Where is the Larsen C iceberg now?

Last year there was great interest as a huge piece of the Larsen C Ice Shelf off Antarctica “suddenly” broke off and became a huge floating iceberg the size of Delaware.  (The separation happened over months—which is extraordinarily fast for continental scale processes….)

From the rapid break, we were all prepared for the new berg, tagged A-68, to cruise North, ravaging the sea lanes, frightening penguins, menacing villages, and generally raising havoc.

Iceberg attacks Innaarsuit Greenland ( Credit Reuters) This is not A-68–yet.

So what has happened since?

As BBC reports, A-68 has not moved far, nor has it melted [1].

She’s a pretty big girl, and it takes a while to get a trillion tonnes of ice up to much speed.  In addition, there are winds and tides pushing in many directions and the sea floor is shallow and not necessarily flat that near shore. <<link>>

Time-series of Sentinel-1 satellite radar imagery showing the rift, calving, and subsequent journey of Iceberg A-68 (From [2]
But models indicate that eventually old ’68 will reach the Atlantic and start moving with the currents. A-68 will sail north, past the equator into the North Atlantic, probably shedding lots of smaller bergs as she breaks up in the heat.

Equally interesting is what will happen to the ice she left behind.  The departure of such a large hunk presumably makes way for more ice to shift and break off into the sea.  The question remains whether A-68 is part of an accelerated breakup of the sea and shore ice at that part of Antarctica.  The situation is being carefully monitored. [2]

  1. Jonathan Amos, The ‘monster’ iceberg: What happened next?, in BBC News – Science & Environment. 2018. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-44745734
  2. Adrian Luckman, Martin O’Leary, and Project MIDAS, Iceberg A68 one year on, in MIDAS blog. 2018. http://www.projectmidas.org/blog/A-68-Anniversary/


Book Review: “The City of Lost Fortunes” by Bryan Camp

The City of Lost Fortunes by Bryan Camp

Camp’s novel is a love song to his city, which is still recovering from the devastating trauma of Katrina, which ripped the city apart and, as the title suggests, flooded it with losses of all kinds.

If there was ever a city that has a personality, New Orleans is surely it.  And Camp brings us a supernatural personification of the city, its strength, its luck, its will, its voice, and the many magical creatures and interesting people who live there.

We’ve all learned to expect New Orleans to be filled with vampires, tarot, voodoo, zombies, and, not least, jazz.  Camp’s story has them all, and then some.

The plot involves one Jude, a finder of lost things.  Jude was wiped out by Katrina, overwhelmed by the massive and continuous flood of losses.  He’s been hiding since, unable or unwilling to use his gift.

But now Jude is pulled into some kind of complicated plot that appears to be part of a dangerous tussle for control of the city by major magical powers.  Magic is powerful, but the goals of the powers are unknown and some are definitely not benign.

Unraveling the mystery—and finding himself—Jude meets a great assortment of New Orleans characters, visits many iconic locations, and generally lets us see New Orleans as it ought to be, even wounded as she is.

I loved the characters and scenery, and, of course, Camp makes clear the many things he loves in his city.  If nothing else, this story is an answer to “why did you go back?”

I do believe in the magic of sex and drugs and rock and roll, which also abounds in the Crescent City.  But personally, I don’t care much for new agey mystical stuff.  Tarot.  Legbas.  Magical herbs. Yawn. But Camp makes a smooth and delicious story out of it.

Just for instance: zombies are a really stupid concept.  But an ancient jazz man, unhappily preserved after death, still playing that busted up horn, making magical music that touches people, and, in the end gives voice to the city.  That’s a beautiful, beautiful image, and it’s so right.

Much of this story is dark and gritty, with violence and loss at every turn.  But there are good people here, good deeds, and the possibility of life.  It’s wonderful, hopeful, and it’s so New Orleans.

  1. Bryan Camp, The City of Lost Fortunes, New York, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.


Argentine Sauropods Were Big

But even more interesting, other animals grew really big, too.

