zaterdag 28 september 2013

Map your Recipe [new website][updated]

Map your Recipe does a simple thing: enter the ingredients of a recipe and it will show you where the vegetables that went into it were first domesticated.

Map your Recipe shows that we are firmly after the Columbian Exchange and that no national cuisine relies only on truly local ingredients. But with interesting local patterns of usage and borrowing.

Map your Recipe will ignore those ingredients that can not be pinpointed to a specific centre of origin. 

Mail questions and/or suggestions to wilfriedhoujebek who has a yahoo account.

vrijdag 27 september 2013

whatever you say - say nothing

In a few weeks I hope to show a class of media history students that real hard-headed politics in contested zones won't be influenced by feel-good-media & like-it-on-facebook optimism. Instead I will tell about Gerry Adams masterminding secret negotiations with the UK government while being simultaneously on the board of the Provisional IRA's army command and representing his district as a Sinn Feinn MP. A dark shadowy tale of secretive, wartime power politics that, in the history or Irish Journalist Moloney, Adams was able to play with unmatched strategic skill. 

Doing some additional research I found the Provisional IRA's "Long War" objectives:
A war of attrition against enemy personnel based on causing as many deaths as possible so as to create a demand from their people at home for their withdrawal.

A bombing campaign aimed at making the enemy's financial interests in our country unprofitable while at the same time curbing long term investment in our country.

To make the Six Counties... ungovernable except by colonial military rule.

To sustain the war and gain support for its ends by National and International propaganda and publicity campaigns.

By defending the war of liberation by punishing criminals, collaborators and informers.
It's grim, scare-mongering and demented like everything else about the IRA. Turning the Six Counties in a kind Azkaban prison. But behind it was Adams, playing poker and winning.

The history if peace in N-Ireland, as brokered by Adams, was never in the news, beyond the media, undemocratically achieved, forced through the throat of IRA hawks, shadowy even now, but with real results and consequences. 

There is nothing in this story that will make you feel good, but the violence came to an end. 

dinsdag 24 september 2013

Overpopulation is a sentiment not a fact.

Ever since the 1980ties right-wing anti-emigration parties have campaigned with some form of the slogan that the Netherlands are "full". The main argument made against it has always been that it is an empty slogan. 
 A bucket can be said to be full but for a country to be full you need additional criteria.

Long before the arrival of labour immigrants from Southern Europe and North-Africa there were people complaining that overpopulation was rendering the country inhabitable. All the while the population kept growing and yet the country remained housed, well-fed and well-behaved.

Population pressure on 'nature' is undeniably there. Though I tend to think that it is mostly on the political right that it is taken for granted that those areas designated as 'nature' should be developed. But mostly new housing developments eats up former agricultural land and not nature. 

I like to think I have digested the central points of historical ecology (many landscapes now and in the past that were always thought of as undisturbed and pristine are actually the result of human interference), the anthropocene (human activity has turned our species into a geological force) and novel ecosystems (new ecosystems composed from native and invading species can be productive and healthy). We are living in a man-made world.   

One my favourite books is 'Something New Under the Sun' by J.R. Macneill, an understated book that ends with a brilliant analysis of what causes environmental destruction. Population pressure he concludes is never the sole reason for degradation of the natural world. He cites the lack of the right local ecological knowledge and the absence of an expected long term relation with the land as the main factors of pollution in the broadest sense of the word. Read it.

As said Dutch population is still increasing but cleaner cars, cleaner factories, and tighter environmental regulation has cleaned up air and rivers and the return of many animal species after long absences are the result. 

I have always taken for granted that there is enough food on the planet but that it is unequally distributed. 

Now, with all this in the back of my head I am well prepared to read Erle Ellis' NYT op-ed "Overpopulation is not the problem" (make sure to read this as well) and understand what he is trying to say: horror scenarios of overpopulation are overstated and the concern of 7.2 billion people eradicating the last bit of 'real' nature in our lifetime is a fallacy. Real nature as most people understand it does no longer exist anyway.
Overpopulation is a sentiment not a fact.  
There is no environmental reason for people to go hungry now or in the future. There is no need to use any more land to sustain humanity — increasing land productivity using existing technologies can boost global supplies and even leave more land for nature — a goal that is both more popular and more possible than ever. 

