Tag Archives: Nature

Reforestation, Google Earth Style

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Here’s a very cool way to mix technology and environmental stuff, via the Google Earth Blog. (Interest declared: It’s part of the NEWtrees project, the brainchild of my publisher and friend Mark Hanusz):

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) offers you the opportunity to buy a tree which will be planted in a rainforest in Sebangau National Forest in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. In return, they not only plant the tree, but give you a Google Earth KML file in return with the location coordinates of your tree. Theoretically, as Google continues to update with higher resolution satellite and aerial imagery, you should be able to watch the growth of your tree (and the others who donate trees) over the coming years. To get started, you simply go to the web site mybabytree.org. They have a very cute animation that will guide you through the process, and you can use Paypal to make your donation. You can see the location and list of trees purchased so far here . Borneo is another location, like the Amazon, where rain forests are disappearing due to logging at a freightening pace. I hope WWF will extend the concept to the rapidly declining rain forests in the Amazon.

Why’s this so good? Because it leverages straightforward technology — GPS, Google Earth — to make the global significant on an individual scale. I remember when I was a kid my dad planted a tree for me in Northampton as part of a local Men of the Trees project (now the International Tree Foundation). Sadly the project was bulldozed to make way for a bypass, but hopefully that’s not likely to happen in Kalimantan. Certainly I could relate a lot more to one tree than a forest.

 

Google Earth Blog: Buy a Tree for the Rainforest – Get a KML

World’s Slowest Email?

Burma (Myanmar) may be in the running for the world’s slowest email: more than four months.

clipped from www.lirneasia.net

LIRNEasia and ISEAS organized an expert forum on ICT indicators in Singapore in March 2007.  On the 26th of January, the Myanmar Ministry of Post and Telecom sent an e-mail to the ISEAS in Singapore, nominating an officer to attend.   That e-mail reached ISEAS yesterday (4th June 2006; more than four months later).

Google Earth as Harbinger of Doom

Researchers are using Google Earth, the New York Times/IHT reports, to look for evidence of giant tsunamis, signs that the Earth has been hit by comets or asteroids more regularly, and more recently, than people thought:

This year the group started using Google Earth, a free source of satellite images, to search around the globe for chevrons, which they interpret as evidence of past giant tsunamis. Scores of such sites have turned up in Australia, Africa, Europe and the United States, including the Hudson River Valley and Long Island.

Chevrons are huge deposits of sediment that were once on the bottom of the ocean; they are as big as tower blocks and shaped like chevrons, the tip indicating the direction from which the tsunami came. 

I love the idea that academics use a tool like Google Earth to — possibly — puncture one of the greatest myths of the human era: that comets only come along once every 500,000 years.

Scientists in the working group say the evidence for such impacts during the last 10,000 years, known as the Holocene epoch, is strong enough to overturn current estimates of how often the Earth suffers a violent impact on the order of a 10-megaton explosion. Instead of once in 500,000 to one million years, as astronomers now calculate, catastrophic impacts could happen every few thousand years.

There are a couple of other quirks to this story. The working group of misfits is cross-disciplinary — there’s a specialist on the structural analysis of myth in there — but only formed when they bumped into each other at a conference. How more efficient it would have been had they been blogging; they might have found each other earlier. (Perhaps they met before the blogging age; there’s a piece on the subject here from 2000.) 

The second quirk for me is that the mythologist (actually Bruce Masse calls himself an enviromental archaeologist) reckons he can pinpoint the exact date of the comet which created the Burckle Crater between Madagascar and Australia using local legends: 

Masse analyzed 175 flood myths from around the world, and tried to relate them to known and accurately dated natural events like solar eclipses and volcanic eruptions. Among other evidence, he said, 14 flood myths specifically mention a full solar eclipse, which could have been the one that occurred in May 2807 B.C.

I love the idea of myths; I see them as a kind of early Internet, a way of dispersing knowledge using the most efficient tools (in those days, this meant stories and word of mouth.) We tend to think of myths as superstition and scare mongering, but in fact in many cases they are the few grains of wisdom that get passed on from generation to generation.  They often get contorted in the telling, the original purpose — to warn — sometimes getting lost. 

Like the Moken sea gypsies of the Andaman Sea, most of whom were spared the 2004 tsunami because they “knew from their tribal lore that this was a warning sign to flee to higher ground”, according to Reuters. On the Acehnese island of Simeulue, similar lore, dating back to the 1907 tsunami, tells islanders that “if the land is shaking and shoreline is drained abnormally, they have to go to very high land.” Only seven people out of 80,000 islanders died. 

Based on this, the idea of trying to pin down the comets, the craters and the chevrons by exploring local myth makes a lot of sense. I like the idea that is being done alongside using something as modern, and as freely available, as Google Earth. I guess I’m just not happy about the implications for us current planet dwellers. 

Source: Ancient crash, epic wave – Health & Science – International Herald Tribune (graphic here)

Indonesia’s Quake

For anyone interested in helping the victims of the Yogyakarta earthquake, in which thousands of people have been killed inside their heavy stone and slate homes, here’s Indonesia Help – Earthquake and Tsunami Victims.

