Drones – a.k.a. unmanned airborne vehicles (UAVs) – are poised for domestic use in disaster assessment. UAVs are portable, affordable aircraft that can launch quickly in dangerous situations and could be used to locate survivors or provide data on the impact of a disaster. Earlier this year, the American Red Cross in Oklahoma tested the use of UAV’s in assessing the extent of disasters but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is very restrictive about who can fly a drone and how they can fly it within the United States. The FAA has committed to promulgating regulations by 2015 to govern the domestic U.S. use of UAVs, but in the meantime, disasters like the recent Oklahoma tornadoes will have to make do with satellite imagery.
My job requires me to do quite a lot of research online and I am by nature curious, leaving me vulnerable to pointlessly surfing the Internet. I don’t know if this is because our brains are wired to take pleasure in seeking/discovering or simple procrastination, but some days it feels like this (from xkcd):
Of course, there really is a lot of information on the Internet, and Trace Media created an interactive map showing how just one part of it, Wikipedia, has grown over time (click on ‘search’, then wait – it loads slowly for the more ubiquitous languages):
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Fellowships program is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and AAAS is marking the event with this video documentary. As a past AAAS Fellow at the State Department, I would say it provides an excellent overview of this little-known program that brings scientific expertise to Washington and opens up the careers of hundreds of scientists every year.
NOAA and several commercial vendors have developed spherical displays of geoscience and mathematics that are both beautiful and thought provoking, allowing us to see phenomena like ocean currents, trade, climate, and geology evolving over time without the distortions of a 2-D projection. Examples in the video include (starting at 6:25) an animation of pollutants crossing the North Pole and (starting at 7:45) a depiction of continental drift from Pangea to present day. If you want to explore the datasets on your home computer, NOAA provides KML files for display using GoogleEarth.
“There’s a spectrum. On one end is mindless complacency. On the other is paranoia. The challenge is to find that place in the middle where you understand that bad things can happen, but it doesn’t consume your life.”
I have to confess a being more than a little dismayed when the author noted being surprised to hear Redlener say the authorities might not respond promptly in the event of a disaster – that everyone should be prepared to take care of themselves for several days. That is, in fact, part of the National Plan – that the entire community needs to take part in disaster preparedness and response. I guess theadvertisingcampaignhasn’tpaidoff…
Inauguration Day preparations have included adding temporary cell towers along the National Mall in an attempt to avoid the wireless traffic congestion witnessed during the 2009 inauguration. Event organizers have also mounted a public information campaign to encourage people to send text messages rather than call and to avoid watching streaming video of the event. As the infographic at left shows, an SMS text message requires much less data to send than, say, a picture or cellphone conversation. Emergency managers often see wireless traffic overwhelm cellular networks during large events, and this year’s inauguration will likely attract 2 million people.
German archeologists have unearthed 7,000-year-old water wells in eastern Germany, revealing a treasure trove of information regarding early farming societies. The wells would have been hand-dug down to the watertable, then cased (lined) with interlocked timbers to keep the shafts from collapsing. The archeologists’ article in the journal PLuS ONE concludes that the craftsmanship used to construct the wells indicates “…the first farmers were also the first carpenters, contradicting the common belief that the invention of metal woodworking tools more than a thousand years later was imperative for complex timber constructions.” Not as deep as Woodingdean or as big as The Big Well, but pretty impressive for 7,000 years ago.
Thanks to the National Groundwater Association and Sci-News.com for the tip!
The 2009 American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Report Card for America’s Infrastructure indicates that the poor state of our water infrastructure is part of a larger pattern of neglecting our national infrastructure that endangers the public and harms the national economy. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agrees, pointing out that, for much of past 20 years, funding has been inadequate to maintain the national portfolio of water resources infrastructure. While I am glad to see attention being paid to this issue, I have to ask if this momentum translates into sufficient political will to take on the estimated $2.2 trillion repair bill in the midst of a recession?
The Economist has put a twist on a holiday tradition: an Advent calendar of data graphics, where each day reveals a new data graphic – from the Map of Sloth (Dec 4; Americans aren’t as lazy as we are reputed to be) to How Facebook Connections Mirror old Empires (Dec 13, showing that old empires never die, they just ..friend their colonies). These graphics show that the Economist excels at assembling graphical analyses that enlighten, rather than just decorate the page. Kudos to the Economist, and Happy Holidays to all!