The only limits to creating a planet that future generations will be proud of are our imaginations and our social systems. In moving toward a better Anthropocene, the environment will be what we make it.
This is the most important paragraph:
The science of human sustenance is inherently a social science. Neither physics nor chemistry nor even biology is adequate to understand how it has been possible for one species to reshape both its own future and the destiny of an entire planet. This is the science of the Anthropocene. 
I think I agree with Ellis central claims but I knew where he is coming from.
I know (and like) Erle Ellis' work on Anthropogenic Biomes as you can see here

But for most people the idea of an anthropocene and novel ecoystems are unknown and they are dangerous, contra-intuitive ideas that in the wrong hands could easily lead to a kind of environmental defeatism: "nature does no longer exist, let the Amazon rot." As was to be expected hundreds of comments deride Ellis without sparking the debate op-eds are intended to do.

It is not hard to see why: Ellis is making a big statement (even though the title is not his own) but he sounds awfully as if he is speaking down from the ivory tower: there are the big ideas of the anthropocene, there is personal journey of changing views (the confession the great American art) and it closes with a bold statement that asks nearly everyone to revise their deep held believes without giving any specification of how the 'better anthropocene' would look like. It needs more gentleness and better arguments. Where is the data, where are the citations? What is the vision? How do we get there? Does it for instance include gen-tech, a planned economy? is democracy a prerequisite or could North-Korea be anthropocene's best friend?

I think that we should be reconsidering easy notions on overpopulation and I do think Ellis is trying to address something important here but I hope he continues his argument elsewhere with more rigour. 
We need a discussion about the validity of the 'overpopulation' without ever forgetting that we need to take drastically better care of our natural resources. Because people are never surplus, because positive action (protecting the environment for all of us) is always more efficient and more engaging than negative action (birth control for others).

The beautiful anthropocene

From The Age of Man is not a Disaster (Dec. 2011), well worth quoting and also read this bit on the fallacy of overpopulation:
We defend the term “Anthropocene,” and we do not accept the argument that the concept opens the floodgates of unrestricted development. To assert that without the ideal of pristine wilderness, humanity will inevitably go on ruining our best-loved landscapes is analogous to Dostoyevsky’s dictum that without God, everything is permitted. 

Yes, we live in the Anthropocene — but that does not mean we inhabit an ecological hell. Our management and care of natural places and the millions of other species with which we share the planet could and should be improved. But we must do far more than just hold back the tide of change and build higher and stronger fences around the Arctic, the Himalayas and the other “relatively intact ecosystems,” as the scientists put it in their article. 


The Anthropocene does not represent the failure of environmentalism. It is the stage on which a new, more positive and forward-looking environmentalism can be built. This is the Earth we have created, and we have a duty, as a species, to protect it and manage it with love and intelligence. It is not ruined. It is beautiful still, and can be even more beautiful, if we work together and care for it. 

zondag 22 september 2013

Earthquakes & tectonic plates on Selborne

The latest addition to Selborne is earthquake data. To be frankly honest: the relevance of this to a personal environmental data annotation website is only partly there but the data is out there, reliable, and easy to use. There are links in the menu that will add all earthquakes from the last hour, day, week & month. 

There are plenty of websites where said earthquake data can be watched. What I never recall seeing with it is data on plate tectonics. These I have also added. There are links for ridges, trenches, transforms and a link for all of them together. There is also a link to view all earthquakes of past week with plates. 

Another tiny addition is a link to show Vavilov's 'centres of origin', the regions where crop domestication is thought to have originated. I created this by drawing copying it on the map from a map provided by Wikipedia. You can do nice things like view these with the Steppe data from the terestrial ecoregion data and watch a historical pattern in action.

When viewed on its own you can see what each ridge, trench & transform is called.
quakes & plates
Agriculture & Steppe

zondag 15 september 2013

Anthropocene plant biodiversity data added to Selborne

Recently I added some data on terrestrial ecoregions to Selborne. It was a valuable addition but the information it conveys is not instinctively recognizable from the ground. For instance: it groups The Netherlands into one ecoregion with large parts of Denmark, Germany, Belgium and France. I wouldn't dare to argue with its justness as a concept but, from the point of view of an individual mapping his personal environment, ecoregions are an abstraction to the point of uselessness. Especially from a Dutch perspective where the 'Mixed Atlantic Forest' that it is supposed to contain simply does not exist.

A welcome addition to Selborne therefore is the 'Plant Biodiversity in the Anthropocene' data provided by Erle Ellis & colleagues at the Laboratory for Anthropogenic Landscape Ecology. I blogged about this earlier.

