Sunday, December 18, 2016

Catching up on some quotes from Empire of the Sun (1984) and pic from Shanghai visit

Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard (1984)

His father was physically a strong man, but Jim knew that it was the kind of strength that came from playing tennis.

Jim had little idea of his own future—life in Shanghai was lived wholly within an intense present—but he imagined himself growing up to be like Mr. Maxted. Forever accompanied by the same glass of whiskey and soda, or so Jim believed, Mr. Maxted was the perfect type of the Englishman who had adapted himself to Shanghai, something that Jim’s father, with his seriousness of mind, had never really done.

He always looked forward to the evening drives through the center of Shanghai, this electric and lurid city more exciting than any other in the world.

Plant classification was an entire universe of words; every weed in the camp had a name. Names surrounded everything; invisible encyclopedias lay in every hedge and ditch.

None of the Japanese at Lunghua Airfield had given the aircraft the briefest glance. Fires were still burning in the hangars by the pagoda, and a cloud of steam rose from the bombed engineering sheds.

His mother and father were agnostics, and Jim respected devout Christians in the same way that he respected people who were members of the Graf Zeppelin Club or shopped at the Chinese department stores, for their mastery of an exotic foreign ritual.

We’re the Lunghua Sophomores, We’re the girls every boy adores, C.A.C. don’t mean a thing to me, For every Tuesday evening we go on a spree . . . . As he crossed the parade ground toward E Block, Jim paused to watch the Lunghua Players rehearsing their next concert party on the steps of Hut 6. The leader of the troupe was Mr. Wentworth, the manager of the Cathay Bank, whose exaggerated and theatrical manner fascinated Jim. He enjoyed the amateur dramatics, when everyone involved was at the center of public attention.

We’ve debates and lectures too, And concerts just for you . . . .

Rumor and confusion had exhausted everyone in Lunghua. During July the American air attacks had become almost continuous. Waves of Mustangs and Lightnings flew in from the air bases on Okinawa, strafing the airfields around Shanghai, attacking the Japanese forces concentrated at the mouth of the Yangtze. From the balcony of the ruined assembly hall Jim witnessed the destruction of the Japanese military machine as if he were watching an epic war film from the circle of the Cathay Theater. The apartment houses of the French Concession were hidden by hundreds of smoke columns that rose from burning trucks and ammunition wagons. Fearful of the Mustangs, the Japanese convoys moved only after dusk, and the sound of their engines kept everyone awake night after night. Sergeant Nagata and his guards had given up any attempt to patrol the camp’s perimeter for fear of being shot by the military police supervising the convoys.

“Basie . . .” A familiar thought occurred to Jim. “Has the next war effectively begun?” “That’s a way of putting it, Jim. I’m glad I helped you with your words.”

“Shanghai? That’s one dangerous city, Jim. You need more than luck in Shanghai.

He had learned nothing from the war because he expected nothing, like the Chinese peasants whom he now looted and shot. As Dr. Ransome had said, people who expected nothing were dangerous. Somehow, five hundred million Chinese had to be taught to expect everything.

Jim remembered the light that lay over the land, the shadow of another sun. Here, at the mouths of the great rivers of Asia, would be fought the last war to decide the planet’s future.

He had failed to grasp the truth that millions of Chinese had known from birth, that they were all as good as dead anyway, and that it was self-deluding to believe otherwise.

Jim suspected that while he sat through another double feature at the Cathay Theater the car was being rented out as a film prop.

Friday, December 16, 2016

TDWG 2016 meeting, La Fortuna & Alajuela Province, San Carlos, Costa Rica #TDWG16

Official Photo by Denisse Vargas
The 2016 TDWG Biodiversity Information Standards meeting was held at the Centro de Transferencia Tecnológica y Educación Continua (CTEC) in San Carlos, Costa Rica. Hotels and other activities were in La Fortuna, about a 45 minute bus ride from CTEC.

