A new wave of expert

Zooniverse first emerged with Planet Hunters in December 2010. Zooniverse is a collection of web-based citizen science projects that use the efforts of volunteers from all around the globe to help researchers deal with floods of data. Planet Hunters sifted through the vast array of data collect from NASA’s Kepler – launched in March 2009 – with an agenda to discover Earth-size planets orbiting other stars. The software instructed participants to view data and mark out the characteristic drops in light due to an orbiting extrasolar planets (exoplanets) crossing in front of their parent stars.


Kepler’s field of view, © NASA/JPL

I, along with nearly 300,000 volunteers worldwide, assisted in flagging up unknown planet candidates. Each new paper that was published from these results listed thousands of volunteers’ names that contributed to the discoveries. Now, from Kepler’s data, experts believe to have discovered over 2000* exoplanets.

*This number of confirmed exoplanets seems to increase on a weekly basis.

planet hunter

Example of  flagged graph, Planet Hunter 2015

There seems to be a new dawn of experts or digital apprenticeships, encouraged by such projects. It is also clear that as incredible technology is developed, the data still needs to be analysed by the human eye and interpreted for anomalies – because the freaks and happy accidents lead to important discoveries. Interns, volunteers, students and amateurs have played important roles in solving mysteries of the Universe, and need to continue to be incorporated into industries that have previously been off limits to those without expensive degrees.

Archaeologist Sarah Parcak, is launching an online citizen-science tool called GlobalXplorer, that like Zooniverse, will train up volunteers to find the world’s hidden heritage – initially focusing on Peru. Her team will use DigitalGlobe, the world’s largest provider of high-resolution commercial satellite imagery. Hopefully this initiative will be used to protect the sites and be a source for understanding past civilisations. In the wrong hands it sounds like a looters paradise.

Another new technology that could lead to similar projects is LIDAR / LADAR, a light detection and ranging technology that directs hundreds of thousands of light pulses towards the ground. By measuring the distance light travels to the ground and back, forested areas can be digitally stripped away, revealing previously undetectable ground levels. Experts are using this method to discover the worlds previously unknown archeological sites.

Development of these projects – enabled by technology – means more opportunities to re-shape industries that were previously hard to penetrate. Accounts I have heard from archeology graduates have varied around this sentiment: spend years gaining a degree, then pay for an MA, then pay to be part of digs, and hope that you get lucky and gain a paid job in an industry dominated by an older generation that have held their posts for decades.

So ideally, these initiatives will gain interest from a wider stretch of the population, encourage entrepreneurship and lead to new paid roles and funding to continue research. I’d love to introduce Zooniverse to old peoples’ homes. It is a fabulous opportunity for people with sharp minds and free time to remain active in our society.

Dr Kathleen Martinez is another professional that I am following with interest. With a law degree from the Dominican Republic she recently came to public attention in the Channel 4 documentary Cleopatra’s Lost Tombwhich aired in October 2015. Without formal archeological training she has become a self-taught, and so-called, ‘maverick’ archaeologist and private detective, in the hope of discovering Cleopatra’s tomb and reestablishing the reputation of the last queen of Egypt. She has gained a licence from the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities for the next digging season, scheduled to begin in November 2016 to May 2017. Dr Martinez’s professional path was relevant to this post because she presents and promotes an unconventional approach.

Dr Kathleen MartinezImage: Kathleen Martinez (front row third from left)

Discovery and enthusiasm for the mysteries that surround our existence shouldn’t be available to a small pocket of the world’s population, it is important to have an element of open access and tap into the knowledge reserves of those on the outskirts of the industry, eager to be involved. Public awareness and outreach is essential for solving the worlds problems.

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Colombia calling

Ahead of emigrating to Colombia I have been channeling my energy into understanding the history and current climate of the complex country. Two recent films to emerge out of Colombia that have aided my research are Chocolate of Peace by Gwen Burnyeat and Embrace of the Serpent directed by Ciro Guerra.

Chocolate of Peace, Gwen BurnyeatChocolate of Peace, 2016 

Chocolate of Peace looks at ‘The Peace Community’ of San José de Apartadó, a group of victims of the armed conflict, who have been building peace from the grassroots for twenty years. They are well revered in international human rights circles, despite many Colombians being unaware of them.

