Newton’s Third Law

In the following visualisations, I intend to portray somewhat of a graphical rendition of the reaction the American government had to 9/11, how this then led to the War on Terror, and the subsequent actions and reactions that happened shortly after that, in an attempt to leave people with scope to carry on the story as far as their imaginations will let them. It is very hard to judge a precise cause and effect when it comes to human behaviour, which is why I will not stray from the statistics I have. I have even found the need to make various inferences within my timeline, so as you read this article I encourage you to let your mind wander as to what reactions you think America’s actions have caused, with regards to displacement, refugees, and subsequent retaliations.

These visualisations are designed to be minimalist, slightly dramatic, but most of all, thought invoking from a glance, without the need of too much scrutiny or analysis on the reader’s behalf.

At first I found it hard to locate information about death-tolls in the Middle-East, as most government archives that were largely restricted, if not completely blocked. However, after some time I stumbled upon an Open Source initiative, Iraq Body Count Project (IBC). This project appealed to the public in order to help calculate the total body count from the Iraq War (started in 2003 following the 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers, and largely believed as the beginning of the War on Terror). https://www.iraqbodycount.org provided me with the information I needed in order to visualise the amount of Iraqi deaths directly resulting from combat, but also the deaths which occurred indirectly as a result of the war (medical, lack of transport, poverty, lack of aid etc).

Finding statistics on the death-toll from 9/11 was not nearly as difficult as finding the Iraqi death-toll, possibly due to the large Western media coverage that the attack received from 2001 onwards. A full list of both civilian and combatant deaths is available at 9-11heroes.us, which is where I extracted my data set from.

Once I had collected the data, I converted it to a CSV format and then inputted it into RAW in order to visualise it. I found RAW very useful as it provided many options of how to visualise the data so that I could find a style that portrayed it clearly with minimal labelling, so as to avoid my data looking too ‘busy’. Along with RAW’s simple layout and customisability,  I found it to be a very suitable tool for what I wanted. I would have preferred to have a bit more freedom with manipulation within the graphs, from things as simple as different fonts, as far as the possibility of making the visualisation interactive. I did attempt to write my own data visualisation program in Processing, but I found that it was taking too long to deem feasible. Despite my negativity about the tool, I am happy with the results I have, I feel that the end result captures the drastic differences in death-tolls even at first sight, a trait which I hold at an upmost importance in any form of visualisation.

Below is a visualisation of how the death-tolls between the two events compare. I will at this point state that I am making an inference that the invasion of Iraq was a subsequent effect of the 9/11 terrorist attack and thus worthy of a side-by-side comparison.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 15.26.08

As for the subsequent refugee crisis that followed in the years after the invasion of Iraq, I found a data set, last updated in 2014 at watson.brown.edu, that provided me with the information I needed in order to make a visualisation of the different countries/continents that the 1.9 million [1] Iraqi refugees fled to in the wake of the war. As before, I converted the data to an CSV format and used RAW again in order to portray it.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 16.03.33

As I suggested in my opening paragraph, I encourage you, the reader, to let your mind wander in so far as it will allow about the possible chain reactions that America has caused with the invasion of Iraq, the subsequent displacement, and more recently, their invasion in Syria and in turn, the Syrian refugee crisis that now faces the rest of the world. I am not implying that all of these events are a direct cause of the war in Iraq, and some may in fact not be linked even indirectly. What I am implying is that when I saw these statistics, and these visualisations, I couldn’t help but jump to various conclusions, as any mind would. These visualisations are not intended to be slanderous, but instead invoke a mental exploration as to the cause and effect of the actions of the people we consider to be majorly involved in the War on Terror.

Standard

Particles Right Outta Nowhere

Higgs Hunters

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 11.55.45

I have always aspired to the great scientists of time. The likes of Newton, Einstein and that bald guy off Mythbusters. The minds that shape the way mankind interpret the world as we know it. How amazing would it be to invent a theory that caused a paradigm shift in the most firm-rooted beliefs in the scientific community?
1900, Kelvin: “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement”.[1]
1905, Einstein: Discovered special relativity that challenged the principles of Newtonian mechanics that had been used for 300 years and which was believed to be the laws of Motion by the entire physics community. [2]

Unfortunately, these are breakthroughs that few scientists are lucky enough to theorise upon during their lifetimes, and even less likely for a 21 year old Digital Humanities student that only has a distant interest of the inner workings of the cosmos.
This is where I lie, a science dork, desperate to shatter the beliefs of physicists the world over, yet barely able to tell you the difference between heliocentrism and geocentrism.

