Friday, December 26, 2008

NYC from the air


2008-12-25-dscn7386, originally uploaded by martin_kalfatovic.

Martin Kalfatovic takes the best Window Seat pix!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Recipe for handling rapid growth

while (true)
{
identify_and_fix_bottlenecks();
drink();
sleep();
notice_new_bottleneck();
}

This loop runs many times a day.

*from http://highscalability.com/youtube-architecture

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Semantic Web for Health Care and Life Sciences




Semantic Web for Health Care and Life Sciences


Chris Bizer, Eric Prud’hommeaux, Chimezie Ogbuji, Phil Brooks, Alexandre Passant, Tim Clark, Holger Stenzhorn

2 videos

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Digital Libraries for Science: Botanicus and BHL

Presented at II Latin American Plants Initiative, Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 18 November 2008.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Proposition 8 Protesters in St. Louis

Today on the steps of the Old Courthouse, inside of which the historic Dred Scott case was heard in 1857, more than 1,000 people gathered in a nation-wide protest against California's Proposition 8. Speakers included local community organizers, leaders, and politicians: St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay spoke about equal rights for his 3 gay siblings, and Lewis Reed, the first African American President of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, described marriage equality as a personal issue for him, noting that not too long ago he would not have been able to marry his wife, who is white.

Lead locally by organizer Ed Reggi, the event was part of a national grass-roots movement organized through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The event was great on many levels, but more than anything I think it demonstrated the power of using social technologies to quickly and efficiently organize a "grassweb" effort - this was all planned and executed at a national scale, with participation from all 50 states, in less than a week!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

BibApp: Find experts on campus… Promote their research… Archive their work


Bibapp - Find Campus Experts from Eric Larson on Vimeo.

From http://bibapp.org/about/

What are the benefits of BibApp?

For researchers, BibApp allows you to:

  • Promote your research
  • Find collaborators on campus
  • Make your research more accessible
  • Reuse your publication history in other applications

For research groups, departments, and schools, BibApp allows you to:

  • Promote the range of research in your unit
  • Understand the collaborations happening within your unit and others on campus
  • Make the research of your unit more accessible

For librarians, BibApp allows you to:

  • Better understand research happening in your departments
  • Facilitate conversations about author rights with researchers
  • Ease the population of your institutional or other repository
  • Get a clearer picture of scholarly publishing trends on your campus

Friday, November 07, 2008

YARL: Yet Another Roomful of Librarians

Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) Scanning & Metadata meeting.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Starbucks Free Coffee on Election Day

Illegal? Not sure. I enjoyed the coffee, but it was no incentive to vote.

Add your pix to the Starbucks Election Coffee Flickr Group

I Voted


I Voted, originally uploaded by chrisfreeland2002.

And you should, too!

Monday, November 03, 2008

I'm in trouble with Sony


So a few weeks ago I grabbed a snippet of the TV show Designing Women broadcast on LifeTime, and posted it on YouTube. It was a funny bit about the high cost of membership to an exclusive club, where one of the characters envisioned holding her daughter's debutante/coming out party. The punchline was "for those prices, she ought to do more than just 'come out'...she ought to burst through a hoop of fire on Nancy Reagan's shoulders." I found the imagery hilarious, so I posted it.

And I did so with a purpose - I was curious just how long it would take before the copyright holder found this content, and what YouTube's mechanism for supressing this content would be. Turns out it took 51 days (originally uploaded 9/10/2008), and here's their explanation:
http://www.youtube.com/copynotice?video_id=mwCs460DfCo

Sony Pictures Entertainment has claimed some or all audio and visual content in your video Burst through a hoop of fire on Nancy Reagan's shoulders. This claim was made as part of the YouTube Content Identification program.

Your video is no longer available because Sony Pictures Entertainment has chosen to block it.

Claim Details:

Copyright owner: Sony Pictures Entertainment
Content claimed: Some or all of the audio and visual content
Policy: Block this content.
Applies to these locations:
Everywhere

Sony Pictures Entertainment claimed this content as a part of the YouTube Content Identification program. YouTube allows partners to review YouTube videos for content to which they own the rights. Partners may use our automated video / audio matching system to identify their content, or they may manually review videos.