BHL was represented at the TDWG 2016 conference with a symposium, "BHL: 10 Years of Innovation and Growth". The panel consisted of:
Constance Rinaldo
  • BHL - 10 Years and More! (Martin R. Kalfatovic)
  • BHL: Grants and Growth (Constance Rinaldo)
  • BHL-SciELO Network (Henrique Rodrigues)
  • Towards extracting occurrence data from biodiversity literature (Dmitry Schigel)
  • Questions: BHL - 10 years of innovation & growth (Discussion led by Constance Rinaldo)
The session was attended by about 70 people. The conclusion of the session was a discussion with the audience about desires for the future direction of BHL and features or services that could be implemented as BHL explores refactoring the BHL platform. Among the topics mentioned by the audience were: integration of visual resources in BHL; expanding in-copyright material,

Dimitris Koureas, Cynthia Parr, Erick Mata
The TDWG organizers, lead by the program committee, Dr. Erick Mata Montero (Professor, School of Computing, Costa Rica Institute of Technology), Gail Kampmeier (Prairie Research Institute, Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois, USA); Francisco ("Paco") Pando (Real Jardín Botánico-CSIC, Spain); Maria Mora Instituto (Nacional de Biodiversidad, Costa Rica); Joel Sachs (Agriculture and Agri-Food, Canada); Manuel Vargas (Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, Costa Rica); Stan Blum (ex-officio TDWG Coordinator); and William Ulate (ex-officio TDWG Treasurer, Missouri Botanical Garden), delivered an excellent program.

The keynote, by Dr. Rodrigo Gámez Lobo (founder and former Director General and President of the National Biodiversity Institute) spoke the future of Costa Rican biodiversity as exemplified in his work On Biodiversity, People and Utopias (1999). His talk addressed the them of this work, in which he states, "Our real goal is to make the society come to the understanding that, because of being something that directly affects quality of life, materially, intellectually and spiritually, we must preserve at all costs the rich biodiversity of the country".

Former BHL Technical Director William Ulate led a symposium on Semantics for Biodiversity Science: Challenges & Solutions. Ulate and co-author Riza Batista-Navarro spoke on "Real use cases for Semantic Information from the Mining Biodiversity project."

Other important symposium was Semantics for Biodiversity Science: Text Mining & Semantic Role Tagging. Key papers included:
  • Enhancing semantic search through the automatic construction of a Biodiversity Terminological Inventory (Nhung T.H. Nguyen, Georgios Kontonatsios, Axel J. Soto, Riza Batista-Navarro, Sophia Ananiadou)
  • Geographic entities extraction from biological textual sources (Moisés Alberto Acuña-Chaves)
Another symposium of note was Semantics for Biodiversity Science: Taxon Names & Traits. Key papers included:
  • What's in a name? Sense and reference in digital biodiversity information (Joakim Philipson)
  • Creating computable definitions for clades using the Web Ontology Language (OWL) (Gaurav Vaidya, Hilmar Lapp, Nico Cellinese)
Globally Unique Identifiers for Names (organized by Chuck Miller and Richard Pyle) included papers of interest to BHL:
  • Reviewing data integration and mobilisation using name reconciliation and identifier services (Nicky Nicolson, Robert Turner, Abigail Barker)
  •  Implementing Name Identifiers for the World Flora Online (Chuck Miller)
  • Identifiers for Biodiversity Informatics: The Global Names Approach (Dmitry Y. Mozzherin, Richard Pyle)
  • The Catalogue of Life Editor's View on Globally Unique Identifiers for Names (Yuri Roskov)
  • Names and identifiers in the CyVerse cyberinfrastucture (Ramona L. Walls)
  • Utilizing Unique Identifiers for Taxonomic Concepts (Jeff Gerbracht)
Two standout papers in the contributed papers session were:
  • TDWG Then and Now (Arturo H. Ariño, Anabel Pérez de Zabalza)
  • Nanopublications for biodiversity: concept, formats and implementation (Lyubomir Penev, Éamonn Ó Tuama, Viktor Senderov, Pavel Stoev, Teodor Georgiev)

Volcán Arenal
A highlight of the meeting as the TDWG 2016 Bioblitz at the nearby Texas A&M Soltis Center. The bioblitz helped to create a biodiversity snapshot of TDWG 2016. Participants were encouraged to take the opportunity to observe, to post their pictures of local biodiversity. The event took place in a torrential rainstorm, but the event still provided some observations and camaraderie.