Sadly, this website was originally set up for the tsunami, now 17 months ago, but has been quickly resurrected to provide news and information on how to help. Even the website of the administration of the town of Bantul has updated its site with some news and photos of the quake. More information can be found at the airputih media center. The tsunami has clearly made local organisations and individuals aware of the need for rapid disbursement of information, especially on missing persons and where to give your aid. I noticed Saturday night folk walking around traffic in Jakarta with donation boxes, but we also know from experience the prevalence of scams during such times. Better to give your money to an organisation recommended by one of these sites.

Googling the Tsunami

More from Google Trends, the sad rise and fall in our interest in the tsunami: At the end of 2004, the Asian Tsunami piqued/peaked our attention, but the later blips (F, the last little flag on the chart, is the first anniversay) reflect, perhaps, how quickly such things are forgotten.

G-tsunami

What Early Groomers Used For Hair Gel

I don’t use hair gel anymore — no, really — but I do remember wandering around war-torn Kabul trying to find some when my stash ran out during an unexpectedly long stint there shortly after the Taleban takeover. Needless to say I felt somewhat superficial about it, given all the suffering around me, and was worried it was frowned upon by the puritanical Taleban. I shouldn’t have worried: most of them wore eyeliner, took way too much interest in my babyish features and in any case, there’s a long history of wearing hair gel, as National Geographic News reports:

Male grooming has an ancient history in Ireland, if the savagely murdered bodies of two ancient “bog men” are anything to go by. One shows the first known example of Iron Age hair gel, experts say. The other wore manicured nails and stood 6 feet 6 inches tall.

Disappointingly, you have to look elsewhere to find out what kind of hair gel. I personally like Slick from Body Shop, but it might not have been available then, namely between about 400 BC and 200 BC. Another piece from National Geographic, suitably titled ‘Iron Age “Bog Man” Used Imported Hair Gel’ details the product he was using:

The man’s hair contains a substance made from vegetable oil mixed with resin from pine trees found in Spain and southwest France. The man might have used the product, researchers say, to make himself appear taller.

Sounds like my friend John.

Earthquakes, Power Laws and Sparklines

The Asian tsunami, and the quake near Nias, bring home how volatile the region is, particularly Indonesia. (Another quake this morning sent Nias residents fleeing into the hills in panic.) But I thought an interesting way of illustrating this volatility might be to do a sparkline of earthquakes and their magnitude around the world in the last week, highlighting those in Indonesia (most, but not only, around Sumatra) in orange:

Quakes1

Of course, it would be better to show their depth as well, but the sparklines tool I’m using, the excellent SparkMaker from Bissantz, is not yet up to the task. Data is from the USGS Earthquakes Hazards Program.

That’s more than 140 quakes in a week, more than half of them in Indonesia. And each one is of a size not to sneeze at, obeying, I guess the power law that, according to John Gribbin in Deep Simplicity, determines there is no single trigger for a major earthquake: An earthquake of any size is governed by the same rules. (This implies that another tsunami is not necessarily a long way off, just because there was one recently.) But if nothing else the sea of orange indicates how many Indonesians live in a state of almost permanent shock.

Sparking The Wi-Fi Revolution

Glancing at the charts on JiWire’s newlook website of the top 10 Wi-Fi countries and cities, I wondered whether it was worth taking a closer look at the figures to see if there’s any conclusions we could draw about the wireless revolution.

The figures only include those commercially available hotspots, as far as I can figure out. But they’re still interesting. In sheer numbers London Wifi london is way ahead with more than 1,200 hotspots, followed by Tokyo (904) Wifi tokyo and New York (851) Wifi ny. But all these cities are different sizes. How about hotspots per capita? Taking populations of the metropolitan areas of these cities things look a bit different.

If the figures are correct, then Paris has by far the most hotspots Wifi paris with about 35 per 100,000 people, followed by London Wifi london 2 with about 17 and Singapore Wifi singapore with just under 16. Of U.S. cities, Chicago Wifi chicago comes out ahead of New York Wifi ny 2 and San Francisco Wifi sf.

Aware that by looking at metropolitan areas only these results may be distorted a little, I looked at JiWire’s country figures. The U.S. is way ahead in terms of numbers Wifi us with more than 24,000 hotspots. The UK has less than half that Wifi uk with Japan the only Asian country putting in an appearance Wifi japan in the top 10. But what about when the ‘Hotspot Per 100,000 People’ rule is applied?

Once again things look different. Switzerland, with only 1,300 hotspots, has more than 17 per 100,000 people Wifi swiss which is about the same level of access Londoners have. Indeed, the whole of the UK appears to be pretty well provided for: With nearly 10,000 hotspots, there are more or less the same number of hotspots per 100,000 throughout the country as there are in the capital Wifi uk 2. Elsewhere the picture is less impressive: The U.S. falls into third place Wifi us 2 with exactly half the ratio of hotspots in the UK with Germany Wifi germany France Wifi france and Australia Wifi australia trailing behind. Japan, with less than two hotspots per 100,000 people Wifi japan 2 is clearly not worth traveling around with a Wifi laptop as aren’t Italy Wifi italy and Spain Wifi spain.

And finally, without wanting to be biased, the ‘country’ chart doesn’t include Hong Kong and Singapore, both of them separate adminstrative entities that happen also to be cities. Given that, they both put in a good performance in the ‘country’ chart too, with Singapore Wifi singapore 2 coming only slightly behind Switzerland and UK and Hong Kong Wifi hong kong 2 roughly on a par with Germany.

Conclusion? Looking for a Wifi-friendly place to live outside the U.S.? Try the UK or Switzerland in Europe, and Singapore in Asia.