Please Note: Repeat incidents of copyright infringement will result in the suspension of your account and all videos uploaded to that account. In order to avoid future strikes against your account, please delete any videos to which you do not own the rights, and refrain from uploading additional videos that infringe on the copyrights of others. For more information about YouTube's copyright policy, please read the Copyright Tips guide. If you believe that this claim was made in error, or that you are otherwise authorized to use the content at issue, you may file a counter notice. For more information on this process, please see: How do I file a counter notice?

Please also take a few minutes to visit our Help Center section on Policy and Copyright Guidelines, where you can learn more about copyright laws and our Video Identification Service.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Internet Archive's new book viewer

Here's a sample that apparently only works in Firefox and Safari:



This is great! I love that IA has integrated a really usable book viewer into their offerings, and I'm intrigued by the fact that it's open source. Since BHL content is being scanned and served through Internet Archive, I could envision building the following enhancements into this viewer:

Friday, October 24, 2008

Storage requirements for a Biblioburro: TIF vs. JPEG2000


Biblioburros, originally uploaded by chrisfreeland2002.

I gave a presentation recently and bemoaned the fact that I didn't have a metric for describing the number of open access books that had been scanned by the Biodiversity Heritage Library (22,000 at the time of the presentation). Is that the size of a book mobile? A small public library? A rare book reading room?? No one can give me a good metric for visualization.

Lo and behold, that very day (no joke) the NYTimes ran a story about Luis Soriano, a Columbian who loads up his "Biblioburro" - two burros carrying books - and takes them from village to village. A 10-legged bookmobile (8 on the burros, 2 on Luis), if you will. Luis has 4,800 books. So, finally, I had a metric for BHL...if 2 Biblioburros can carry 4,800 books, then for the sake of visualization I'll say that 1 Biblioburro can carry 2,400 books. BHL, to date, has scanned 9 Biblioburros of content! Woo hoo!

I gave another talk at the Biodiversity Informatics Standards (dubbed TDWG; don't ask) annual conference in Fremantle, Australia, on the advantages of JPEG2000 for use in natural history museums and libraries, given its superior compression technology over traditional JPEG. I took the Biblioburro concept a step further, and using metrics & averages from our scanning efforts, determined that 1 Biblioburro is carrying an average of 1,000,000 pages of literature, which equates to 24TB of RAW or TIF images, and only 2TB of JPEG2000 images, demonstrated here:



If you want to know which of these is easier to manage & maintain, just ask the donkey.

Here's the presentation, along with some other information about JPEG2000, including a plug for the supercool new open source JPEG2000 server, djatoka:

Monday, October 20, 2008

Nomina III workshop group


Nomina III workshop group, originally uploaded by dremsen.

Yeah, life is rough for a bioinformatician.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sydney, my new favorite city


Sydney Opera House, originally uploaded by chrisfreeland2002.

Note: the links should open in a new window.

My partner Chris and I have spent the past 9 days (give or take with time differences) in Sydney and its environs. I've found it to be a fantastic, cosmopolitan city. Though all large international cities are alike these days, what with our global economy, Sydney certainly does have some unique aspects that make it stand out. Some highlights:

The Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge on Sydney Harbour are certainly the images everyone has of the city. And for good reason - they are beautiful structures in a beautiful setting. The Opera House is more lovely up close than I expected; it's made of beige and ivory tiles in various patterns, not a flat white shell. We walked across a bit of the Bridge to get a spectacular view of the Harbour and Opera House. We most definitely DID NOT do the BridgeClimb, which straps you to the bridge and lets you climb to the top. No, we saved the daring for another day. Lastly, we took in opening night of Puccini's La Bohรจme at the Opera House. It was a contemporary staging, which made the already-nearly-unavoidable comparisons to Rent altogether unavoidable. We enjoyed it, for sure, but probably would have liked it more with a traditional staging - corsets and the like. I just kept waiting for Mimi to pole dance and howl at the moon...and apparently she doesn't do that in the original opera. Now we know.

