Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Singing about Geology

As a geophysicist, and fan of the history of science, I'm tickled to discover these songs by the Amoeba People, at the place where earth science, music and comedy meet.

by The Amoeba People

Deep beneath the surface
Where tectonic plates collide
The crust is slowly shifting
From the heat on the inside

The pressure builds up
Year after year
Till the pressure's so strong
Something's got to give
Then the plates finally slip
And the energy's released
And the ground begins to shake
Right beneath your feet

Here come the P-waves
Here come the S-waves
Here come the surface waves

Oh no,
What's that?
Did you feel that?

Well it's an EARTHQUAKE!
(and the seismic waves are moving)
Well it's an EARTHQUAKE!
(the clock is falling off the mantel)
Well it's an EARTHQUAKE!
(just stay calm, try to relax
as the seismologists keep track
as it scratches on the seismograph)

The earth's rocky crust
Is broken into plates
They're moving all the time
But at a very slow rate
Convection currents from
Deep in the mantle
Push on the crust
Till it's hard to handle
But every now and then
The plates get stuck
And the pressure builds up
And the pressure builds up

released 28 October 2013
Written by Ray Hedgpeth
Performed by The Amoeba People

A p-wave is a primary, or compressional wave. They move through the Earth at higher velocities than other seismic waves, so they are what you would feel (or see on a seismograph) first, following any earthquake or seismic event. An s-wave is a secondary, or shear wave. These waves follow the p-wave at somewhat slower velocities. The shearing motion (think of scissors... or shears) will be less pleasant so the p-wave is your cue to seek a safe place, should you ever experience a significant earthquake. After the p- and s-waves, you see various surface waves which, as you might imagine, travel along the surface of the crust, rather than diving deep into the Earth. These are things like Rayleigh waves and Love waves (honest! named after mathematician and geodynamist A.E.H. Love).

"The sad but true story of the man who proposed the idea that the continents had once been joined together in a single landmass he called "Pangaea." Time, and new data, finally vindicated Alfred Wegener and his hypothesis of Continental Drift. A posthumous triumph indeed."

Continental Drift (or: the posthumous triumph of Alfred Wegener)
by The Amoeba People

In the year of 1910 there was a scientist
whose name was Alfred Wegener
He noticed that the continents looked just like
pieces of a broken puzzle
By 1915 he called it Continental Drift
It caused a rift
With his fellow scientists
Who sang:

Ha! Ha! Alfred Wegener!
You are a crazy man!
Ha! Ha! Alfred Wegener!
You are a crazy little man!

They reminded him he had no proof for how or why
the continents could do this
And until you show just how or why
you merely have one interesting hypothesis
Until this evidence we see
You don’t have a theory!

Ha! Ha! Alfred Wegener!
You are a crazy man!
Ha! Ha! Alfred Wegener!
You are a crazy little man!

In the year of 1930, on an expedition to Greenland
Wegener got caught in a blizzard
When they finally found him, it was much, oh much too late
And they buried him in an icy mausoleum

Thirty years after he died
A new idea came to light
(Plate Tectonics, Plate Tectonics)
It changed the way geologists saw the world
And brought Continental Drift back to life

Now everybody sings:

Yee haw! Alfred Wegener!
You are a brilliant man!
Yee haw! Alfred Wegener!
You are a brilliant, brilliant man!

Continental Drift! Alfred Wegener’s theory!
Continental Drift! Alfred Wegener’s theory!
Continental Drift! Alfred Wegener’s theory!
Continental Drift! Alfred Wegener’s brilliant theory!

released 02 August 2013
written by ray hedgpeth
performed by the amoeba people

The Geologists Are Coming!
by The Amoeba People

They carry tiny hammers,
They're chipping at the crust.
Like a John Fante novel
They're inclined to ask the dust.

Converging on the continents,
They're fearless and they're brave,
Cruising down through canyons
And exploring every cave.

Uncovering the mysteries
Of the planet's history,
Deep into the Cambrian
For all the world to see.

