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 Kudos to the Smithsonian for making these historical documents available in an unbiased and documentary fashion through an emerging social network.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.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

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 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: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:

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

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