We spent a day at Taronga Zoo, which was fabulous. You take a ferry across the harbour to get there, which made me a bit nervous because I get seasick (I was fine). Once on dry land we made our way to the top and saw some amazing views of Sydney. We also saw some of Australia's native critters, like dingoes, wallabys, kangaroos, a lonely cane toad (not a native, I know), and of course koalas. But for some odd reason my favorite was the Tasmanian devil. He just looked so darn cute, until he opened his mouth and you saw these giant fangs! He didn't spin around or anything...

Another animal encounter took us by surprise. We were strolling through the Royal Botanic Gardens and came upon a colony of Grey-headed flying-foxes (fruit bats). One, they were huge (I swear they were bigger than my little dog) and two, there were so many of them! We sat on a bench and watched them for at least a half an hour, flying from tree to tree and getting into fights with one another. It was just so unexpected. And again, they were HUGE!

We did an excursion to the Blue Mountains, about 2 hours by train outside of Sydney. When we arrived it was very chilly and there was a significant amount of fog that obscured the views. We spent the morning walking through trails down in the valley until the mist cleared, and once it did - WOW! The views were spectacular! We spent the rest of the day hiking up and down the trails, crossing dangerous little bridges, and otherwise trying to avoid falling to our deaths. By far, though, the best view was of Bridal Veil Falls, which was just absolutely beautiful. The highlight of the trip for both of us, I think, and something that will stay with me forever. Just stunning.

It's spring now in Sydney and the weather has been gorgeous. There was one rainy day, so we spent it inside at the Sydney Aquarium. Chris Cozzoni is a fan of aquariums, and this one is a good one. We saw platypus swimming around, walked under a tunnel with sharks overhead, and I snapped the funniest "Stick Figure in Peril" I've ever seen at a crocodile exhibit. Aussies & Sydneysiders have a great sense of humor...one I very much appreciate.

I was surprised, though, by a language barrier I hadn't expected. Aussie slang is quite different. In all honesty, I had an easier time ordering coffee in Bratislava, Slovakia, than on our first day here. Granted, I was a bit jet lagged, but I nearly had an epileptic fit trying to order a coffee for Chris and a coffee with cream for me from a stand. A sign would have helped. Turns out I needed to order a 'long black' for him and a 'flat white' for me. None of the guidebooks mentioned this little difference. Coffee is very, very important, so they should get the word out. Like, Qantas should brief you in the landing video before arriving in the country or something. Other differences that amused me were fairy floss (instead of cotton candy) and cinnamon snails (instead of cinnamon rolls). In general I was quite inspired by the food, and plan to incorporate some ideas into my cooking blog.

All said, it's been a wonderful trip. After 10 years together Chris and I have learned how to travel together very well and it's been great to experience this unique and vibrant city together. We've kept up on all the financial issues at home (naturally, given Chris' job) and the presidential election (everyone's for Obama; folks have dubbed Palin 'half-baked Alaskan'...which may well become a new recipe!).

We're off tomorrow - Chris back to the States and me on to Perth/Fremantle for another week to attend the Taxonomic Databases Working Group annual conference, where I'm giving two presentations (one on BHL, one on the JPEG2000 image format) and exhibiting a poster about my recent work.

Cheers, and carry on,

Chris

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Status of biodiversity services

The brilliant Rod Page has created a monitoring service for bioinformatics web sites & services (like DiGIR) after he ran into uptime issues with databases at Smithsonian & other large institutions. Check it out at:
http://bioguid.info/status/

His rationale, posted to the Taxacom listserv:
http://mailman.nhm.ku.edu/pipermail/taxacom/2008-October/027827.html

Additional information about Rod's thoughts here, on Twitter:
http://twitter.com/rdmpage
(Tweets as documentation. A first!)