The geologists are coming!
Yes, they're trudging down the hill.
When they say that mountain's young
They're talking ten to twenty mil.
They're classifying rocks
From destruction to rebirth
The geologists are coming!
They're converging on the Earth!

The G is for granite,
The E is for eon,
O is the outcrop
Which they're inclined to be on.
L is for the layers
Showing how things have evolved
The O is for "Oh, my!
Another puzzle to be solved."
The second G is meant to give
A little bit more insight
For nine times out of ten
A granite rock is granodiorite
The I is for igneous,
The S is for sand,
T is for the timeline
That they're holding in their hand.

The geologists are coming!
They're emerging from their tents,
Braving steep volcanoes
To explore volcanic vents.
They take note of the processes
That shape the planet's crust.
They're driven to inquire,
Explore this Earth they must!

The geologists are coming!
Yes, they're trudging down the hill.
When they say that mountain's young
They're talking ten to twenty mil.
They're classifying rocks
From destruction to rebirth.
The geologists are coming!
They're converging on the Earth!

released 06 April 2012
written by Ray Hedgpeth

The Amoeba People have many other science songs written about other fields and a Kickstarter campaign to launch a musical science show.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Smell, Taste and Hear the Data

Some of our contemporary computational and graphics tools make data visualization an exciting, rapidly advancing field. Sometimes scientists presenting data are not visual thinkers and may not be communicating their results transparently. Sometimes graphic designers put aesthetics ahead of the essence of what we could be communicating with a given dataset. But, when we get it right there is some real innovation occurring. Today I want to show you some 'visualizations' which are not in fact visual at all; I want to show some playful and intriguing forays into expressing data for senses other than vision.

Listen to wikipedia is a wonderful multimedia audiovisual exploration of an unexpected dataset: the recent changes to wikipedia feed. It is in fact surprisingly musical. Data are shown as circles in white (for edits by registered users), green (for unregistered users) and purple (for automated bots) on the Payne's grey field, like in the screenshot above. Text labels appear briefly to show which articles are being edited, the frequency of edits (84 edits per minute at the bottom left) and to post notices when new users register. Data make different sounds: bells indicate additions and subtractions sound like plucked strings. Pitch is proportional to the size of the edit; larger edits result in lower notes. While visualizations can communicate a lot of specific information compactly, this audio display of information certainly communicates a great deal while still allowing an observer to do something else; I am listening to it as I write. It is quite easy to pick up on the frequency of edits, their nature (additions or subtractions) and with a little more attention to the pitch and hence size of edits. Listen to Wikipedia was written by Stephen LaPorte and Mahmoud Hashemi, and is open-source. It was inspired by Listen to Bitcoin which plays tones with pitch scaled to the value of Bitcoin transactions.

BevLab image via Spark blog
You might recall magpie&whiskeyjack wrote about Kate McLean's SensoryMaps which plot scents on imaginative maps of places like 'Auld Reekie', Edinburgh itself. But smell and taste themselves can be used to express datasets. The CBC radio show Spark episode 227 profiled i & j ideations and their BevLab project which translates data into different flavoured beverages and invited the public to 'taste the data' of real-time tweets about food. The words they recorded were mapped onto flavour profiles which controlled proportions of ingredients (for instance blueberry juice for sweet, lemon juice for sour, and ginger juice for spicy, standing in for salty) in a beverage. A beverage can be produced at any given moment which is thus intended to represent the food words posted on twitter at that given moment. I am not certain of our ability to identify this three dimensional sweet/sour/spicy beverage and comprehend how the data is changing in time, by drinking a series of beverages, but the idea is playful and intriguing.

