Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Alex's New and Hot and Beagle Review

New and Hot:
The Encyclopedia of Life

So basically, check this website out when it goes live: A coalition of 7 major museums and institutions, including the Smithsonian, Harvard University, Chicago's Field Museum, the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts, the Biodiversity Heritage Library Consortium, the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Atlas of Living Australia have gotten together to undertake the monumental task of making an Encyclopedia of Life. The first few webpages of this site apparently went live earlier this morning.

The basic premise of this website is that all 1.8 million known species in the world will be categorized and the information recorded on the website, which will be freely accessible to everyone. So for instance, an entry on any particular organism might have pictures, sounds, amateur sightings, etc. But in addition to that, the website caters more than just the amateur web-surfer by offering links to hardcore science articles as well.

Here are images of the first few demo pages that were released to the public today. Polar Bear entries:

Now for some numbers:

  • 1.8 million species they know for sure.
  • 8 millions species is their estimate of total that are in existence right now.
  • 10 years is how long they think the project will take.
  • $12.5 million is the amount of grant money they have for the first two and a half years. From the MacArthur and Sloan Foundations.
Lastly, in what's yet another manifestation of Web 2.0, this EOL dealio will be user driven. AKA everyone apparently can contribute, making it basically a monstrosity much like Wikipedia, presumably. Awesome.

Beagle Review:
Click here.

This book was supposed to be the 2nd edition of Charles Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle. Definitely a classic and definitely worth a read. But you should probably buy another publisher's version because I found a few blatant typos in this copy. Although there weren't that many and it didn't detract from the reading too much, why own a copy with errors in it?

As far as the book itself is concerned, I thought it was pretty good in teaching us about Darwin and his travels. It reads a lot like a travel guide, in that he just catalogues all these animals and plants and things that he encounters. His skills of observation are amazing, it's really no surprise that he eventually gathered the data that he felt was necessary to back up his claims of evolution. He definitely pays amazing attention to detail.

On the other hand, he just jumps into chapter 1 page 1 with a lot of this dry detail and it was hard to get interested in the book at first. He definitely tries to use some fancy prose at parts ("Goodbye, Australia!"... I liked that part a lot) and he's really good at it, too, I wonder why he doesnt try to be more dramatic more of the time, haha.

The main thing that I found attractive about this book is that Darwin not only talks about the flora, fauna, and geology of the places he visited, but he also talked about the cultural and societal influences that they had. The section in his book about the South American gauchos was reallly really interesting. In addition, I'd read the Darwin Conspiracy (a novel!) before i read this book, it is very interesting to see how the descriptions of the Fuegians drastically differed, even though some of the actual events that occurred in the two works were the same.

And it's interesting that although Darwin does talk about the indigenous people somewhat, it seems that he focuses on the European Settlers (subsequent immigrants) and their culture a lot. And this part I found especially fascinating, I suppose because there wasn't that language barrier (Like the part where he criticizes Brazilian slavery).

Oh and the last thing I want to say is that the part on the Galapagos was really underwhelming. After all this buildup and suspense I thought he was going to say something really profound, haha. And he definitely did foreshadow some of the ideas of adaptive radiation in that chapter both about the finches and the tortoises, but it wasnt what I was expecting. In fact, the Galapagos chapter basically read like all the other chapters in its mechanical recollection of all the details of his observations.

Overall, awesome book.

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