Imagery can help anyone learn something better. For example, if you want to explain what to do when someone has a deep cut, but it is not the same as seeing a picture of how the tourniquet should look like when you are finished. Images can help you convey complex ideas in a short period of time, and to incite action in the viewers... one place that imagery has been effective is in the case of disease transmission  Diseases come in many different shapes and forms... especially when it comes to transmission. But one event always sticks out when I think of Epidemiology: John Snow and the Broad Street Pump.

Soho, England 1854
Cholera is one of the deadliest diseases at the time, wiping out entire households overnight. There was seemingly no rhyme or reason to the attacks, why one household was effective and another was spared. Was one family or person more righteous than another? Or perhaps the citizens of Soho had angered God and called this plight against themselves.

One man had brilliant idea. He took a map of Soho and marked exactly where each attack of Cholera hit. as he looked at his map for an idea of what might be causing the disease (a novel idea for the time period) he noticed that the water pump on broad street seemed to be the epicenter of the attacks.

He brought his maps and graphs to the authorities of Soho to show them how to stop the Cholera. The authorities were reluctant, but they were able to see that it was necessary to remove the handel. (albeit once the disease was gone, they put the handel back on the pump... fortunately Cholera doesn't stick around a water supply without a host source)

Images are important to help convey important ideas.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Staying away from the Yellow: a quick guide for info graphics

One of the many things that interested me when I was in Highschool was Journalism. I had been accidentally placed by the school system in a TV production class (I signed up for a Jewelry class, go figure). One of the first things we learned in this class was about what not to do with our journalism by reading about the yellow journalists.
These journalists used their opinions (or the opinions of others) as absolute fact, something that could easily change how things work. Now one of the things I have been working on for the project is trying to help the groups to develop good infographics... the key word being 'info'.

How do we choose information to present in an info graphic? First it needs to be pertinent. If we are making a graphic about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, for example, we may have information regarding how many members are on Facebook on a daily basis... but if we are trying to get information out on what the church believes that information is rather useless. You would be better to see if you can get information on how many members take sacrament each week, or maybe how many attend church on a regular basis. Second, the information needs to have reliable sources. Just like any research article you write for class the infographics that you produce need to have reliable sources for the information that you portray... Wikipedia and some websites have plenty of inaccurate information on the beliefs of the Church (I'm pretty certain that there are no human sacrifices in LDS Temples).Third, the information you share on the info graphic shouldn't be excessive. For example, if we are planning to share with people how laws are made, you need to decide how much information is needed to present it to people. This example is very thurough, but you loose the reader about 3 min in because the graphic is so cluttered with (admittedly useful) information that they don't really know what to do or where to read all of the information. Fourth, you need to have a flow. Humans like categories... if you just give them a list of information in a random order they are not going to remember it as well as when you order that information in groups or in a visual pattern. The flow dosen't have to be complicated... the example of the LDS infographic you see that they categorized the information and then put in a list form, complicated? No. Useful? Yes, you can still remember the information after you are done reading it.

With this said infographics are one of the most interesting ways to digest information for other people to use quickly. (Imagine if you college textbooks had put the information that you needed for the class in a simpel infographic for you to memorize) Hopefully this post helps people understand how to create a better infographic.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A little note on image copyright

A little while ago we had a wonderful little film about copyright:

Now that was nice, however what does copyright mean for images?
In short: Everything. Because any image that you may see on the web may possibly be copyrighted. Unlike movies or music, there is no fair use for images, no matter how much you change or alter the image it still belongs to the copyright holder. (see US Copyright Law) So if you were to talk about 15 sec of video, like this movie does it is well within fair use. If you were to make a parody of a popular song, the same applies. Images are a little stickier, because the image's creator has the sole right to make derivatives of the work.

However there is a way to have images available for your blogs and papers, free from the irritation of copyright... there is something called "creative commons" where people are willing to put up their images with minimal limitations on their reproduction for people to use them. You can read more about the Creative Commons movement HERE and find creative commons images in many different locations such as Flickr, Corbis, and more if you look at google.