This summer, researchers report a new fossil find in Argentina, yet another gigantic animal (more than 15 meters nose to tail, weighing something like 7 tons), this one from the late Triassic [1].  The fossil looks a lot like sauropods, but dates earlier than the well know giant dinosaurs of the Jurassic, such as Diplodocus.

This find is interesting for several reasons.  It shows that dinosaurs grew very large even earlier than suspected, indeed, before the die off at the end of the Triassic.  And then, other species grew very large again, independently, during the Jurassic.  So we seem to have two independent cases of giganticism.

This second case forces reexamination of theories of the development of giganticism, what leads to what, and what is necessary and what is accidental in the evolution of really large land animals.

“The evolution from small bipedal to giant quadrupedal sau- ropodomorphs involved numerous anatomical changes,” ([1], p. 1)

The new species is as large as later cousins, but  has anatomical differences from them.  The researchers report that the neck is not elongated and the front limbs were not columnar, traits found in later sauropods.  These differences show that “that these fea- tures were not strictly necessary for the acquisition of gigantic body size.” ([1], p. 4)

The fossil remains suggest that the animal had a adaptation of avian like lungs and air sacs in the skeleton, unlike later suaropods.  In birds, this contributes to efficient respiration and also makes the bones lighter.  In this case, lighter bones would make larger bones easier to support.

These cavities may also play a role in thermoregulation.  Large animals need ot keep cool, so pneumatic cavities might have made larger size feasible.

In addition to the respiratory system, examination of the growth rings in the bones reveals evidence of “cyclical and remarkably high growth rates.”   One way to get big is to grow fast, which seems to be what these animals did.

Clearly, there is more than one way for a species to evolve extreme size. Future work will have to try to sift out more understanding the necessary and accidental features of these two cases, and what environmental and other factors were involved.  (What did they eat?  What ate them?  and so on)

  1. Cecilia Apaldetti, Ricardo N. Martínez, Ignacio A. Cerda, Diego Pol, and Oscar Alcober, An early trend towards gigantism in Triassic sauropodomorph dinosaurs. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2018/07/09 2018. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-018-0599-y
  2. Helen Briggs, Fossil of ‘first giant’ dinosaur discovered in Argentina, in BBC News – Science & Environment. 2018. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-44744153

Semantic Markup In Actual Use?

This summer Daye Nam and Mayank Kejriwa askHow Do Organizations Publish Semantic Markup?” [13].  As an old grey-haired Semantic Webbian ([1-12, 14]_, my reaction was, “What?! Someone actually does publish semantic markup?”  We talked about that twenty years and more ago, with little luck in the way of real world usage.

Apparently, this is actually happening now, at least a little bit. It is a sign of the times that the usage is rather opaque.  The authors remark that some Shema.org vocabulary markup “are known to influence results of the Google Knowledge Graph, in addition to influencing the search rankings.”  Sigh. Google wouldn’t want to document how metadata is being used, that would be cheating.

Theological aside:

There is a new circle in Hell for digital Big-Data-Algorithm-ists (although the hubris of BDAers might make them heretics, idolators, or other miscreants.)

There, your torments will be personalized for you by an opaque and constantly changing proprietary algorithm. The algorithm uses really, really big data — is anything and everything from all time and space (plus non-material and imaginary times and spaces). Any damned thing that infernal forces can dredge up.  Your sins.  Some function of the overall sins of your social network. The price of rice in Shanghai in 1849.  Who knows? 

And who knows how these inputs relate to the output punishment?  You certainly won’t.

And by the way, every morning you are required to agree to new terms and conditions (no opt out available).

But seriously.

The article is actually about metadata using Shema.org, which publishes some controlled vocabulary for general web pages.  The researchers use web crawlers to amass metadata, which they are studying.

Schema.org is not interlinked (i.e., they are basically used as tags), but the research constructs a network from the amassed data.  A web crawl constructs a forest of mini-graphs (in RDF).  There is no general way to merge these, but there are useful special cases (e.g., organizations have phone numbers which serve as effective, if not official or perfect, identifiers).

These somewhat heroic efforts lead to the creation of larger graphs of semantic relations, which the researchers explore for patterns such as growth, power laws, and so on.  And, of course, networks can be used to look for centrality and other properties of nodes.  This network is also potentially comparable (and linkable with) the explicitly linked Linked Data metadata.