Process:

Here enters higgshunters.org, a crowdsourcing project, part of the Zooniverse crowdsourcing platform. Higgs Hunter allows the user to “be a part of the next great revolution in Physics” [3] by searching for exotic decays (particles falling apart in unexpected ways) in the Large Hadron Collider’s particle collisions. For those of you that aren’t science nerds like me, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s largest particle collider. Located at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN), 100 metres below the French/Swiss border. The LHC accelerates beams of particles up to fractions below the speed of light, before making them collide inside four giant particle detectors.

Exotic decays: If we see two or more particles that seem to sprout from a common point that is not the centre (known as Off-Centre Vertexes), it tells us that an invisible particle, originally created at the centre, has decayed into other particles. This could be a sign of an exotic Higgs decay.

Higgs Hunter gives its users the tools required for finding an exotic Higgs decay, which could answer some of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the universe. These tools consist of the scans of the LHC, various markers for different types of particles, and a useful forum where hunters can gather and discuss their most interesting finds.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 12.27.09

I know what you’re thinking: “Where do I sign up?”, well, dear reader, it’s a lot easier than you may think. All you must do is create an account, follow some very simple tutorials of spotting OCVs in both the front and side views of the collider, and away you go!

Using the software is very intuitive and I found it very fun to play with. In fact, I completely forgot about the fact that I was meant to be doing it as an assignment and instead found myself hunting for these particles for hours on end. I think that this enjoyment is a key part of any crowdsourcing project, which I will discuss later on.

During my first half hour of using the site, I did find it somewhat hard to spot OCVs, however I found the forum (Higgs Hunters Talk) very helpful for directing me along the right path of what to look out for in the scans.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 12.27.35

Implications:

The implications of a users contribution could be huge with regards to physicists’ understanding of the universe.
Although CERN has a global computing grid of 170 computing centres in 40 countries trawling through the data [4], due to the sheer mass of data being produced, they still can’t get through all of it, which is where crowdsourcing comes in to play.
Another aspect to consider, is that computers will only look for what they have been programmed to look for, they don’t have the enthusiasm to hunt for irregularities like the human mind does, making this project perfect for a human-powered crowdsourcing initiative.
By contributing to this project, the user is possibly uncovering something revolutionary that the computers couldn’t pick up amongst the ‘weird data’, and also teaching the computers how to better spot exotic particle events, hence speeding up the process of future scientific discoveries.

What I learned:

As a wannabe science nerd, I found this project to be very interesting with regards to the inner workings of the Large Hadron Collider. I learned how the particles are made collide, and what they look like when they do. I also found it very interesting to see the way in which these particles are represented after being detected.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 12.40.39

As a digital humanist, with the intent of using crowdsourcing as a method of gathering data in the near future, I found Higgs Hunters provided me with many key insights into what makes a good crowdsourcing project. The way in which this project gets its users involved, through background information and clear direction, really opened my eyes to the way a site of this type should be formed.
During my time using HH, I couldn’t help but find myself excited to get onto the next scan, the prospect of a critical discovery just around every corner really intrigued me and pushed me (although I wasn’t giving up much of a fight) to keep ‘hunting’. The option to then share and discuss my findings with other hunters, each varying in scientific background/competency in the forum helped maintain my interest too.
The way in which this site builds up a community of enthusiastic users is something that I have come to realise is an intrinsic part of any crowdsourcing project that has an indefinitely increasing data set. The amount that one individual can contribute is not restricted in any way, meaning that they can never reach the end of the project. They have moulded users that keep returning in the pursuit of discovery, instead of users that contribute once upon discovery, never to return because they’ve ‘done their bit’.