You can also find copyright free music at places like Freeplay, stock music, or more

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The importance of visualization

One of the hardest things in my life is finding the motivation to complete a certain task, especially when it is a creative project started by myself. Currently on my hard drive there are three songs that are half composed, no less than four novels in varying stages of disrepair and neglect, five comics that are half finished and just need to be inked, not to mention the countless articles that I wanted to write about deadly diseases that never got past the first draft...

I've been thinking a lot about why I finished one project (a novel) and not any of these others. I found that there is an interesting connection between deadlines and completion... but oddly enough the main reason I think that this project was completed was because I thought about it all the time because one of the main plot elements in the book were things that I physically dealt with on a daily basis... it was actually seeing the objects (or in this case actually talking a martial arts class and doing what the character could do)

Then I remembered my time as a microbiology TA for the intro level class... I talked to those students for hours and hours trying to explain a process that seemed simple to me... but it wasn't until I got fed up and just drew the procedure on the whiteboard. Indubitably, every time I drew the process they were confused about they figured out the problem. Forget about analogies to familiar every day things, as soon as I showed them a picture of what they needed to do it got done... and done well.

What other processes can be aided by visualization... whether it be physically doing something or just looking at a diagram. According to some graphic designers the visualization turns something as abstract as the Krebs cycle or the infection pattern of cryptosporidium into concrete details that the people can then intake in more than one part of their brain and enable them to do so much more. The chart here explains the many different chemical pathways that one could go through to see the different processes that could happen in a t-cell receptor, even showing the chemicals that are in common. Writing diagrams like this actually helped me do well in my cellular biology class because I could see where all the chemicals were and where they were going.
I wonder if as we create things and connect them visually if we will see more competent scientists who can make more creative adjustments... because in research, education is important, but sometimes education can be over rulled by creativity mixed with a little curiosity.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Where have all the Scientists gone?

I'm currently in a History of Microbiology class where I have the fun opportunity to learn where all the science I have been studying for the last couple of years has come from. One of the most interesting things I have noticed, not that we are studying the later microbiologists is how little is known about them.
Most people have hear of Pasteur and his vaccinations, or John Snow and the Broad Street pump, and if I were to mention Salk or Sabin many people's ears would still perk up. However as time goes forward we no longer see scientists in the forefront. If you were to ask the typical American today to name one famous scientist I bet you they would all mention Einstein... and he lived ages ago, did amazing things, but lived long ago. We forget about the scientists who save our lives every day... take for example Maurice Hilliman, no one's heard of him...but everyone who has been through the American school system has taken at least 6 of his vaccinations. Someone who helped stop deadly diseases like mumps, measles, and hepatitis B has never been mentioned in one substantial news broadcast...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

What's the Point?

OK, so I've had a couple of questions for myself recently and since Professors said that I should publish this random musing of a post I shall.
Why am I writing? What am I writing about? Do I really care about what I am saying? How am I making a digital fingerprint in life? Does making a digital fingerprint even matter for what is most important to me?

As I've perused my previous postings I have discovered some things...
1. I seem to have a psychological need to relate everything to science
2. My grammar needs a little more work to be professional grade.
3. I'm rather optimistic about the new possibilities available to us via new technology and such
4. I don't have any idea what my theme actually is.

Those discoveries aside, what am I actually interested in?

Is it open science? Studying how many different scientists can get together to accomplish more through cooperation. It intrigues me, but I'm still not sold on it.

Is it interconnections? Is is how life, the universe, and everything is connected via thousands of connections kind-of like own own biosystems? I have always been interested in understanding hw tying all of your subjects together would be a way of helping you learn better.

Is it the future? Well, I'm obviously interested in the future just about as much as everyone else, but it's not enough for me to write about the future... maybe in a creative writing blog or sommat.

But when I re-looked at my blogs I noticed an interesting little tendril of a underlying theme there... how action and more importantly participation improves life in general. I'll now have to get to work and beat the apathy out of my system, because as I treat this as a class assignment that no one will ever return to I become apathetic and don't care about what I am writing.