Gwen Burnyeat on her new film: “This documentary offers an account of their work as a new way for all Colombian society to think about their search for a fairer country. Firstly, through the human experiences of massacres, forced displacement, threats and terror. Only through empathising with individual stories can human beings understand what it means for there to be over 8 million victims in Colombia, many of them rural, and appreciate how urgent the need is to end the armed confrontation.”

Listen to an in interview with Gwen Burnyeat on Colombia Calling

Embrace of the Serpent was inspired by the real-life journals of two explorers (Theodor Koch-Grünberg and Richard Evans Schultes) who traveled through the Colombian Amazon during the last century in search of the sacred and difficult-to-find psychedelic Yakruna plant.

Embrace of the SerpentEmbrace of the Serpent, 2015

Just two days ago on 26 June 2016, after 60 years of conflict, a peace agreement was signed between President Juan Manuel Santos and Carlos Antonio Lozada, the commander of Colombia’s Farc rebels. It is now down to Colombians to accept or reject the agreement in October. Whatever the outcome, while living in Colombia, I hope to discover more of the creativity and resolve of its population. I’d like see innovative works promoted to an international market –taking the media headlines– over the ones that Colombia has been more associated with in the past.

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Botanical garden vs scafolding mound

I love botanical gardens and have been to many different ones around the world, from the Eden Projects in Cornwall to smaller scale tropical plots in Viñales, Cuba. These gardens have a purpose to educate and create humbling sanctuaries to showcase the harmonisation of human interaction and nature at its finest.

On the edge of the city, Kew Gardens is one of my favourite. It is where I escape when bad news hits, like when the UK referendum results declared ‘Brexit’.

Over the last decade the special features programming in Kew has had some low points*. From decorative glass blobby floaters in the lake (Dale Chihuly, 2005 – by far the worst offender), to ugly scaffolding structures like the newly situated Hive. Although arguably the latter could be talked up, I’ve seen the mound of metal and it didn’t make me feel connected to the natural environment or bees. As a pavilion in Milan last year I’m sure it was much more effective. If you look online you will see dramatic images of it lit up at night, amazing renders, but this is actually what you are faced with:

*..Although, The Spice Season in 2015 at Kew was full of life; interactive, educational, it had an inspired events programme and offered a door into the trade routes that have fed Kew’s vast array of fauna.

My visit to the HiveMy visit to the Hive at Kew, 2016

I wish the programming highlighted some of the more imaginative and inspiring projects from around the globe like Rainforest Connection’s work in which discarded mobile phones are being use to detect deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Kew needs to start expecting more of its audience and become more relevant, unless it wishes to be a disconnected oasis housing exotic species that are extinct in the wild, as many of our zoos represent.

Rainforest ConnectionRainforest Connection invention

I want to see a showcase of the work being done in the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales. A hub which connects our technological input/output to our environment.

Centre for Alternative TechnologyAn early experiment to harness wind power at CAT

The Centre for Alternative Technology has been experimenting with renewable energy sources since the 70s with the aim to empower people to live a more sustainable life. It is an education and visitor centre demonstrating practical solutions for sustainability.

CATCAT in Wales

With a DIY, interactive attitude, the programme seeks to encourage visitors to get excited about their role in progressive technology. It encourages the entrepreneur, inventor, citizen scientist. This is exactly what the world famous botanical gardens need to catch up on.

CATAnother experiment at CAT

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James Lovelock

James LovelockJames Lovelock

James Lovelock is described as an independent scientist, environmentalist and futurist. He proposed the Gaia theory – the idea that Earth functions as a self-regulating system, as a living organism does.

Everything on (and to the very core of) the planet, to the upper atmosphere has evolved side by side. Its not simply a case of the carbon cycle that were in the science books at school, but this proposal stretches to the distribution of every atom that is considered to make up the Earth. It proposes that the biosphere and the physical components of the Earth (atmosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere) are closely integrated to form a complex interacting system that maintains the climatic and biogeochemical conditions on Earth in a preferred homeostasis. It is this preferred homeostasis that is being disrupted by CO2 emissions.

In his 2007 book, The Revenge of Gaia, he offers an overview of his opinions on different types of energy production from nuclear to renewable, the pros, cons and misconceptions. He attempts to describe the interconnecting elements that play a role in the current severity of global warming and what our global population must do if we want humanity, wildlife and bio-diversity to thrive in harmony – and avoid extinction, which is what he sees as our current course.