Application:

Over the past year I have been theorising about several ideas for my final year project, one of which involves crowdsourcing. I think that the things I have learnt from using Higgs Hunters could really help with the design layout of my project.
My idea is to create a visualisation of the history of science. Each paradigm/theory being represented by bubbles, the more each bubble overlaps others, the more the two (or more) theories are interlinked. The main idea behind the project is to show clearly when paradigm shifts occurred, and when the leading theories in science were turned on their heads or abandoned. Due to the fact that I only have a very limited knowledge of the history of science and all the paradigms that have been and passed, I would use crowdsourcing in order to gather the data. For which I am inspired by Higgs Hunters. I would like my project to be as intuitive as their software, but most of all, as addictive. I would aspire to create a community of scientists, much like Zooniverse has, who come together to create something great. Not for financial gain (although perhaps for status), but for the sake of an enthusiasm for the subject at hand. If there was just one thing that I could replicate from HH, it would be the enthusiasm and excitement that the project instills in its users.

Works Cited:

[1] http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/biography/Kelvin.html
[2] https://www.fourmilab.ch/etexts/einstein/specrel/www/
[3] http://www.higgshunters.org/#/science
[4] http://www.higgshunters.org/#/science/how-you-can-help

Standard

Can I have my fries with some CrowdSaucing please

The post is in response to Jeff Howe’s article about crowdsourcing
Read the text here

I’ve always been a big fan of crowdsourcing. I love the concept, and I love the way in which the information collected from a crowdsourcing project is made out of passion, not financial drive.
This is something that I think Howe puts across very well in his article, and it is the main point that I took from my reading of his outstanding summary of what crowdsourcing was, is and might be.

“These are people who are not primarily motivated by money directly, although they’re happy to make a few extra bucks if the chance arises.” [a renaissance of amateurism]

I, along with many others I hope, am not phased by money or by the prospect of acquiring money that I do not need. Due to the Western culture that I live in, I am often thought of as being mad. I’m just simplistic. This is one of the major reasons that I love the concept of crowdsourcing, because the whole thing is done purely out of the passion of the contributors. They are not driven by a financial reward, but instead by their love for the subject at hand, and if they happen to make some money from it, then that’s just an added bonus, not the incentive. This makes the contributors happier in their work [Gary Vaynerchuk, 2009], [Paulo Coelho, 1998], [Napoleon Hill].
(You may argue, that somebody may have a passion for acquiring money, and that the participation in a contribution would cause them to receive what they love. That is true, but as you can see, the participation is a middle-man between their work and their passion, and therefore not relevant to what Howe is trying to say.)

The only drawback that I always thought about, and what Howe highlights is the fact that some “companies.. are increasingly attempting to exploit” people with a passion for a topic through crowdsourcing.
However, I would now see this as a positive. The money-hungry capitalists get what they want (a new product/concept/service that they can sell), and the people with the passion get what they want (to practice their passion). I may be too harsh on the companies, as they do have to “Look for diamonds in the rough” when it comes to crowdsourcing, but they are the people that stand to make the majority of whatever profit arrises from the contributors’ efforts. So really, I would consider it a case of swings and roundabouts.

In summary, Jeff Howe provides a very in-depth view at what crowdsourcing was, is and might be (past, present and future).
The key parts that I took away from my interpretation of it being that crowdsourcing provides a place where the passionate can “dedicate their leisure time to something they feel passionate about, something they love to do rather than have to do”, and a place where the people incentivised by money can make money. The morality of this is really dependant on your own personal opinion of what “exploitation” means..

[Gary Vaynerchuk, 2009, Crush It!: Why Now Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion]
[Paulo Coelho, 1998, The Alchemist]
[Napoleon Hill, 1937, Think And Grow Rich]

Standard
fans recording live music

On Photography

Summary based on chapter one of On Photography, by Susan Sontag
Read the text here

I found this book to be extremely insightful as to the mentality that comes with the ‘art’/’hobby’ of photography, which I previously viewed as just being the capturing of pictures on a device, I now see as a much deeper and subconscious act. I will attempt to summarise this in the following paragraphs.
Firstly with regards to peoples’ motivations for persistently photographing everything while on holiday, an action that I could never fully understand until now. I will then go on to explore Sontag’s thoughts on how photography desensitises its audience.