There were other opportunities to see some of Costa Rica's amazing biodiversity, among those sighted were:

Two-toed Sloth
(Choloepus hoffmanni)
  • Three-toed Sloth (Bradypus variegatus)
  • Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni)
  • White-nosed Coati (Nasua narica)
  • Mantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata)
  • Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi)
  • White-throated Capuchin (Cebus capucinus)
  • Long-nosed bat (Rhynchonycteris naso)

Yellow-throated Toucan
(Ramphastos ambiguus)
  • Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)
  • Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)
  • Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
  • Snoy Egret (Egretta thula)
  • Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa)
  • Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
  • Groove-billed Ani (Crotophaga sulcirostris)
  • Yellow-throated Toucan (Ramphastos ambiguus)
  • Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana)
  • Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)
  • White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)
American Crocodile
(Crocodylus acutus)
  • Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus)
  • American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)
  • Emerald Basilisk (Basiliscus plumifrons)
  • Black River Turtle (Rhinoclemmys funerea)
  • Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
  • Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)

Monday, December 05, 2016

BHL participates in meetings at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (Paris)

From left:
Bruno David, Martin R. Kalfatovic,
Laurence Bénichou, Nancy E. Gwinn, Gildas Illien
photo by Jean-Christophe Domenech
I was honored to participate in the signing ceremony on 2 December 2016 where the Museum officially joined the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Accompanying Dr. Nancy E. Gwinn (Smithsonian Libraries Director and Chair of the BHL Executive Committee), the ceremony was held in the amphitheater of the Galeries d'Anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie. Attending on behalf of the MNHN were Dr. Bruno David (Director), Gildas Illien (head of the MNHN library), and Laurence Bénichou (Head, Publications Scientifiques).

Immediately before the meeting, I gave a presentation ("Increasing Access, Promoting Progress: Empowering Global Research through the BHL") on BHL to representatives from a number of large natural history museums from around the world (including BHL partners American Museum of Natural History, The Field Museum of Natural History, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Natural History Museum (London), National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Libraries), Natural History Museum Los Angeles County, and Naturalis Biodiversity Center.

Earlier, on 30 November, I was treated to a tour of the MNHN library by the M. Illien and had the opportunity to meet with key staff (Alice LeMaire, Anaïs Rameaux, Chloé Besombes, and Vincent Detienne) who will be participating in BHL. The following day, I met with Laurence Bénichou and the staff of the Publications Scientifiques. Topics included BHL metadata models and best practices to be reviewed for ingest of MNHN publications into BHL.

A tour of the Grand Hall of Evolution and the special exhibition, Espèces d’ours! was also arranged. The Grande Galerie de l'Évolution is an amazing four level exhibition that documents life on our planet. The installation is an outstanding re-envisioning of an older space for the 21st century. Of personal interest was the La salle des espèces menacées et disparues and a nice display of artifacts related to Raphus cucullatus.

On 2 December, before the signing ceremony, the Museum arranged for a tour of the Jardin des Plantes for me and Nancy E. Gwinn. Our host, Fabien Dupuis, Desk Officer from the office of International and European Affairs provided an excellent tour of the gardens and greenhouses that are under the auspices of the Museum.

Herbarium (left) and Galeries d'Anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie (right)

Gwinn (left) and Illien (right)
My special thanks to the staff of the Museum for arranging our visit. Gildas Illien was a superb host who juggled multiple high-profile events during this brief visit. It was a pleasure to meet him in person after many emails and phone calls. All of us at BHL and the Smithsonian look forward to working with him in the years to come. And at last, I was able to meet with Laurence Bénichou in France after seeing her in many other places around the world. Seeing her office, located in the 18th century home of noted naturalist  Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, made one appreciate the over 200 year history of scientific publishing at the Museum.

And yes, good food was had by all ...

Raphus cucullatus