And it's like that with life, if you are posed with a problem that doesn't seem to make a difference if you solve it or just let it be. I want to look more into the benefits of participation, especially with the sciences because regular sciences do not allow for the general populace to take part, or even understand. I want to work on how science and technology can be made more open to the general populace to help them decrease their apathy towards life in general. Maybe I can awake the sheeple and help them become the future scientists of tomorrow.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ideas from class brainstorm yesterday

1.     Main Topics
a.     Copyright—what it is what limits to openness
b.     Profits from digital content
                                               i.     Creating things for free
c.      Advantages and disadvantages of digital openness
d.     Organizations that choose to go open and how that has impacted everything
e.     How to make more thing open
f.      Fun theory and gamification
g.     Build up the good and scope trying to find broken things to fix
h.     How to get information that is accurate
2.     Digital Topic alongside with digital topics
a.     Russian revolution—limiting the rights of the people—closed societies—not right to own things and it fell apart
b.     French revolution—the lack of order in a society
c.      Open science and the scientists who made it possible what societal openness has to do with progression in science
d.     Internet—access to information from all over the world… what if the internet wasn’t free
e.     Exploration of new medium—for the crazy or the genius
3.     Why Should I care about my major
a.     Everything is built across the backs of giants
b.     Reach--- topic to a larger audience
c.      Approaches to education--- how we can open education even more in reform professors… and form freshmen

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Ostrich Effect: Apathy in an increasingly complex world

 An ostrich with it's head in the sand is a ridiculous image, not connected with an equally ridiculous idea: if you hide your head in the sand then your problem will magically vanish.  History is full of apathy, from the reluctant United States refusing to enter World War II until after Pearl Harbor to the Chinese and Japanese Isolationists who refused to accept any outside interference... Humans just seem to have a tendency to ignore what dosen't suit them. One of my favorite political cartoonists of all time was Dr. Seuss, who worked against the apathy of the United States populace and attempted to get people to move forward and learn more about the war that was going in the western world. The government quite enjoyed their position of selling ammunition and guns to either side, and everyone seemed glad that they were out of their little friends silly conflict. Little did they know that their apathy made them a perfect target for the Japanese kamakazis, who took Pearl Harbor with hardly any resistance. Now it is dangerous, but what exactly is it?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Well I see your point, but we discussed this in class..."

What Biology education needs to function properly.

Let us take a case study:
Take a typical biology class and your professor is talking about enzyme kinematics. He tells you that the optimum output is found when the system stays constantly at half its K and shows you the equation to solve for output.
The professor then writes the exam with the poorly written question:
What is the optimum output of this chemical reaction?

What happens when the typical biology student meets poorly written question?
They scratch their heads and assume the professor is silly for asking something outside the scope of the class and put down K/2

What happens when the self-directed learner meets poorly written question?
They answer the question that the professor asked, spending 45 min deriving an equation to solve for the optimum output of the reaction.

Who gets full points?
The student who puts down K/2
Because actually solving for the optimum output is beyond the scope of the class.

We see situations like this in many classes around campus... where classes no longer are places where you learn to use problem solving skills to resolve questions, they are places where you absorb vast amounts of information and then spit it back out again on exams, only to forget that knowledge in a couple of weeks. How can we foster the problem solving skills that are necessary for us to become useful in society? As much as we'd like to have a life where memorizing vast amounts of information and dispensing it at the appropriate time could be a fulltime occupation, the real world needs problem solvers, not information dispensers.
My suggestion? Get rid of 'info dump' exams. If you want to have an ecology class where the students truly understand what it is like to be an ecologist, then get them out in the "field" and have them analyze a proper ecosystem in the way a true ecologist would. Have them come to conclusions about the status of the ecosystem and explain their reasoning. You have to understand the same amount of information as you did for the multiple choice exam with short answer questions, but you learn how to use that information to solve a problem in the way a true scientist would understand it.
In the 1800's you didn't have to go to a school and dispense information to a teacher for people to know that you were good at something, you had to actually go out into the field and do things. If you wanted to be a carpenter, you went to apprenticeship with a master carpenter and you learned the skills of the trade on the job and as you go... so that by the end of your apprenticeship you were able to creatively solve the problems that your chosen profession required you to do. Today we do have Internships and REU's that help scientists learn what they will actually be doing for the rest of their lives... but we need more than just a couple of summers of experiences to really stoke the creative juices so that the information stays useful instead of useless.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Disruptions in the Force