Whenever I go to a landmark, or on holiday, I am always fascinated by the mass of people that prefer to view the area through the lens of a camera instead of through the lenses of their own eyes. I fall victim to watching the people around me doing this instead of watching the scene I am there to see, silently judging them and thinking to myself that they are all warped for their method of observation. Eg. I was recently at Slane (an annual concert held at Slane Castle in Ireland, which plays host to various famous bands), and I was shocked by the amount of people watching the Foo Fighters gig through the screens of their smart phones. I couldn’t understand it.. Dave Grohl was literally standing right in front of them, yet they still chose to look at him as a collection of coloured pixels on a screen. I was utterly dumbfounded by this incessant inability to look at one’s new surroundings through one’s own eyes, right up until I read On Photography, in which Sontag gives reason for this phenomenon:
..stop, take a photograph, and move on. The method especially appeals to people handicapped by a ruthless work ethic—Germans, Japanese, and Americans. Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work-driven feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to be having fun. They have something to do that is like a friendly imitation of work: they can take pictures.“- [page 7]

It was not until I read these sentences that I realised that this was (one of the) reason(s) for their actions.
I could empathise with this metaphor to a degree because all through my childhood I remember my father (who has worked every day of his life, in a suit, in a skyscraper in London, since he was 14) constantly taking photos of everything while on holiday, and then categorising/tagging them on his computer for hours when we went home. That was his work away from work.
Maybe this is suggesting that I don’t have as ‘ruthless [a] work ethic’ as the people that constantly take pictures while on holiday, or maybe it’s just because I’m aware of it. I’m not sure. But at least now I will refrain from judging those who do, because, as Sontag states: “The very activity of taking pictures is soothing, and assuages general feelings of disorientation that are likely to be exacerbated by travel.“- [page 6]
——-
Photographs shock insofar as they show something novel. Unfortunately, the ante keeps getting raised—partly through the very proliferation of such images of horror.“- [page 14]
The next topic which distinctly stood out for me was towards the end of the chapter, where Sontag discusses how shocking imagery (in this case, photographs) slowly desensitises the viewer as to what they are witnessing. This is something that I have observed first hand throughout the past few years.
As the number of platforms of image distribution in social media expand, with what seems like every passing day, so does the number of pictures that the user is blasted in the face with, proportional to the number of conscious waking hours.
Sontag goes on to explain how “One’s first encounter with the photographic inventory of ultimate horror is a kind of revelation, the prototypically modern revelation: a negative epiphany.“- [page 14]
Which is true; and with each photograph you see of that genre from then on slowly makes that “epiphany” more normal, until it become mundane.
I have a theory that everything must start as an epiphany (a new sensation, a realisation), and through repetition it slowly becomes normality, and I would say that this theory is being proven by the mentality of today’s generations and its correlation with the vast increase in image exposure.
Images anaesthetise.“- [page 15]

During my reading of this extract, I came to the realisation as to why people find taking pictures “soothing” while on holiday, and why they feel the need to watch all new surroundings through a screen in an attempt to detach them slightly from their “disorientation”. I also confirmed my belief that, due to the increase in viewers exposure to a certain type of photograph, the viewer slowly desensitises the initial epiphany they had when viewing the photo for the first time.

I would suggest this reading to anyone that seeks a greater insight of the mentality that accompanies something that has become so common in our everyday lives, photography.

Standard

Cyborg Manifesto.. It’s long.. It’s real long

This is in response to “Cyborg Manifesto”- Donna Haraway

http://www.faculty.umb.edu/gary_zabel/Courses/Art%20and%20Philosophy%20in%20SL%20and%20Other%20Virtual%20Worlds/Texts/cyborg_manifesto.pdf

My immediate reaction to Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” was a mixture of confusion and more confusion. At times I found it hard to decipher whether she was talking about the physical or metaphysical world. However, after a while I came to grips with what (I think) she was getting at..

I believe that Haraway’s definition of a cyborg is that it is a third party organism/technology hybrid that bridges the gap between genders, sexes, and the enforced stereo-types that come with them. I found it intriguing how she referred to the cyborgs in a negative light throughout the article, referring to them as ‘monsters’, yet somehow portrayed the fact that she did in fact support the existence of such beings (if you can call them that).
For the most part I think that Haraway’s “cyborg” is a means of bypassing gender roles in our modern society, the means of which we are most likely to allow. She attempts to convince us that being a cyborg is already part of our ontology, and our way of life. Which I would definitely agree with.
I believe with each passing day that we, as humans, using technology in order to create information on the internet(an data structure made up of electronic pulses, much like the brain), are slowly becoming cyborg/human hybrids. This information that we put up on our metaphysical personalities online slowly accumulates into an actual living being, so to speak, which can be held responsible for its actions. Actions that you control. For example, imagine that you can grow prosthetic limbs, in the same way that you gradually grow a digital personality. If you decide to kick someone with your prosthetic limb, you can be held responsible in a court of Law for hurting that person. In the same way that if you attack someone via your digital personality, you can be held responsible for those actions too.
This metaphor plays very much into the mind/body problem in contemporary and ancient philosophy, however it can be taken as true or false depending on your views. [Saul McLeod, 2007].