I applaud this idea. As I Twittered (Tweeted?) back to Rod, he has "created an incentive chart for bioinformatics services, like in sales." A little competition is good among peers, and this is the first time I've seen a visual overview of how my servers & sites are doing compared with others in my field. I'm sure this was Rod's goal and he nailed it.

Now, how do we ensure that the service monitor is up?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Riley, In Memoriam


Riley 2, originally uploaded by chrisfreeland2002.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Right Rev. Chris Freeland

So in addition to running technology projects and writing a cooking blog I also marry people. Chris and Emily are neighbors of ours, and great friends. I offered my services in jest at a dinner party more than a year ago and they took me up on the spot. They held the wedding at my place of employment (Missouri Botanical Garden), which was very cool for me, and absolutely beautiful. The whole event, from processional to last dance, was traditional, yet unconventional, and totally unique - just like Chris & Emily. I was honored & thrilled to play a part in their day.

And maybe someday my partner of more than 10 years and I will be able to do the same. Sure, we can go to California or Massachusetts and other East Coast cities, or Iowa, but that would carry no legal benefit as we live in Missouri. Someday.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tennessee v. John T. Scopes Trial: John Thomas Scopes



See that guy up there? He's my hero. He taught what he believed to be true, in spite of the social pressures against doing just that. He is John Scopes, the teacher at the center of our country's first (but unfortunately not last) assault on science and evolution.

The Smithsonian Institution has just posted rarely seen pictures from "The Scopes Monkey Trial." From Wikipedia:


John Scopes, a high school teacher, was charged on May 5, 1925 with teaching evolution from a chapter in a textbook which showed ideas developed from those set out in Charles Darwin's book On the Origin of Species. The trial pitted two of the preeminent legal minds of the time against one another. Three-time presidential candidate, Congressman and former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan headed up the prosecution, while prominent trial attorney Clarence Darrow spoke for the defense.


I'm so glad that the Smithsonian (and their fabulous Library) has made these pictures widely available through Flickr. I'd like to think our country is past this assault on reason, but I'm afraid that's simplistic thinking. Kudos to the Smithsonian for making these historical documents available in an unbiased and documentary fashion through an emerging social network. This is a model that all museums and libraries should follow.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Death by PowerPoint

Death by PowerPoint
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: powerpoint ppt)


This should come bundled with PowerPoint. Throw out the Help docs and just put this in. Or, you have to click through every slide before you can use PowerPoint, like an activation or something.

It's just such good information for presenters. This presentation I gave last year is probably the closest to that ideal:



Plays well with others, or What I’ve learned as a data provider in an interoperable world. Museum Computer Network Annual Conference, Chicago, IL. 2007.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

New EOL Flickr group


Stellar Sea Lion, originally uploaded by polly.snodgrass.


The Encyclopedia of Life has opened a new Flickr group as a way of bringing images into their site at www.eol.org. They are using machine tags to describe the taxonomic classification of the species in the photo, as in these tags applied to the image above:

taxonomy:kingdom=Animalia
taxonomy:phylum=Chordata
taxonomy:class=Mammalia
taxonomy:order=Carnivora
taxonomy:family=Otariidae
taxonomy:genus=Eumetopias
taxonomy:species=E. jubatus
taxonomy:binomial=Eumetopias jubatus
taxonomy:trinomial=Eumetopias jubatus otariinae
taxonomy:common=Stellar sea lion
geo:lat=60°7'N geo:lat=60°7'N
geo:lon=149°27'W geo:lon=149°27'W

Nice photo, good metadata. But will this information be vetted? How can I trust Flickr user polly.snodgrass' opinion? She may well be the world's foremost expert on Eumetopias, but those credentials aren't anywhere on her profile...little is, in fact, which makes me assume this is a facade account for the EOL'ers trying things out. No worries, I do the same (here for plant images, here for book images). If not, all apologies, Polly. Great photos!
Update 9/29/08: Polly is a real person!