Back in 2007, when this book was publish, he states that humanity’s annual CO2 emissions, if solidified, would amount to the size of a mountain one mile high with a 20 mile circumference, I shudder to think what it is nearly a decade on.

Recently a feature ran on BBC World Service’s Science in Action, about a group of scientists in Iceland that have developed a way of pumping CO2 gas deep underground in volcanic areas solidifying CO2 at a rapid rate. The basalts react with the gas to form carbonate minerals, which make up limestone. This seemed like an exciting prospect, however, the lead scientist disclosed that at this point, what is pumped down is approximately 5% CO2 to 95% water, it is incredibly inefficient and expensive.

Hellisheidi geothermal power stationHellisheidi geothermal power station pumping CO2 underground

It gives me faith that there are creative and intelligent people dedicating their careers to try to provide us with a future. Technology may aid us. But while greed prevails in many societies, it seems technology supporting our greed seems to radically out-run technology being developed to improve our lives. When will our governments stop supporting the commercial enterprises and start looking out for Gaia?

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Visualising warfare

Here are two projects, one by artist Isao Hashimoto, and the other by the incredible Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The first maps the testing of nuclear bombs around the world from 1945 to 1998, colour coordinated to mark the country responsible. The second mapping project reveals the frequency of drone attacks in Pakistan; the number of casualties and the type of targets, from June 2004 to July 2013.

1945-1998 by Isao Hashimoto

“The blinking light, sound and the numbers on the world map show when, where and how many experiments each country have conducted. I created this work for the means of an interface to the people who are yet to know of the extremely grave, but present problem of the world.” Isao Hashimoto

BIJ-Drone Strikes in PakistanBIJ : Drone Strikes in Pakistan (still from map report)

View report

“The CIA has been bombing Pakistan’s tribal agencies with drones since June 2004. In the early years, strikes were rare. But from mid-2008 onward the frequency of strikes increased, peaking in 2010. That year, 128 strikes killed at least 751 people – of whom 84 were civilians. There were 23 strikes in September 2010 alone – the most intense month yet recorded by the Bureau.

This map demonstrates how the frequency of strikes – and the overall reported casualties – has changed over time. It also shows how the targets of the strikes have changed.” BIJ

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Do you trust your senses?

This week another story emerged in the media about a city appearing in the clouds on 7 October – this time in Foshan in the Guangdong province of China.

Cloud City in Foshan 2015Image of cloud city above Foshan, 2015 (source unknown)

I’m not sure about it being evidence of a parallel universe but it has certainly created a time warp. I have spent a long time on YouTube now… looking at the conspiracy theories. All the bases have been covered: NASA practicing for the illusion of Christ’s second coming, an alien invasion rehearsal, China trying out a new weapon that will annihilate the west, evidence of the Satanic New World Order orchestrate by HAARP or Project Blue Beam (or both).

This type of optical mirage has happened before. I remember doing the same YouTube pilgrimage when a city appeared in the clouds over the Xin’an River in Huanshan City in East Chinain 2011.

Cloud city, Huangshan City, 2011Image of cloud city above Huanshan City, 2011 (source unknown)

This was in the same month a US marketing campaign promoted a horror movie by using cutting edge technology to send a whisper directly into the ears of passers by from the top of a five story building. According to passers-by, the sound was so direct that others stood in close proximity couldn’t hear the same spooky whispers. Strangely enough, when I tried to research this topic, I couldn’t find any of the coverage, despite it being widespread at the time. My computer has also just started to crash. Read in to that what you will…

AND, in 2014, Michael Jackson made his first posthumous performance at the Billboard Music Awards.

We may never be able to trust our senses again. You have entered the Matrix!

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Curious Incident

3637I haven’t lived with, nor have I been close to someone with autism. Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, first published in 2005,  was my first insight into the mind and domestic stresses of someone living with autism, and I think it has greatly increased my awareness. It made me realise what a strange phenomena logic is.

The high-tech National Theatre production in the West End is incredible. It’s riddled with minute detail, from the silhouettes of the on-stage ‘spectators’, through to the mathematical encore of the the A-level exam answer. The fast pace delivery is emotionally draining – heartbreaking and humorous, acted with sincerity. It’s also amazing to see the dynamic of the theater change, in a split second, when a puppy is brought on stage.

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