Haraway seems to believe that this cyborg/human hybrid is just a matter of bridging the ever narrowing gap between us and technology in the same way we did with animals (we now consider animals as more or less having the same rights as humans after the Animal Rights activism that took place not so long ago).

Haraway implies that being a cyborg allows entire neutrality across genders because we are not dependent on opposite genders to reproduce (which is why being gay is ‘wrong’ in the eyes of certain people, as they cannot reproduce, thus ‘wasting’ their sex) but instead place that dependency on a manufacturer, which could be male, female, neither or both. Thus allowing each human/cyborg free passage through their lifetime without the heavy weight of society to either be the bread-winning alpha male or the kitten-baking, child knitting female of the family.

This is extremely relevant to the world we live in today, as we come closer and closer to being cyborgs, ‘our machines look so lively while we are so inert’, and also with the world’s gradual acceptance of each person’s choice to stray from the social norms that has dominated our culture since cave-man times.

 

Saul McLeod 2007- “Psychology & the Mind Body Debate”,
http://www.simplypsychology.org/mindbodydebate.html

Standard

Intersectionality in Digital Humanities

This is in response to
“Beyond the Margins: Intersectionality and the Digital Humanities”- by Roopika Rasim
http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/9/2/000208/000208.html

The biggest message that I found Roopika Risam was trying to put across in her article was that Digital Humanities needs more diversity in order to achieve intersectionality.

Rasim talks about how there isn’t enough diversity in Digital Humanities (when it comes to content and writers), to which I would disagree. Even as so far as to say that there is too much diversity.
Digital humanities has not focused enough, I feel, on the basic core structure of the discipline. For example, there is already a Feminist Digital Humanities sub-discipline (which is great, don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposing their ideals), but I have yet to see a Philosophy sub-discipline.
I find this troubling as we seem to have skipped over one of the key building blocks of what epistemology is at it’s core. An intrinsic part of knowledge and information creation as a whole, under which feminism is included.
Maybe there just hasn’t been any digital humanists out there that have been interested in philosophy, but it would seem to me that it is rather the case that there is and they have been smothered by the more ‘topical’ sub-disciplines for the sake of showing how ‘revolutionary’ and ‘radical’ DH is.

I think intersectionality is important in digital humanities, with regards to black feminism etc, however, I think that her focus (and the focus of digital humanities in general) is too much on the ‘hot topics’ of todays culture, and not enough on the actual humanities which lead up to this point.

Eg.

  • “black, women, [and] third world” – [paragraph 9],
  • “critical race and ethnic studies; feminist, gender, queer studies; postcolonial, transnational, diaspora; disability studies”- [paragraph 10],
  • “feminist, queer, and critical race theory scholars”- [paragraph 12].

These topics are fine for people interested in them, and it would appear from reading Rasim’s article that she, along with many others, are very much dedicated to writing about these intersectionalities. However, if these topics are all that the majority of the outside world are subject to from the Digital Humanities, then we are instantly turning our audience into a minority. Yes, the voices of the minorities should be heard, that is very important. But they should not be the sole voices that are heard, because then they just become the majorities of a minority sub-group.

In sum, as important as it is that intersectionality is a part of digital humanities, and from reading this article, I think that digital humanities needs to stop using the buzzwords and buzz topics of todays culture, and focus on more general, less ‘out-there’ topics in order to build up a foundation and background to these minority intersections. This is something that I did not see from Rasim’s article, which seemed to focus on the “unequal distribution of power in the mediascape”[Rigoni, 2012] which I would argue is entirely circumstantial and quite a large assumption to make, let alone ironic to state seeing as intersectionality seems to have the ‘unequal distribution of power’ in the digital humanities at the moment.

Rigoni 2012  Rigoni, I. “Intersectionality and Mediated Cultural Production in a Globalized Post-Colonial World,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 35.5 (2012): p. 834-849.

Standard