Calling all botany geeks

I invite you to participate in the development of a Q&A site for questions about botany. The site would be part of the successful Stack Exchange network, of which Stack Overflow is the flagship.

One of the features of a Stack Exchange site that makes it successful is the liberal awarding of brownie points to users who constructively participate in the site. Jeff Atwood and his team have figured out the alchemy that makes a community-managed site work.

At this point, the proposed Botany site is in the stage of soliciting sample questions. Follow the link below and add your own!

Stack Exchange Q&A site proposal: Botany

Update: The proposal for this Q&A site has been closed, alas.


Scott M. Fulton III explicates the idea behind Maria Popova’s Curator’s Code project, and gives a name to a practice that I try to avoid (with little success): LWIR.

Popova proposes the Unicode [CANADIAN SYLLABICS SH (U+1525)] as a shorthand for “via,” to indicate “a link of direct discovery,” and [RIGHTWARDS ARROW WITH LOOP (U+21AC)] to replace the various forms of “hat tip” that acknowledge indirect links and inspiration. I rather like these one-character squiggles of attribution, and the bookmarklet available at Curator’s Code makes it easy to snag them onto the clipboard. (Be it noted that the bookmarklet embeds its own link back to the project site.) I’ll give them a try; here’s hoping that G+ and Twitter play nicely with them.

Of course, half the time my trouble is making a note of my link source at the time I capture the link. It may be several days later when I get around to sharing the link. I use Instapaper’s summary field (available through the Edit link) to some advantage here.

And here I’d been using H/T incorrectly all along.

(Not me)

Oh. My.

Geoffrey K. Pullum has had enough.

No, what I discovered a year ago was that what displeased me the most was dopiness. Asininity, dim-wittedness, doltishness, dullness, dumbness, foolishness, idiocy, nescience, witlessness, pig-ignorance, senselessness, stupidity, — to capture it in a word, the kind of sheer knuckle-dragging moronic lack-wittedness that makes you think you would rather be listening to Vogon poetry.

What I discovered about myself was that the pain of seeing the dopey things posted by some commenters (not you) outweighed all the pleasure of doing the blogging.

Ad novam vitam

He took a large, stout manila envelope from his sixties G Plan sideboard. “Everything’s here. New passports, birth certificates. An address in Ilkley—no point in pretending you’re not from Yorkshire, open your mouth and you’ll betray yourself—utility bills to that address, you’ll be able to set up a new bank account wherever it is you’re going. France is it? You should go somewhere that doesn’t extradite. New national insurance number as well, and as a little extra, you’ve got a profile on Facebook and you’ll be pleased to hear that you have seventeen friends already. Welcome to the brave new world, Imogen Brown.”

—Kate Atkinson, Started Early, Took My Dog, p. 323

Stop, look, and listen

A recent column by David Alan Grier gives a mixed review to citizen science and related activities. He speaks well of the CubeSat, at standardized design for experiment packages to be designed by students and launches into space; he also likes the BOINC framework for harnessing household computers to solve computationally intense problems. But his praise for generalized crowdsourcing of research is tempered:

Citizen science may not be able to make major changes to scientific institutions, but it should be able to occupy some niche in scientific practice. As we have seen in other activities that attempt to coordinate the contributions of the general public with the Internet, these efforts have a way of disciplining work and overcoming gross inefficiencies associated with mass labor.

Mass labor, especially when it is a volunteer effort, can prove to be remarkably resistant to discipline. Volunteers are prone to follow their own inclinations no matter how much guidance a professional scientist might offer. One of the major citizen projects devoted to recording biodiversity claims to offer a global perspective on flora and fauna, but its volunteers have shown a remarkable propensity for collecting images from the world’s wealthy shopping districts and resorts. Pictures of Yellowstone can be of great interest, but they are of little use when you hoped to see images of plants found in Yaoundé.

I’m inclined to agree. Doing science is not the same thing as snapping a photo with a smartphone or checking in at foursquare. Perhaps the sweet spot for this approach is the application of what we might call semi-skilled knowledge work: trained observation and transcription. As examples, consider eBird and the related projects from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Distributed Proofreaders component of Project Gutenberg, or my own new volunteer project, the North American Bird Phenology Program.

Out of joint

Laura Sydell posts about indie filmmaker Ellen Seidler’s fight to protect her And Then Came Lola, a “lesbian romantic comedy,” from pirate sites. The e-mail response that Seidler received from Sven Olaf Kamphius, who’s associated with Pirate Bay, is appallingly childish.

Kamphuis’s e-mail comes out strongly against any kind of copyright protection. He dismissed Seidler’s references to United States copyright law by saying: “ … the laws of that retarded ex-colony cannot be enforced here, thank god;).”

I have my own issues with the current overly protectionist copyright laws of this country, but they don’t extend to ripping off an entrepreneur who’s made a movie on her own dime. Sydell says that Seidler has decided to get out of the movie business. When the arrogance of the Pirate Bay crew means that creative innovation is stifled, something is wrong.

There isn’t a lot that I can do to solve this problem, but at least I can buy a copy of Seidler’s movie.

Grand Central

A leader from the 18 November 2010 number of The Economist:

Public behaviour still treats the internet like a village, in which new faces are welcome and anti-social behaviour a rarity. A better analogy would be a railway station in a big city, where hustlers gather to prey on the credulity of new arrivals. Wise behaviour in such places is to walk fast, avoid eye contact and be brusque with strangers. Try that online.


Interesting early buzz in Jim Dwyer’s “About New York” column for Diaspora*, an open-source distributed social networking platform. The project is a reaction against the centralized uniformiarian approach of Facebook. Explains Raphael Sofaer, one of the four NYU student founders,

.”We don’t need to hand our messages to a hub. What Facebook gives you as a user isn’t all that hard to do. All the little games, the little walls, the little chat, aren’t really rare things. The technology already exists.”