What if I were to tell you that at the beginning of the creation of the earth there was a life-force that permeates everything and gives life to dead things. You can leave them alone for a few days and then you will see life where there was death and destruction, where only dead bull horns were buried in the ground you find a thriving community of bees, or where there was a pot of dirty laundry and wheat you have mice. This force gave life to inanimate objects, from inorganic things you could have life organizing. Disease is caused when these life-forces are out of balance, too much blood? You have a fever. Too much   bile? Your stomach hurts. These imbalances can be caused by deadly life-forces traveling on air... many scientists are now studying these miasmas to stop the run of these diseases that afflict society today.

The swan neck flask experimentSounds like something from a creation myth or Star Wars... this mysterious life-force was termed "the Vegitative Force" and was first explained by Aristotle and tested by John Needham in the early 1800's. But this was where the greatest breakthroughs were being made in science, men working to discover how to free this vegitative force for the good of mankind. However despite some experiments from minds like Francesco Redi and Louis Pasteur on meat and beer and wine, the populace and scientific world continued researching in that way until abiogenesis was disproved by Louis Pasteur with this experiment, where he proved that microbes come from other microbes, not this Vegitative Force.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Change and Self-Healing

In class we have been talking a lot about changes... in technology, in governments, in art. Everything about the past centuries seems to be in a constant flux. Revolutions come and go, scientific break throughs are made, parroted, and die within a few short years. I makes me wonder about how vital change is to a society and to the world itself.

What would happen if there was no change or alteration?
I think of China and Japan, when they tried to keep their world the same and their culture unsullied by western influences. Their insistance on keeping things the same and not changing led them to be crippled economically and leave them vulnerable when western wars became world conflicts. All this because of a refusal to accept change. I think of the water in the ditch behind the house I grew up in in Florida, the water vermillion green with the algae that was killing off the little fish that lived in that ditch because there was no change in the water itself. Or maybe I think of the first commercial fishermen, who were so interested in getting a good harvest they failed to account for the changes in the population of the fish they were catching and the sardines became extinct. Sitting under a rock or a wall and not recognizing change seems to be a deadly thing.

The real world changes on "Wings of Lightening" as one poet put it. And accepting and working with the change is often the best option. The Founding fathers of the United States of America put into the constitution of the country a clause that enabled it to change with the people it governed, with a controlled rate of growth to keep the evolution from becoming too rapid, and altering the meaning of the document. You can see communities and ecosystems die and regenerate as conditions change. In the deep sea vents you can have the collapse of an entire ecosystem in a few short years only to form in a completely different place. Coral reefs that have been decimated by pollution have rejuvenated with cleaner water... as change comes the earth seems well equipped to heal herself. I wonder if we Humans understand exactly what this Earth is capable. I know that we are the ultimate predators, with the ability and resources to wipe out entire species in a few years (passenger pigeons anyone?), but the earth is more resilient that we seem to give her credit for. Mother Earth has seen more mass extinctions than we have, and that was before humans were even in the picture. Acts of God and Meterors didn't stop anything, they actually helped mammals become the dominant life form.

The same thing with societies in general. Yes there is chaos and there is always a need for control. But naysayers like Thomas Malthus said that the earth could only hold so many people because it was incapable of producing any more than current thought. We've long since over shot his proposed population cap for the earth and still growing.

Great bloody civil wars have come and gone, over 1/3 of the population at one time succumbed to a deadly plague, yet society recuperated... and life continued even better than it was before. I think that change enables society to have more opportunities to learn and grow. Perhaps we could use this opportunity to enable us to grow to our full potentials as human beings and more importantly, as Children of God.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Revolutionary Trollers

Once upon a time there were some people trying to make a point about a group of people who they felt was taking too much away from their liberties without giving them a chance to represent their ideas. They gathered an enormous group together and disrupted the normal business of the company that had caused their problems... if they succede in their quest we call them Revolutionaries.