In the end, the answer to the title question is only partly answered.  And the answer to the question, “Why Do Organizations Publish Semantic Markup?” would probably be, “to game Google and other search engines.”

I have to say that the methodology isn’t notably more advanced than what we were doing back in the late twentieth.  And it’s unfortunate to hear that entity resolution is still not happening, even in semantic markup.

“This more-than-five-decades old research problem of automatically resolving entities into a single underlying entity […]has not been solved and only limited work has been done on difficult large-scale datasets.” ([13], p. 48)

So it goes.

  1. Loretta Auvil, Eugene Grois, Xavier Llora, Greg Pape, Vered Goren, Barry Sanders, Bernie Acs, and Robert McGrath, A Flexible System for Text Analysis with Semantic Network, in Digital Humanities. 2007: Urbana. p. 17-19.
  2. Loretta Auvil, Eugene Grois, Barry Sanders, and Robert E. McGrath. Text Analysis with Semantic Networks (submitted). In Supercomputing, 2006.
  3. Joe Futrelle, Jeff Gaynor, Joel Plutchak, Peter Bajcsy, Jason Kastner, Kailash Kotwani, Jong Sung Lee, Luigi Marini, Rob Kooper, Robert McGrath, Terry McLaren, Yong Liu, and James Myers, Semantic Middleware for E-Science Knowledge Spaces (to appear). Concurrency and Computation: Practice and Experience, 2010.
  4. Joe Futrelle, Jeff Gaynor, Joel Plutchak, James D. Myers, Robert E. McGrath, Peter Bajcsy, Jason Kastner, Kailash Kotwani, Jong Sung Lee, Luigi Marini, Rob Kooper, Terry McLaren, and Yong Liu, Semantic Middleware for E-Science Knowledge Spaces, in Workshop on Middleware for Grids, Clouds, and e-Science at Middleware 2009. 2009.
  5. Joe Futrelle, Jeff Gaynor, Joel Plutchak, James D. Myers, Robert E. McGrath, Peter Bajcsy, Jason Kastner, Kailash Kotwani, Jong Sung Lee, Luigi Marini, Rob Kooper, Terry McLaren, and Yong Liu, Semantic middleware for e-Science knowledge spaces. Concurrency and Computation: Practice and Experience, 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/cpe.1705
  6. Robert E. McGrath, Implications of Technology Trends for Semantic Indexing. 1998.
  7. Robert E. McGrath, Semantic Infrastructure for a Ubiquitous Computing Environment, in Computer Science. 2005, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign: Urbana. http://hdl.handle.net/2142/11057
  8. Robert E. McGrath, Semantic Extensions to Defuddle: Inserting GRDDL into XML. NCSA, 2008.
  9. Robert E. McGrath, Jason Kastner, Alejandro Rodriguez, and Jim Myers, Towards a Semantic Preservation System. National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Urbana, 2009. http://arxiv.org/abs/0910.3152
  10. Robert E. McGrath and M. Dennis Mickunas. Semantic Matching Using Description Logic (submitted). In The International World Wide Web Conference (WWW 2005), 2005.
  11. Robert E. McGrath, Anand Ranganathan, Roy H. Campbell, and M. Dennis Mickunas. Incorporating “Semantic Discovery” into Ubiquitous Computing Environments. In Ubisys 2003, 2003.
  12. Robert E. McGrath, Anand Ranganathan, M. Dennis Mickunas, and Roy H. Campbell. Investigations of Semantic Interoperability in Ubiquitous Computing Environments. In International Conference on Parallel and Distributed Computing Systems, 2003.
  13. Daye Nam and Mayank Kejriwa, How Do Organizations Publish Semantic Markup? Three Case Studies Using Public Schema.org Crawls. Computer, 51 (6):42-51, 2018. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/8395081/
  14. Alejandro Rodriguez, Robert E. McGrath, and Jim Myers, Semantic Management of Streaming Data, in Workshop on Semantic Sensor Nets at International Semantic Web Conference. 2009: Washington, DC. http://sunsite.informatik.rwth-aachen.de/Publications/CEUR-WS/Vol-522/p12.pdf

Robin Hood Coop: Offshore Finance for Doing Good?