Artists are also playing with the use of data in their art - and these projects too sometimes involve more than just sight. Artist Charlotte Jarvis collaborated with the Netherlands Proteomics Centre on a fascinating project called 'Blighted By Kenning', described in the video below. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was encoded* into DNA of bio-engineered bacteria which was sprayed onto the surface of apples grown near the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The concept was that The Hague was 'contaminated' with the message of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on these contemporary 'forbidden fruit'.  Then they sent the apples were sent to Genomics laboratories across the world, which were asked to sequence the DNA and to find the message hidden within. Finally, the scientists who sought the hidden message were also invited to eat the fruit. So this is a very different way one can taste data.

*There is an established means of encoding letters in DNA by mapping each letter onto a codon, a tri-nucleotide unit consisting of a specific combination of Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Guanine (G) and Cytosine (C). Read more on Charlotte Jarvis' Blighted by Kenning site.


Blighted by Kenning installation (Photo by James Read)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Reconstructionists Women in Science for Ada Lovelace Day

Lisa Congdon, 'Ada Lovelace'
Today is the fifth annual international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology, science and math, Ada Lovelace Day 2013 (ALD13). You may recall Ada, brilliant proto-software engineer, daughter of absentee father, the mad, bad, and dangerous to know, Lord Byron, she was able to describe and conceptualize software for Charles Babbage's computing engine, before the concepts of software, hardware, or even Babbage's own machine existed! She foresaw that computers would be useful for more than mere number-crunching. For this she is rightly recognized as visionary - at least by those of us who know who she was. She figured out how to compute Bernouilli numbers with a Babbage analytical engine. Tragically, she died at only 36. Today, in Ada's name, people around the world are blogging about women in science and technology, whose accomplishments have all too often gone unrecognized or unacknowledged.

Lisa Congdon, 'Maria Mitchell'
Today, I thought I would direct you to The Reconstructionists, a year-long collaboration of artist and illustrator Lisa Congdon and writer Maria Popova (of Brainpickings fame) to celebrate remarkable women, including the subset of the scientists I've selected to share here, artists, writers, other unsung heroes. Each woman they feature is illustrated by Congdon along with quotation and posted with a succinct biography by Popova.  Each represents someone "who have changed the way we define ourselves as a culture and live our lives as individuals of any gender." These two have created a beautiful and remarkable series. You should go enjoy the project in its entirety (thus far)!

Some of my favorite heroines of the history of science they've selected to portray include Ada Lovelace, shown above, astronomer Maria Mitchell (at right),  mathematician, physicist, writer and gifted educator and popularizer of science Mary Fairfax Somerville (read more about Somerville in my review of Seduced by Logic - Émilie du Châtelet, Mary Somerville And the Newtonian Revolution by Robyn Arianrhod cross-posted to sci&lit) and physicist Rosalind Franklin (whose incredible x-ray crystallography provided the first indication that DNA is a double helix - they gave the Nobel to the colleagues who helped themselves to her research and didn't happen to die). Other scientists portrayed include astronaut Sally Ride, primatologist Jane Goodall and unsung mathematical genius, pioneer of communications engineering and glamourous Hollywood actress Hedy Lemarr.
Lisa Congdon, 'Rosalind Franklin'

Lisa Congdon, 'Mary Somerville'

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Periodic Table of Storytelling

Since I've been thinking about the intersection of science and literature, I thought I'd share the Periodic Table of Storytelling.

Periodic Table of Storytelling by Dawn Paladin/ComputerSherpa

You can find a larger version here. I really like how he used the concept behind a periodic table of elements, rather than being too strictly literal and arbitrarily forcing their categorized tropes into the precise formation of the periodic table.  Each element has a one to three character acronym and little description to describe a trope, and they are grouped in periodic table-like families. Also, I'm charmed that he's listed Tbl Parodic Table of the Elements as one of the (pale yellow) Metatropes. Ooh, self-referentiallity! Further, the atomic number is replaced by 'Popularity in kilowicks' or the number of thousands of links to its page within the wiki. At the bottom he explains how the elements bond together in various stories (only two of which I know....  so I can't really tell is there is anything more than a design choice behind the nature of the drawn bonds), much like elements in a chemical compound. This is a a Parodic Table of the Elements made with some care and love.


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