TrollingI was recently pondering about some of the neat experiences that I have had in my life, including the chance to work on for a while. Among the amazing people that I met I also met a new group of individuals that I had heard of but never encountered. They called themselves trollers and seemed to tie every conversation to Magnets, Top Hats, or Rick Astley...or conversely they would ignore answers and continue to ask questions about why we believe in God and ignoring our answers.
By going to Wikipedia you can get a basic understanding of what a troll is: someone who purposefully tries to post something to get someone to comment on it. Be it an inaccurate statement, or an obviously inflammatory remark, or even a ludicrous question repeated over and over and over.
The ones I typically encountered were jokers. If you got past their punch line, sometimes they would tell you about why they were doing what they were doing. Some talked about how they were disappointed about the church's stance on Proposition 8, some just wanted us to understand how silly religion was, others were mad because of a recent break up with a member of the church...and most were just bored 15 or 16 year olds who had nothing better to do on a Saturday evening than to ask inflammatory or silly questions online. However, every now and again you would not get one or two trollers in a day you would get an organized group of thousands coming on with the intent of keeping us from talking to people who really wanted to use the site for it's own purposes. When they became organized, then they can accomplish things. (like take out entire websites)

But it made me wonder... were there other organized trollers in earlier centuries, or are they  merely an internet meme?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Media Marriage: Remixes and Mashups

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue.

You've probably heard this rhyme before, typically in regard to marriage. This isn't about rings or things, rather the marriage of the medias. I was thinking about the presentations today on music and how those songs are ones that I grew up on. My mother kept me fed on a great number of those great Baroque composers... Vivaldi and Handel being her favorite (still to this day we make christmas cookies to Handel's Messiah) . Music in the 17th century seems to be that marriage between the old form based pieces of music to the more fluid compositions that we are more familiar with today. 

One of the themes that I am noticing as I see what I see with the 17th century is how the new musical techniques enabled some of the old forms to be remixed into something entirely new and different... from patron based music sets we see the composers taking new techniques that would be unthinkable essentially taking the old and making it new, something that people are doing today with new artforms like digital media, taking the old themes and making them their own with new innovations. I thought I'd compare it to the remix culture that we have today with the multitude of creators that we see blossoming in the internet today

Saturday, January 28, 2012

To Infinity and Beyond: Documentation as a cause for Discovery

I was thinking about what caused the renaissance to occur. Think about it, society and everything just stagnated or went backwards for the medieval times. Shiny armor, but a little tarnished when it comes to learning and accepting new ideas.

What made the big difference then? In class we talked about the creation of the printing press and the spread of information, and Humanism was formulating itself. But when I looked at several timelines of the reniassance I noticed that there was not a lot of scientific discovery in the 16th century, most of the big names like Kepler and Gallileo, Leevenhoek and Lavoisier were in the 17th century, not the 16th.

But then I realized that before there is progress you have to start observing your surroundings...

I can't imagine being there when Columbus discovered an entire continent that no one had ever even seen before in the western world. The world wasn't flat anymore, and many of the scientists were making breakthroughs that turned thoughts on end. Vesalius was stealing corpses from graveyards and documenting what really makes bodies work, drawing with intricate detail the delicate nerves and sinews. William Gilbert and Aaron Dowling were documenting their experiments on loadestones that would eventually lead to their book in 1600 "De Magneye, Magneticisque Corporibus, et de Magno Magnete Tellure" postulating that the entire earth was a magnet, just like the needles of their compasses. Tycho Brache was taking observational astronomy to the next level and documenting aberrations in the movement of the planets that eventually led to Kepler to formulate his theories of planetary motion.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Kindle or Kindling

As I have been reading some books on a kindle reading platform I noted some interesting things that make the kindel format not very conducive to using it as a basis for reading a text that you would like to reference. My irritations are :
  1. No Page Numbers
    1. Which makes it rather hard to reference the text in a writing format (like a blogpost)
    2. Makes it hard to find your place if the program crashes unexpectedly in the middle of reading.
  2. View seems to be subjective...
    1. After three pages of nothing but figures that the text was referencing to I had to put the program "to sleep" before I got really frustrated with it
    2. While it's nice to be able to change to sepia or black on white or white on black, it seems bizarre to play with print as much
  3. It just doesn't act like a book.
    1. Pretending to flip pages is not the same as actually flipping them
    2. Reading for prolonged periods of time leave your vision slightly pink
While I do enjoy reading online texts on sources like, the kindel's format just frustrates me. However I do recognize that the switch from scrolls to books may have had a similar reaction from the initial consumers. I imagine their reactions being along the lines of you can't store it as tightly or the scripting looks all wrong.