Don't get me wrong, I applaud the integration of Flickr and its enormous, enthusiastic community into EOL - very, very smart move. But the anonymity with which accounts can be created gives me pause. Who will vet these photos, if anyone? I accept that when I go to Flickr and search for a species I might get bogus results - if I find a photo I'm going to do a comparison search on Google Images or try to find a specialist image database to confirm that the image is, in fact, for the species in question. However, I think I want more from EOL. I want to go to EOL and have a reasonable measure of confidence that an image they put on the Stellar Sea Lion page is actually a Stellar Sea Lion.

One other issue is the ability as a Flickr user to add tags to photos that allow it (rather, photos the photographer has allowed to be tagged). For instance, I just tagged that lovely Stellar Sea Lion image with my favorite species, taxonomy:binomial=Zea mays:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/30576522@N03/tags/taxonomy%3Abinomial%3Dzeamays/

In case Polly gets wise to this absolutely, completely wrong tag I applied to her photo, I grabbed a screen shot showing my inappropriate tagging.

Tagging a Sea Lion as Corn with machine tags

If the information in these tags is treated as truth, how long before that sea lion image shows up on the EOL page for Zea mays?

I expect the EOL developers are turning this kind of vetting back onto the community of users, or enthusiasts around a particular species, to notify or comment on factually wrong or inappropriate images (egads...who will be the first to post a raunchy pic tagged taxonomy:binomial=Homo sapiens??). I worry how well that approach will work.

Sure, the pages for Great White Shark or Giraffe will probably have an active community of editors and will be able to easily weed out these "sea lions as corn" kinds of errors. But what about the little critter without a community? Who's going to vet the images and their validity when some prankster uploads a picture of one obscure species and tags it as another? Maybe that won't happen, but this scenario is certainly one that any scholarly repository faces (like EOL and our own Tropicos) when considering incorporating Flickr or Google images to augment their own vetted content. How do you harness the crowd and still keep it authoritative?

Chris Freeland
cfreeland27@gmail.com

Tuesday, September 09, 2008



Terms used in my cooking blog, Countrypolitan Cooking, courtesy of Wordle.

Friday, September 05, 2008

John McCain: "The Mavrick"

This sign cracked me up during John McCain's speech at last night's Republican National Convention. It was shown just a few seconds after John McCain's charge to "Teach an illiterate adult to read."



Other people thought this was funny, too...check out the Mavrick group on Flickr!

So, it had to be done. John McCain: The Mavrick

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Chris Freeland, Hutsonville High Class of '76 Vice President


1976, originally uploaded by chrisfreeland2002.

Thanks, yearbookyourself.com!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Brent Fry & me


(l-r) Brent Fry & me, originally uploaded by chrisfreeland2002.

Brent A. Fry

August 12, 1975 - June 27, 2008

Visit his tribute on YouTube
Obituary
Brent's MySpace page

Friday, July 25, 2008

Home Sweet Trailer


Home Sweet Trailer, originally uploaded by chrisfreeland2002.

This is the trailer I lived in when I was 6mos. to 3 yrs. old. We built a house on the site the summer of my 3rd birthday and someone came and drove the trailer away. It was odd to watch the only place you knew as 'home' leaving you behind.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Plate 38


Plate 38, originally uploaded by botanicus_mbg.


From Flickr:
Illustration from Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen in naturgetreuen Abbildungen mit kurz erläuterndem Texte : online at the Biodiversity Heritage Library.


View page in book.


Publication Details:

Gera-Untermhaus :Fr. Eugen Köhler,[1883-1914]


Authors:

Brandt, Wilhelm, b. 1879.

Gürke, M. 1854-1911.

Köhler, F. E.


Pabst, G. d. 1911.

Schellenberg, G. b. 1882.

Vogtherr, Max.


Scientific Names:

Papaver


Common Names:

poppy


Usage:

Contributor:

Missouri Botanical Garden 

Monday, June 09, 2008

Tech Honesty


Tech Honesty, originally uploaded by chrisfreeland2002.

We have no idea what we are doing today!
Actually, we just installed a new ticketing system that we are still learning. Thanks for bearing with us, the view is worth it!

