Tag Archives: specialist

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)

Wikipedia on Your Cellphone

Further to my posting last week on how it might be possible to access Wikipedia (and other localised content) via Wi-Fi, here’s a service that makes it available via GPRS: Wikipedia goes mobile with JAVA-solution

Wikipedia is now available on mobile phones. The interactive media platform JOCA allows immediate, continuous and free access to the famous online encyclopedia via GPRS. With more than 1.6 million articles (about 678.000 in English and 275.000 in German), Wikipedia offers the largest free accessible knowledge pool worldwide. Via JOCA, a Java program developed by Interactiv, the German specialist for interactive services, mobile phone users are able to screen the entire Wikipedia encyclopedia within a few seconds. JOCA quickly displays the Wikipedia answers on research requests in English or German and offers additional links recommended by the community’s authors.

I haven’t tried it out but it sounds excellent. Particularly if this kind of thing were integrated with sound technology so one could just say to one’s phone, say, ‘Heidelberg, Philosopher’s Walk (Philosophenweg), English’, while walking along that path, and get the appropriate page delivered to one’s cellphone. (I don’t know why I thought of that particular place, and actually there’s no separate reference to the path there. Sorry. Still, it’s a nice path. Really.)

IntelliTXT, Forbes And The Rise Of The Misleading Link

Where is the line between editorial independence and the advertisers who make a media publication viable?

Forbes, DMNews reports (thanks Online Journalism.com), has started included ’embedded ads’ in its news stories via Vibrant Media, a specialist in contextual advertising. These ads are links matching related words — car, house, music, that sort of thing. With nearly 5 million visitors in June, Forbes is Vibrant Media’s biggest client for IntelliTXT. As DMNews says, “IntelliTxt links are double underlined in blue to set them off from non-paid hyperlinks, which are in blue but not underlined. When a user hovers over an IntelliTxt link, the listings display a pop-up box with a ‘sponsored link’ heading and site description.”

I’ve written before about how I believe this is the wrong way to go. (Here’s a post I did on Vibrant Media last December, where I concluded that the whole thing was misleading.) At least with Forbes’ ads, the pop-up box informs the user where they would go should they click on the link. I have to confess I wasn’t able to find a single ad on Forbes’ site yet.

But there’s still plenty of things wrong with this. First off, context is everything. While the genre calls itself contextual, it is actually merely grabbing related words and turning them into links: The perils of this are legion. For example, ‘car’ may make a good for Ford ad in a piece on what kind of SUV to buy, but isn’t going to look so hot in a story about a major accident.

The bigger problem here is, as DMNews points out, online journalism is still trying to establish itself. As a journalist, to find one’s words mined for possible commercial links would smack of cheapness, and might lead to pressure from marketing departments to include more marketable words in their story. Or to edit them to make it so? Or to include references to specific companies so the link can be IntelliTXTed? How will journalists react to see their copy fiddled with in this way?

Then there’s the reader. How useful — read relevant — are these ads going to be? Watching IntelliTXT in action elsewhere I would say not very much. By contrast I’ve found Google’s AdSense listings, which appear to the right of search results, to be relevant, certainly less intrusive, and I actually launch searches some times just to see whether there are related or rival products out there I’m missing. Now that’s useful advertising.