Maps, yum.

Cartography has always been an area that has interested me.  How do we express our relationship to teh landscape in depictions that are supposedly ‘accurate’?  what features of landscape or human relationship do we emphasize?  What details reveal how much (or little) we know about a particular area?  What markers and symbols to we place on the edges of maps, at the edge of the known world?  How do we orient ourselves?

But recognizing those prejudices also allows the way for something else.  Recognizing the flaws inherent in representation, we can begin to tell other stories with these same shapes – the outline of borders, the sizing of regions.  And technology is beginning to help us in this flow of information manipulation, in this case, new software that creates equal area cartograms.  Using the software and compiled data, a book has been written and a website launched, displaying visually some of the more interesting and startling comparisons between nations in the world.  In particular, I thought the span of the Shinto religion was very interesting and spread over a strange area.  I guess it’s the Pacific Islands that make it that shape, but still, whoa.

The Moon, via big balloon.

As a small child, I read quite a few books. Some of them were from the childhood of either parent – the Bobsey twins, the five little Peppers, Johnny Tremain, and Tarzan. One I remember in particular was called Flight to the Mushroom Planet. In this book, two boys build a rocket in their back yard with the help of a little old alien man, and blast with him beyond the moon to his home planet. Fanciful as the pseudo-science of this book might seem (where the weight of gravity can be much more easily overcome by kids, since they are lighter, and a rocket can be built from junk and spare parts), it does have some realistic basis. That’s why Google is starting a race to see what private group can get to the moon first, without putting kids lives at stake.

The idea is something like this – we all love space. It’s the frontier we haven’t conquered. And if people put out big bucks to get their ashes launched out into the ether, just think what they will pay to have remains interred on the Moon. There are a variety of more long-term commercial uses of such transport, as well as more long-term opportunities to tap the natural resources available there. And by encouraging this kind of private development, Google gets a bunch of good press as well as expanding its finance base. The more people live, work, and think about the further reaches of the galaxy, the more basic content there is driving traffic all over the web.

Personally I am highly attracted to the idea of ‘garage band’ groups coming together to build these Moon traveler prototypes. it makes me want to go home and start building something in my own garage. Of course, I would have to learn quite a bit more about the way things work to build a successful prototype. What’s the best wavelength for broadcasting video from the Moon, for instance? What are the best materials to withstand the extreme temperatures of space and re-entry without corruption? What sort of recording equipment is even able to withstand such extremes and still deliver a quality picture? But when Google admits that the costs will be prohibitive, I say balderdash. I’ve got it all worked out – I’ll carry the whole thing via balloon.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – don’t balloons explode in space? Yes, they do. I checked – here’s a nice little video to illustrate:

However, I am not deterred. I just have to find the right totally inexpensive material that will retain its elasticity under extreme pressure. I’m thinking of something like Mythbusters lead balloon, but that would be way too fragile. Even though it’s really cool:

No, what I really need is something like bubble gum. But less tacky when cold? Corn starch? The possibilities are endless. Hey, if two little boys can get all the way to a mushroom planet, a turn of the century science nut can get around the world in 80 days, and a lead balloon can fly (even outside of fiction), then I can certainly win the race to the Moon. I’m smart. I’ve got the passion. What force is strong enough to stop me, other than gravity?

It Belongs in a Museum!

The UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage is designed to help protect shipwrecks and other underwater sites from looting.  The wording of the convention is largely disposed towards maintaining such heritage in situ at best or at least using the means available to preserve the disturbed and removed artifacts, usually in a museum.

At times however, competing interests don’t allow for any sort of preservation.  Salvage rights, the freedom of international waters, and varying degrees of legal freedom between countries can blur the lines between what is right, what is valuable, and what is reasonable.  Take the ‘Black Swan’ project by Odyssey Marine Exploration.  While it remains unclear which wreck (or if multiple wrecks) boasted the uncovered treasure, Spain is pursuing litigation against the company for infringement of their rights and the destruction of underwater war graves.  While OME contends that there were no human remains at the coin’s site, it remains unclear how thorough the site inspection was if they have no idea which sunken ship they were actually exploring.  Peru’s potential claim on the coins also confuses the issue further.  If the treasure was taken forcibly from teh New World, who really has claim to it now, both for history or wealth, and who should?

There are inevitable moral questions tied up with death.  Is it moral to perform an autopsy on someone who was the victim of a violent death, in hopes of catching a criminal, even when such a visceral activity disturbs the faith and belief of living relatives?  Is it moral to uncover the grave sites of those who can no longer speak for themselves in the hopes of discovering some profound truth about our past?  Is it moral to support the claims of rightful bounty by invading conquerors, despite the elapse of hundreds of years?

Ultimately, Odyssey Marine Exploration is a for-profit company aimed at turning a profit with the best possible salvage available.  They do care about the provenance of the artifacts they uncover, but largely as a piece of the final worth of those objects.  However, it is doubtful to my mind that they can afford to be as meticulous as a non-profit or public company working archaeologically in the same area would be.  At the same time, I don’t think that the Spanish claim to the uncovered artifacts is necessarily any better at this point.  Since the coins have already been removed and cannot be displayed the option of preservation in situ is gone.  Spain can only hope to preserve the coins, possibly displaying a choice few out of thousands at museums.  And despite Indiana Jones’ archaeological plea, artifacts (especially those from grave sites) do not belong in museums.  They belong where they were originally placed for spiritual significance, or if the result of accident or violence, belong with their descendants.

Stacey, the not-so-delicate flower

What is it with me and blog titles that should be the names of children’s books, anyway?

Mike gave me a present yesterday night.  It arrived on our doorstep sometime during the evening without either of us noticing – he had to wake me up to give it to me.  It’s very pretty, a little unusual, and very, very delicate.  The spring ring clasp itself is about the size of a sesame seed.  Not easy to put on when you can’t really see what you’re doing.  I was afraid to wear it to bed last night, and a little timid about wearing it to work today, though I eventually overcame my fear.

I shared these fears openly with Mike, saying how I might catch the delicate chain on a fence and tear it free from my neck, thus losing his lovely gift.  His response was simple – “Don’t get it caught on a fence.”  For some people, that advice would be easy to follow, but not generally for me.  I am not a accident-prone as I was during adolescence, but I still have stupid things befall me.  I still end up stepping into puddles that are three times as deep as they seem.  I still break things.  I think I’ve dropped and broken three glasses thus far at work in 2008 – there are more that didn’t break.  I am, after all, not really a delicate flower.  I’m more of a hardy rose – trim me back for the winter, but don’t expect to need to take me inside.

How does this all fit in with the new image of the female, and my current exploration of more traditional female roles?  I can do mannish things like build my own house or fix the garbage disposal.  I’m also still a nerd – I like tech stuff and sci fi and I have allergies that make me blow my nose a lot, which is something of a pansy sort of thing.  So maybe that makes me a female-male-female.  I now pay someone to cut my hair and actually style it sometimes and have had my nails done and (GASP) my legs are actually not hairy, in preparation for warmer weather.  Mostly this means I’m spending more time and money on things I didn’t used to bother with.  But maybe these things are also turning me into someone a little more sensible, a little more pretty, and maybe even a little more delicate.