The original shapefile converted to a 12.8Mb GeoJSON file which I divided in 6 separate files each containing the data for each of the ecozones that the file provides (Palearctic, Nearctic, Neotropics, Afrotropics, Indo-Malay, Australasia). I had to split the Paleartic file again into North and South to keep file-size modest. Each file is between 1 and 3 Mb and is loaded as a layer on top of the standard map. Find the links in the menu under the logo under the datasets header. Give your browser time to parse.

What is nice about the data is that a lot of information is given for each area/cell/hexagon. When you load the data it will not give you the immediate visual buzz that makes maps attractive, but once you hover over a cell 13 different types of information are displayed.

There is information on main land use, land cover and population density. But the real meat of the thing is in the data on native species richness, species loss, and invasive/introduced species. By comparing data for each cells you can get a good view on where the human hand has been most effective in changing the native plant composition. 

The best source for detailed information on the data is the original paper.

This is data that to me appears to describe the world in a way that would be clearly visible if you were at a given area. 

It is possible to look at this data using the different maps Selborne offers under the layer-menu. Sudden jumps in numbers (be they for population density, urbanity or species richness) between adjacent cells can sometimes be understood by viewing it with a  topographic or relief map at the background.

My personal motivation for doing Selborne was the desire for a tool that would allow me to track invasive plants in my own neighbourhood and novel ecosystem/anthropocene work was what inspired me. So I am very happy with the inclusion of this data.   

Citation: Ellis, E. C., E. C. Antill, and H. Kreft. 2012. All is not loss: plant biodiversity in the Anthropocene. PLoS ONE 7:e30535. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030535.

Visit Selborne here, more info about Selborne here.

vrijdag 13 september 2013

Terrestial Ecoregions on Selborne

Selborne is a website that allows users to log backyard observations of the natural world. But it also aims to couple these annotations with large scale environmental datasets on for instance ecology, land type, land use and pollution. The first addition to Selborne of such data is information on 'terrestial ecoregions' taken from data found on the website of the Nature Conservancy. You can find it in the menu that appears when you hover over the logo on the top-right of the screen.
Terrestrial: Pertaining to land.

Ecoregion: "Ecoregions cover relatively large areas of land or water, and contain characteristic, geographically distinct assemblages of natural communities and species. The biodiversity of flora, fauna and ecosystems that characterise an ecoregion tends to be distinct from that of other ecoregions."
There are a few caveats of a technical nature. The data covers the entire globe and this translates 108Mb of GeoJson (the dataformat used). A bit much for an online service and the obvious solution is to turn this data into tiles as has been done elsewhere. It is the sensible approach but I will leave it for another time. 

Instead I have opted to select data for a few areas: Europe, Scandinavia, Madagascar, the Steppes, Papua New Guinea/New Zealand and Ecuador. The smallest of these files is 400Kb (Madagascar), the largest over 4.5Mb (Ecuador). I have more files on my computer but load-time and bandwidth are issues that worry me. 

The approach of loading raw data has its downsides, but it also has its upsides: it has a lot of contour (it looks cool) and it is possible to convey more information. Hover over an area to see 3 different types of information. That is two types more than the data translated to tiles (read images) ever could.    

Let's look a few things of interest.

Iceland: the first image shows how it looks on the standard black and white map in Selborne. I was wondering if I was missing a bit of data but when selecting a different map I saw why data seemed to be missing: there was nothing there, just snow and ice. For all datasets applies that viewing them with different maps adds information. 

Ecuador is a small country with high mountains and high biodiversity. The map shows it but what shows it even more is file size: there is more MB needed for Europe then for the Europe and Scandinavia files combined. That in itself says something about biological and geographical richness. 

 The Netherlands has the same habitat types as large parts of Denmark, France, Belgium and Germany.  The next goal is to add data that is more fine-grained. 

vrijdag 6 september 2013

Plants in Park Bloeyendael.

In an effort to further hone my plant recognition skills I have taken on a new "project": Park Bloeyendael. This is a volunteer-run wilderness park very near to my house. What's nice about Bloeyendael is that it is relatively obscure: there is hardly anyone and one can bike on the foothpaths without disturbing anybody. HA!

The park is home to many interesting plants that you will not find very often in the rest of town so I have high hopes. 

See the full list in Selborne.
Here are few pictures of plants that deserve special notice, some are still nameless. Can u help?? 

Only one found: must be rare?!

Blaassilene / bladder campion

Adder wortel

All of these were marked as shown, so my powerful faculties of deduction say: it must be rare.

Engelwortel/angelica (everyone agrees?)

5-star plant ??