What are all of your reactions with the kindle?

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Internet Food Chain

Today in my ecology class we we talking about trophic levels... which talk about how energy is transferred between organisms in an ecosystem. (Most people call it the "food chain" but we biologists have a pathological need for obfuscation in all that we do) Naturally, it got me thinking about the trophic levels of information on the internet... only instead of energy the internet feeds off of information.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Re-inventing the Future

What will tomorrow bring?

As we were talking in class about the 19th century it brought me back to my middle school years, when my favorite ride was 20000 leagues under the sea and traveling to the center of the earth was a spare time hobby. Imagine at the time there was a lot of growth in the sciences. Planets were being discovered, disease was being categorized and cured, atoms were being discovered and these artists tried to foresee what human innovation could accomplish. Art is an amazing thing because it takes us out of consumer culture and puts us into a position to interact with our surroundings. Science fiction has always been one of my favorite interactions because it helps us see where we want the world to go.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

An encounter with a Freelancer

This past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a wedding reception for one of my best friends... the food was great, the music fun, but I met one of the most interesting people I've met in my life: a real-life actual freelance biologist.

When I think of freelance I think of some of my favorite composers from the 19th century... Ludwig van Beethoven skipped out of the school that he was attending to teach lessons and compose for a less classical audience. Why perform just for the nobility? They would teach lessons and receive a commission for their compositions every now and again. A lot of the romantic composers did this, for example Hector Berlioz was a medical student turned composer.

I also think of the plethora of ghost writers and photographers who want to take pictures and write articles that are not requested. For writers and artists the creation of things without a need seems normal. A scientist doing it, however, is a bit of a shift in paradigm.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Interesting clip on Micro-loans

Africa's own Solutions One of my good friends showed me this interesting link on how to work with a group of people to help them work and help others help themselves.

It seems that one way to distribute malaria nets was to have the people see them as a status symbol, caring for their own Children. Interesting how using people's ideas can create new solutions to old problems. Openness like this really does enable creativity to flourish, especially when you give people the tools to solve their own problems then feeding them the answers. And when creativity flourishes... the things created tend to be so much better than we could ever plan.

For those of you not familiar with micro loans... they are small loans that enable people in developing countries start their own businesses... which they then repay. They are called micro because typically they are not larger than 200 US dollars.

I wonder how many things could be solved more simply if we had the people involved come up with the solution? Imagine having teachers fixing the school system instead of bureaucrats.... One of my friends from my Mission was extoling the benefits of having your children being schooled in Finland for some of the same reasons that things like micro loans work... if you help the people find solutions to their own problems, then you're not stuck solving them for the rest of their lives.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Understanding as a barrier to openness

One of the things that holds people back from having understanding is not necessarily a lack of information... It's a lack of understanding the information. There are people who have plenty of access to the information located in scientific journals and in websites that record about processes and procedures, however that access means nothing because they do not have enough understanding of the topic to use the information that they receive.

The same thing happened before the Renaissance... imagine all the knowledge locked up in the libraries of the Arabs... but with no access there was no growth, no understanding no progression. But once knowledge is disseminated throughout the world, the next step to openness is to enable people to understand what is being shared. Open forums and talks about new discoveries enabled people to understand and question ideas. Forward thinkers didn't always fare well on these forums though. Semmelweis (who encouraged aseptic or clean environments to decrease disease spreading in hospitals) If only the people who had turned him down would have taken time to learn the basic facts. Or imagine if the scientific community had read anything about Gregor Mendel's research on pea plants and genetic transmission of traits... it would have helped Darwin immensely to have that background... but because his superiors in Austria didn't understand, it never got anywhere.

