June 2009


Have you seen the Map of Science? This study, published a few months ago in PLoS One, analyzes the relationships between scientific disciplines based on clickstream data from over a billion user interactions with online databases and publications. Data spanned a period from 2006-2008, making the analysis almost real-time, and much more timely than citation analyses. Participating data providers were: Thomson Scientific (Web of Science), Elsevier (Scopus), JSTOR, Ingenta, University of Texas (9 campuses, 6 health institutions), and California State University (23 campuses).

The resulting map is remarkable, both as a striking visual representation of data, and for the subsequent connections it illustrates. By illustrating the links between the different areas of interest for information consumers, the researchers hope to eventually produce models that “explain the online behavior of scientists and how it relates to the emergence of scientific innovation”. These innovations can be revealed in the “unexpected relations between scientific domains that point to emerging relationships that are capturing the collective interest of the scientific community—for instance a connection between ecology and architecture,” according to the Los Alamos National Laboratory release on the paper.

Bollen and colleagues were surprised by the map’s scope and detail. Whereas maps based on citations favor the natural sciences, the team’s maps of science showed a prominent and central position for the humanities and social sciences, which, in many places, acted like interdisciplinary bridges connecting various other scientific domains. Sections of the maps were shaped by the activities of practitioners who read the scientific literature but do not frequently publish in its journals.

Hmm… practitioners like librarians, perhaps?

Here’s one I’ve been sitting on for a while: Insects In Flagrante. This great post from Webphemera showcases some gorgeous insect porn (my favorite!) Check it out for the amazing photography and wacky bugs.

These are migrant hawkers mating. They’re extremely photogenic, as you can see, and can be found all over North Africa and Europe, engaging in this gymnastic activity in stagnant ponds and standing water. Lovely, aren’t they?

At the zoo’s Insect House, I saw a number of assassin bugs like these in this position, trying to make a lot more assassin bugs for their evil army. If I recall correctly, they were the only bugs in the bug house that could have killed me, therefore earning my wary respect. They inject lethal saliva into their prey, but also transmit potentially-fatal Chagas disease.

I’ll stop giving you nightmares now, and end on a happy note: Adorable little Desert forktails, native to Southern California and Arizona. The photo really says it all, so I’ll shut up and get back to reading my book.

I’m reading Infinite Jest in all of my spare time. I confess, I’m hooked. I’ll be back with more great science-y and library updates very soon.

Any day now, the newest addition to the Titun arum family at the Huntington Library will unfurl into a beautiful, enormous, rotting-stench-of-death inflorescence.

That photo was taken this morning, and it’s grown two inches from yesterday’s measurements. This particular specimen was propagated from the historic 1999 bloom of “Stinky”, the first corpse flower to bloom in California. Here’s a time-lapse video of that bloom:

According to the Huntington, the chemicals responsible for the putrid stench are dimethyl disulfide and dimethyl trisulfide. The odor was previously thought to have been caused by the aptly named putrescine and cadaverine.

The Huntington is featuring special hours for members once the bloom opens. For non-members, they’re open daily from 10-4:30, with the exception of a normal Tuesday closure. However, they stayed open yesterday in anticipation of the bloom, and will likely do the same next week if the bloom-watch is still on.

Have you heard about the Infinite Summer project? If not, it’s pretty simple. Here’s the skinny:

THE CHALLENGE
Join endurance bibliophiles from around the world in reading Infinite Jest over the summer of 2009, June 21st to September 22nd. A thousand pages1 ÷ 92 days = 75 pages a week. No sweat.

1. Plus endnotes a.
a. A lot of them.

The whole internet is doing it, from what I can tell. There’s a Facebook group, a group on Ravelry, a Metafilter thread…. Read-alongs like this are common on listservs, but I’ve never seen one this widespread before. I’m sure that more than a little bit of this momentum is coming from DFW’s recent death, but it’s still pretty inspiring to see so many people in my internet-hangouts tackling a huge reading project this summer.

So of course, I’m in. I’ll be spending a good chunk of the summer sitting right here, doubtlessly with a fan blasting in my face, and my dog’s head resting on my feet. It really is the coziest reading spot I can think of, especially since I bought that lamp.

If you’re wondering where to start, or want a warm-up, or have already read Infinite Jest and don’t feel the need to do it again but want something else to read, the Infinite Summer blog has a nice collection of DFW’s shorter essays that are freely available online now. Although I generally hate 9/11-related anything, his essay The View from Mrs. Thompson’s really struck a chord in me. If you’re still not convinced, here’s a spoiler from the last page:

There is what would strike many Americans as a bizarre absence of cynicism in the room. It doesn’t once occur to anyone here to remark on how it’s maybe a little odd that all three network anchors are in shirtsleeves, or to consider that it’s possible that Rather’s hair being mussed is not 100% accidental, or that the relentless rerunning of spectacular footage might not be just in case some viewers were only now tuning in and hadn’t seen it yet. No one else seems to notice Bush’s weird little lightless eyes seem to get closer and closer together throughout his taped statement, nor that some of his lines sound almost plagiaristically identical to statements made by Bruce Willis (as a right-wing wacko, recall) in The Siege a couple years back. Nor that at least some of the shock of the last two hours has been how closely various shots and scenes have mirrored the plots of everything from Die Hard I-III and Air Force One to Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor. Nobody’s edgy or sophisticated enough to lodge the sick and obvious po-mo complaint: We’ve Seen This Before. Instead what they do is all sit together and feel really bad, and pray. Nobody does anything as nauseous as try to make everybody all pray together of pray aloud or anything, but you can tell what they’re doing.

This is one of those things that’s just too odd not to post…

The Telegraph reports that a black widow stowed away in a shipment from San Francisco and found it’s way to Mike and Trish Newman’s new home in Wales. The couple trapped the spider in a jam jar, then called an exotic pets specialist to remove it. The article also mentions that the spider will now find a home in the Bristol Zoo.

Black widow spiders are highly venomous, and can cause death in small children or the elderly. They’re very common in Southern California. I remember being warned to stay away from them as a kid, and even as an adult, I’m very reluctant to get near them, even though I like most other spiders. Every time a pipe bursts in my yard, I get out the blowtorch to kill all the black widows lurking near my water shut-off valve, for fear of being bitten. Maybe I’ll just start shipping all of my little spidey friends to the UK? Is this sort of how here in North America we find kangaroos to be adorable and exotic, but in Australia they’re just all over the place?

In the spirit of World Oceans Day today, watch this terrific National Geographic video about manatee-alarm research. This is something that’s so long overdue it’s almost heartbreaking, as the number of manatees in Florida continues to dwindle.

Manatees are docile, non-aggressive, slow-moving marine mammals with few natural predators. Despite this, all three extant manatee species in the world are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species. The main threat to their survival is an extremely high incidence of harmful boat collisions, frequently resulting in grave injury to the manatees.

Dr. Edmund Gerstein and his team have been conducting research into this problems for 20 years. They’ve found that manatees are unable to hear at the low frequencies emitted by boat engines. Although their hearing is very good, they seem to only be able to hear at much higher frequencies. The scientists devised and tested an alarm system for boats that emits a high frequency noise underwater.

We’ve got 17 alarm runs and for those alarms we got 100% reaction, the animals reacting way before the boat gets there. And we’ve got over 65 silent runs where 97% of the time the animals haven’t reacted at all.

Hopefully this means that boaters in Florida will soon be required to equip their vessels with manatee alarms! Seriously though, watch the video, if only for the absolutely adorable footage of a manatee nomming the researcher’s hair in the water at around the one minute mark.

Boat Alarm Could Save Manatees.

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