I'm not sure whether to applaud the folks who made this sign for their honesty or cringe that it was created in the first place. Why do ticketing/POS implementations so frequently stumble out of the gate??

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

BHL Technology Overview


2008-05-06-dscn3681, originally uploaded by martin_kalfatovic.

Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) Technology Overview. Chris Freeland. Smithsonian Institution Office of the Chief Information Officer. May 6, 2008.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Vandalism & the night I stopped trying



Last night at 9pm we turned into our alley off S Compton (heading towards Virginia). There were 2 boys, approx 10-12 years old, in the alley. I immediately noticed 3 things:

1. a gas can sitting in the alley
2. a mattress and box springs blocking part of the alley
3. a small fire burning behind the garage of 3219 Magnolia

As we pulled into the alley they approached our car and started banging on our windows, saying "Sir, sir, roll your window down." We did not, and pulled ahead and parked our car behind our house. We went to put out the fire behind 3219 Magnolia, and the kids were already out of sight. We walked around the front of 3219 Magnolia and informed the residents that there had been a fire behind their garage. They called the police. We walked back to the alley and saw that there were several small fires burning in the alley behind the 3100 block of Magnolia, specifically a large one behind 3145 Magnolia. We called 911 and reported that 2 kids were setting fires along Magnolia and S Compton. We were transferred to the fire department and reported the same to them. We called our other neighbors along S Compton and told them to check & make sure there were no fires burning behind their houses or garages.

The fire truck showed up 5 minutes later and as they approached I pointed to the one fire that was still burning in the alley (the rest had burned out). The firemen got out of the truck, unspooled the hose, and put out the fire. They then got back into the truck and drove off, all while I was standing right there, waiting for them to do their job before I interrupted and told them about the series of fires. I never got the chance to give them any information because they never made any eye contact with me, had a general attitude of being inconvenienced by such a small fire, and promptly drove off.

I walked over to the fire that they put out, which was behind an open garage at 3145 Magnolia, and noticed that the garage was on fire. They had put out the small fire behind the garage, but had left the garage itself burning. I once again called 911 and reported the garage fire.

When the same truck and crew showed up the second time I pointed out the fire, then went to make sure that there were no other fires burning in the alleys between Virginia & Michigan, which is what I had expected the fire department to do in the first place! The fire truck stayed on the scene until the police arrived and I reported the gas-soaked mattress in the alley. I was told to report it to CSB, and that we'd probably have to wait until the next bulk trash day before anything was taken away. The police arrived and we made a report.

I have great respect for the fire department and police, and worked with both during my tenure as president of this neighborhood association. That said, I have never been treated so dismissively over something as serious as multiple fires set by juveniles near my home. If we had not continued checking into the fire at 3145 Magnolia it's likely that more of the garage would have burned. I guess we're lucky this happened in spring and that there's been a lot of rain lately.

I am well aware that this is a minor incident in the grand scheme of things, and that vandalism like this is not unusual in our city. However, I refuse to accept that I had to walk the blocks last night to ensure more fires weren't being set after the fire department left the first time, and that the fire department did not do a thorough or even satisfactory job in the first place.

This morning I was encouraged when I saw Refuse hauling away the mattress and other bulky trash. As I was out taking pictures and surveying the damage I noticed that there is also a newly broken window along the side of 2715 S Compton, where we had initial contact with the kids. I don't think it takes much to assume they did it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Paper published on geocoding LCSH

The paper we submitted to The Code4Lib Journal was published March 24, 2008:

Abstract:
Reusing metadata generated through years of cataloging practice is a natural and pragmatic way of leveraging an institution’s investment in describing its resources. Using Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), the Biodiversity Heritage Library generates new interfaces for browsing and navigating books in a digital library. LCSH are grouped into tag clouds and plotted on interactive maps using methods available within the Google Maps Application Programming Interface (API). Code examples are included, and issues related to these interfaces and the underlying LCSH data are examined.


By Chris Freeland, Martin Kalfatovic, Jay Paige, and Marc Crozier


http://journal.code4lib.org/articles/52

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Literature citations supporting Jaws

Or, What the heck are Great white sharks doing in the vicinity of New York City??