I worry about this one.  It’s probably OK so far, but I still worry.

The Robin Hood Coop calls itself a “coop”, though it operates as an “activist investment fund”, using an opaque algorithm to automagically manage the investments.  Some of the proceeds are raked off to support the operations.

Investing in a magic algorithm should be done carefully in all cases.  so it is a definite red flag that I can’t find any information about the algorithm (called, “The Parasite”, which somehow fails to reassure me very much).  There certainly nothing published or peer reviewed on their web site.

There are additional warning flags in the promotional materials.  This isn’t just a hedge fund, it is “a cooperative that bends the financialization of economy for the benefit of those who are not the financial elite”.  There are management fees plus a rakeoff to “fund projects that expand the commons”.  And, of course, it is implemented using Ethereum, which is “revolutionary technology for decentralised computing” (so what could possibly go wrong?)

Lot’s of fine sentiments, but impossible to really know what they might mean in practice.

I have to admit that my eyebrows rose at the FAQ item, “Is it Legal?” (Answer: Yes, under the laws of Finland.)  I’m glad that this is a relevant consideration, but it’s still troubling that they think people would be in doubt.

Of course, the answer is actually much more complicated than the FAQ indicates, at least for people not living in Finland. You are transferring money to this Finnish organization, which is investing in the US. If you take money out, it’s another transfer from Finland.  As they say, “When you receive payments from Robin Hood, you will be liable for whichever taxes you would pay for investment income in your country of residence and/or Finland.”  In short, who really knows?

Anyway, this is probably OK, though it seems unlikely to be a particularly profitable investment.  It may be a good way to support the “commons” projects they select, though, again, I don’t really know the implications of such international investments.

In the long run, they might be well advised to create a network of RHC affiliates incorporated in different jurisdictions.

This project has moved to a more troubling RHC2.0, which manages all shares as a private cryptocurrency (RobYns) which is used for trading in various currencies and cryptocurrencies.  This may or may not be a cost effective way to run the service, but it certainly does raise issues of trust. (Do I want to invest via a fund that has no humans in charge, and has no legal presence in my local jurisdiction?)

And if I understand their materials, they correctly are aiming to go even farther, with V3.0 called Robin Hood Unlimited.  This is a member owned (I think) “platform, where anyone could develop financial instruments, and launch them as apps for other members to use”. The goal is to offer “every opportunity to devise different investment strategies and different ways of directing profits or other funding to projects”.

Cooperative or not, this is a description of an offshore, extralegal, money hub, which is not a socially positive animal.   I this an “offshore coop”?  Do the benefits of “cooperative” outweigh the negatives of “offshore”?  Does the “Unlimited” cancel out the “member owned”?

Whether you share my own aversion to hot money in any form, you have to agree that RHC seems to take the motto “think globally, act locally” kind of backwards.  The fund is directing funds from everywhere to a few deserving projects, extracting capital and transferring it. These transactions may be ethical (though we have to trust them on that), but they certainly aren’t local for most of the investors.

The blockchain technology they use not only makes this strategic error easy, it is really the only way that blockchain can reasonably be used.  A global, peer-to-peer network is a primary affordance of blockchain technology, which is just plain the wrong model for local economies. In other words, selecting Ethereum technology is leading down the wrong path.

My basic point is that where ever the investors are, they surely could find local enterprises to invest in.  And that is what we all should do.  Shipping funds off to other continents or to untethered Internet projects is not a good way to make your own community better, which should be a top priority. In fact, it tends to move funds away from local social enterprises.

The new “RH Unlimited” project will likely be much worse. Much, much worse. Sure, it will be possible to create local tokens and local cooperatives, though we already can do that with “some guys in Finland”.  But it will also be trivial to sell and buy shares in anything, with unknowable consequences.