However this problem is not only the problem of the public... Sometimes we scientists forget that it is not enough to do the research and explain it to our fellow scientists... it is just as important to enable the public to realize that just because collagen increases the skin's elasticity dosen't mean that rubbing it on your face does you any good. And while vaccinnations for most diseases can be good, vaccinnations for HIV would be a decidedly bad move for the continued success of the human race. Minor details, but major effects.

How do we try and resolve this problem of scientific illiteracy? Some encourage programming from places like NOVA or Discover... some have myriads of public outreach programs that enable people to learn the basics of their research. Another project that excites me as a biologist is the Bio Visions program that Harvard is running where professors and graphic imagers have worked together to help improve the visualization of complex biological processes in a series of little movies. My favorite is: Inner Life of a Cell. Being able to visualize things enables the openness of scientific data to mean something... means that people can be literate in more things than just your average novel or news article. Openness of data is only as good as the people who internalize and consume it. Without the educated public, it will never become a force that can cause good change instead of people who misrepresent facts and throw out a decent article because they don't fully understand what it means.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hacking my own Education

For some reason society has decided to be content with putting labels on majors that people take. For example a microbiologist is expected to take classes in the slated system... virology, immunology, Chemistry... however if you add a class like Calculus or *gasp* creative writing the status quo has been interrupted and your professor says that you're wasting your wonderfully linear education with superfluous classes that will keep you from graduating and getting into medical school or graduate school.  Never mind the fact the the greatest scientists were decidedly not classically trained. (van Leeuwenhoek, the father of  microbiology was a draper by trade) That dosen't stop society from requiring a certain linear path to a certain end.

To be honest education in any form is going to have to be slightly systematic... sometimes to an extreme (for my high school in Florida it was virtually impossible to calculus unless you had decided on that "track "in the 5th grade) It makes sense, knowledge builds upon itself... it is really hard to understand complex integrations if you cannot do any algebra and virtually impossible to know much about bacterial pathogenesis without a basic understanding of Chemistry. However, taken to extremes you get regurgitators rather than learners.

However, this means that the fun and lifeforce is taken from learning. Some worry about cheating in medschools.... we should really be worried about what those students just regurgitate for the exams. They go for the profit, and miss out on the fun of knowing how the human body functions. That is the best part of learning, when we're able to learn the answer to questions that you've had since you were a little kid and apply them to modern situations. There is a movement that started to help people understand the limitations of a traditional education called Uncollege. 

Now, that dosen't mean that are no merits to a traditional linear education... it merely means that we need to look outside the box and recognize that if you're in one of the top business universities in the world that it wouldn't hurt to audit a couple of business classes for the sake of learning from the best while you have access to them... even if your professor asks you "You're in What?!"

Thursday, January 5, 2012

How Digitally Civilized am I?

Digitally civilized.

What does that mean? Civilized is defined as "characteristic of a state of civilization ; especially : characterized by taste, refinement, or restraint"(Webster's Dictionary) Digital can refer to many different things from fingers to calculations to a certain type of data entry. Together, however, it refers to the phenomena that happened when computers and digital information became ubiquitous.

That phemonina brought about more information than a society knew what to do with... with wikis and webcomics and blogs galore. Some information was useful, some amusing, and others purposefully spreading false information. But never the less, it has become increasingly important to be in the new digital civilization that seems to have cropped up overnight.

For me, I've dabbled in the digital world. From a quirky lovable grandfather who loves to have the latest and greatest gadgets (you should hear the arguments he has with Siri) to an uncle that networks computers (we had lan parties at Thanksgiving)for a living. Learning how to navigate in the digital world has been a family affair. Using the increasing number of tools available is amazing. From video editing to spreadsheet generation to teaching online, where there is a connection you are connected and I thrive on that electronic pulse.

One touch, one command and bingo! There is a multiverse of data that I can gather for projects, or entertainment, even religious enlightenment. The possibilities are endless, and despite my illiteracy in the Computer's own dialect, I would consider myself someone who is fairly digitally civilized,