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December 31, 2003

Devastating image

DirectionsMag is running some 1m satellite photos of the devastation at Bam, Iran. The photo of the 2,000 year old citadel is astounding.


From an article found on the GIS Monitor site:

… the U.S. Geological Survey, working with Redlands-based ESRI, produced computer-generated maps that predicted mudslides could occur in the area of Waterman Canyon, where at least 13 people were killed when mud, trees and boulders flowed through a church camp. …

San Bernardino County officials said they were not confident that the maps were precise enough to warrant sweeping evacuations.

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Ideas for Social Software

Seconding Liz‘s linking to Matt Haughey’s ideas for useful social software.

Matt suggests “Epinions + Friendster,” which sounds a lot like a company that Paul English, Rick Levine and I tried to start a few years ago. Matt puts the problem well:

Last summer I moved to a town in a place far away from where I’ve spent the past few years, and one of the first problems I had to solve was finding the perfect everything. I quickly amassed a bunch of questions that took months of trial and error to answer through a network of new friends and neighbors. Where could I get a good haircut? Which one of the local dentists would be most understanding of my dental anxiety? Which store should I shop for food at if I want a lot of organic, natural, and meatless food? Are there any trustworthy mechanics in this town? Which one of the two Thai places is “the good one?” Where should I go for a nice night out here? Which theater plays the art house movies? Which one of the furniture stores should I trust with my money?

We bought the url WordOfMouth.com and set up shop in Boulder, CO. The initial idea was to provide a way for webs of friends to share information about local services like the ones Matt describes. You’d list which services you use, and rate, review and discuss them. You’d also be able to indicate who you know and trust, and join clusters of the like-minded. We hooked up with newspaper sites, integrating with their yellow page services. And then the company went broke. The newspapers loved the service so long as it was free to them. Getting them to pay was a whole ‘nother issue.

I still think the initial idea is solid; hardly a day goes by that I couldn’t put a service like that to some use.

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December 30, 2003

Top Ten at BlogCritics

Here’s a list of the various top ten lists posted at BlogCritics. That is, both this list and the entries on the list point to entries at BlogCritics. Oh, the hell with it.

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Ken Camp on the World of Ends

Ken Camp, who sure knows networks, takes to task the article Doc and I wrote called World of Ends.

I’m on deadline and have only had time to skim it. It looks well reasoned. Some of what I saw takes us as saying something other than what we meant (which is very likely our fault). Some of it we may just be wrong about. I’m looking forward to a more leisurely read…

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Jack the Sickert

Wanna read a bad book? Borrow a copy of Patricia Cornwell’s Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed.

I like Cornwell enough to have read all (?) of her Scarpetta series even though I’ve been disappointed by each of them; often they have a good set-up but resolve the situation by the literary equivalent of running people over with trucks. Portrait of a Killer, though, pretty much just stinks.

In it, she “solves” the mystery of the Ripper murders. The killer was the artist Walter Sickert. Her evidence isn’t just inconclusive, it’s annoying. And her certainty — “Case Closed” — exhibits a character flaw that makes me feel uncomfortable in her authorial presence.

Her evidence? [SPOILER ALERT]

A few of the hundreds of letters supposedly sent by the Ripper to the press and police came from the same commercial paper mill as some letters from Sickert.

The mitochondrial DNA left on some of the Ripper letters is of the same type as some left on envelopes containing letters from Sickert; Cornwall says that 1% of the population has that particular type of DNA, although I’ve read that experts say that it could be as high as 10%.

Some of Sickert’s artwork portrays violence and murder. Some show a dark circle around women’s necks…although in the one example I’ve seen, it looks a lot like a necklace to me.

Sickert isn’t known to have been elsewhere during the time of the murders.

I’m no historian and I’m not a Ripper buff, so I can’t evaluate the facts she presents. (For that, see the first two links below.) But her methodology worries me. If a letter supposedly by the Ripper is written in a different hand, it’s because Sickert was an artist. If a witness reports seeing a man at the scene who looked different than Sickert, it’s because Sickert was an actor. If Ripper letters use the phrase “Ha ha,” it must be because Sickert studied under Whistler who used to laugh “Ha ha.” (No, I’m not making this up.) If there are misspellings in a letter, it’s because Sickert was taunting the police; if there aren’t, it’s because Sickert was taunting the police.

Worse, the book is badly written all the way down to the sentence level. The constructions are awkward at the “This is the reason that…” level. The paragraphs are redundant. Entire chapters are superfluous. It is not a good book.

Case closed.


Links

Patricia Cornwell and Walter Sickert: A Primer
By Stephen P. Ryder

A substantial book review by Joe Nickell in the Skeptical Inquirer

An account of a lecture Cornwall gave on the topic

ABC News’ puff piece about Diane Sawyer’s interview with Cornwall

21 Comments »

December 29, 2003

Taxpayers vs. Citizens

Robert Herold of the Pacific Northwest Inlander has a good commentary on the semantics of “taxpayers” vs. “citizens.” An excerpt:

Taxpayers are just full of anxiety. Citizens seek to participate in a constructive manner. Taxpayers seek always to reduce public life to a balance sheet. Citizens seek ways of broadening and deepening public life. Taxpayers, by definition, live in a private world, and they don’t much like government penetrating that world. The word “taxes” symbolizes that penetration. Citizens seek life in the polis. Citizens live in a world of values, which, when agreed upon, determine how we will live.

(Thanks to Doug Hughes for the link.)

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December 28, 2003

Jeff Jacoby is like Hitler…

…After all, both were born in the 20th Century.

I’m just trying to get into next year’s round up of liberal hate speech. Man, he has a thin skin!

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Order of Magnitude Quiz: Animals

How many animals raised on farms are killed for consumption in the US each year? Getting within an order of magnitude constitutes winning.

Reveal the answer by drag-selecting the seemingly blank space between the X’s:

X ————8 billion ———— X

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Veggie Prop

Bill Koslosky points to some clever vegetarian propaganda: The Meatrix. And he links to a less light-hearted commentary on meatiness: The defeat of legislation that would have required that “downed” animals be killed humanely and that would have prohibited their slaughter for human food.

Sure, people are suffering, too. But we ought to avoid inflicting unnecessary pain. (Go ahead, try to argue against that one!) I see no reason to think that we escape that moral obligation when it comes to non-human animals. The argument ought to be over what makes pain necessary and exactly what it means to avoid inflicting it. For the past 25 years or so, I’ve voted with my digestive system that eating factory-farmed meat fails that test. Hell, I wouldn’t even eat a Republican.

Happy vegetarian new year to all my sentient animal friends!

23 Comments »

December 26, 2003

Current Events Quiz

There’s a somewhat amusing quiz about 2003′s political events and statements over at Alternet.

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