Making it easy for anyone to mess about with financial instruments is really not a way to promote community solidarity, trust, or sustainable development.  How will this be policed, if it even can be?  What happens if the coop is turned into a financial tool for criminals, terrorists, corporate trolls, and/or political shenanigans?

I note that even if you are satisfied that the current leadership is ethical, a decentralized organziation–cooperative or not–can be taken over by nefarious forces.  So watch out.

I probably shouldn’t be too hard on RHC.  There are dozens of variations on these “non-extractive investment” ideas and Ethereum is a favorite technology for these concepts.  To me, this looks like a hammer in search of nails.  We have a technology that lets people build their own financial systems, so obviously we should tackle the problem of ethical finance.

My own view is that the harder problems are social, and they need to be solved by talking and working together, face-to-face, in our own communities.  Imagining that faceless, soulless Internet technology will help in this ground campaign is misguided.  In fact, blockchain technology is antithetical to the personal human contact essential to actual ethical economics.

I’m willing to be proved wrong.  I will leave this as a challenge to RCH and other similar projects.  Let’s see what kind of sustainable “non-extractive” economic activity is actually possible.


Cryptocurrency Thursday

Festo’s Wondrous Robots

I love Festo’s bioinspired robots!

This summer they released a short video summarizing their “bilologic network” of researchers, designers, and technologists.

The video has some old favorites (why are there not millions of Festo butterflies in atria around the world?) and at least one new one: the chameleon tonge grasper.  Shwapp!

So cool!


Robot Wednesday

Funcushion: Active pillow or soft interface

I’ve long been a fan of “soft interfaces”, including cushion-based interfaces.

Last fall a group of researchers from Tokyo report on another cool take on the idea, Funcushion [1].

The basic idea is soft cushions which respond to touches with glowing visual patterns.  In this design, the patterns are printed on the fabric with transparent fluorescent ink which is activated by ultraviolet illumination from inside the cushion.


The process itself is simple, the patterns can be designed with any program and printed on the cloth with an ink jet printer.  The user touch is detected with a module that senses changes in reflected IR.  The same module turns on and off a UV beam that excited the printed pattern.  The cushion is filled with a soft material that reflects IR and transmits UV.  Cotton is apparently a good material for the surface, but synthetics fibers are better for the stuffing.

This is kind of neat, though the sensors, projector, and Arduino controller suck power and generate heat.  Inevitably, an “active pillow” is going to be less pillowy.  But this idea looks like it is at least competitive with equipping cloth with LEDs (such as Google or IBM have tried).

I’ll note that using an Arduino opens the way for other features.  For one thing, the cushion can respond sonically, too. (See, for example, Schiphorst’s soft(n) [2, 3, 4].)  It can also have a lot more complex logic, and other sensors, including accelerometers  (again, see Schiphorst).

  1. Kohei Ikeda, Naoya Koizumi, and Takeshi Naemura, FunCushion: Fabricating Functional Cushion Interfaces with Fluorescent-Pattern Displays, in Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology, A.D. Cheok, M. Inami, and T. Romão, Editors. 2018, Springer International Publishing: Cham. p. 470-487. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-76270-8_33
  2. Thecla Schiphorst, Soft, softer, softly: whispering between the lines, in aRt+D: Research and Development in Art. V2_Publishing, NAi Publishers, Rotterdam, 2005, 166-176. http://www.sfu.ca/~tschipho/publications/aRt&D-Schiphorst-Chapter-pp166-176.pdf
  3. Thecla Schiphorst, soft(n): toward a somaesthetics of touch, in Proceedings of the 27th international conference extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems. 2009, ACM: Boston, MA, USA. https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1520345
  4. Thecla Henrietta Helena Maria Schiphorst, THE VARIETIES OF USER EXPERIENCE: BRIDGING EMBODIED METHODOLOGIES FROM SOMATICS AND PERFORMANCE TO HUMAN COMPUTER INTERACTION, in Center for Advanced Inquiry in the Integrative Arts (CAiiA). 2009, University of Plymouth: Plymouth. https://www.academia.edu/207432/The_Varieties_of_User_Experience_Bridging_Embodied_Methodologies_from_Somatics_and_Performance_to_Human_Computer_Interaction

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