Great white shark occurrence recorded in Fishes of the vicinity of New York city.

Since I'm the tech lead for the Biodiversity Heritage Library, I get to review a good sampling of our digitized content as I'm testing out new functionality. It never fails to amaze me the interesting things I stumble across, and yesterday's discovery was no different.

I was checking out language on our Developer Tools section and clicked on the example link to view the discovered bibliography for Carcharodon carcharias, the Great white shark:
http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/name/Carcharodon_carcharias

About halfway down the list a title caught my eye:
"Fishes of the vicinity of New York city"
http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/1634152

Great white shark + Fishes of the vicinity of New York city = Yikes!!

Naturally, I was intrigued, so I viewed the page on which Carcharodon carcharias had been found. It had this entry:

14. Carcharodon carcharias (Linn.) White Shark. "Man-eater."
Accidental in summer. June to July 14, 1916.


The book was published in 1918, and here the author, John Nichols, is documenting an occurrence of a Great white shark - a "Man-eater" - in the New York area during the summer of 1916.

That rang a bell - it made me think of some show I'd seen on Shark Weekor the History Channel about historic shark attacks. So, I Googled "great white shark 1916 new york" and got this as the first result:

Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


It wasn't until I glanced over the content that it clicked - this is the true story that inspired Jaws. Jaws!! I was born a month after it came out, so I literally grew up in the wake of that film and its impact on popular culture. It defined the summer blockbuster, made a star out of Steven Spielberg, and yet also did something not so good - it further perpetuated the myth of the Great white shark as a merciless killer...a myth that grew into legend with the real life occurrence of a Great white shark in the vicinity of New York city in the summer of 1916; an event that was documented in Nichol's book.

As I read through the article in more detail I realized there were several mentions of Nichols giving his professional opinion, as an ichthyologist from the nearby American Museum of Natural History, about this rare and unusual (and unfortunately deadly) occurrence. Being a WikiCitizen, I wanted to put my knowledge of this digitized book into the Wikipedia article since it documents this sensational event within a scholarly publication. I added the title to "Further Reading" and updated the "Revising science" section to include a reference to Nichols' documentation of the occurrence. Within 2 hours my addition had been further refined. You can see that another WikiCitizen and I are wrangling over some phrasing, but regardless, I've made my contribution. I've helped - hurrah!

My point here is not to keep perpetuating the myth of the Great white shark as a "Man-eater," because hopefully by now that myth has been debunked and everyone knows that Great white sharks are just perfectly streamlined predators at the top of their game - if you put up a cage in my natural habitat, led me to it with food, then poked me with a stick I might try to bite your arm off, too. No, my point is to illustrate but one of many events where science and pop culture overlap, and how efforts like the Biodiversity Heritage Library can help illuminate them.

This factual event was widely reported in the popular press and was a big sensational story of its time. It also made its way into scholarly publications, like Nichols' biological survey. Using tools we've developed for BHL, I was able to identify some unusual results in the discovered bibliography for Carcharodon carcharias that made me connect stories I'd heard before in a new way and motivated me to learn more on a particular topic. Further, observing this unusual result got me to contribute this tiny, tiny bit of information to the wider universe of knowledge that is Wikipedia and the greater internet.

And that, I think, is really, really cool.

An aside: Once the Encyclopedia of Life allows user contributions, I'll be sure to muss up that page as well with this tiny, tiny bit of information. By the way, it's great to see our bibliography in EOL, including the Nichols reference!

Another aside: That text was copied directly from the OCR text, showing that in some cases the OCR can be quite good for historic materials (this book was published by the American Museum of Natural History in 1918).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Encyclopedia of Life, No Bookshelf Required

Published: February 26, 2008
Scientists are writing the Book of All Species on the Web, in the hopes it will be useful to scientists and nonscientists alike.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library is mentioned in the article as "scanning millions of pages of scientific literature, which computers are text-mining to add more information to species pages."