Friday, April 25, 2008

Agenames Vienna presentation

The slides of the talk (Google docs version) Jens gave on Agenames during the EGU 2008 are available here:

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Technological Twists on Taxonomy

Browsing through Nature, I came across a book review by Kevin Kelly on "Systematics as Cyberscience: Computers, Change, and Continuity in Science" by Christine Hine. In his review Kelly takes a look at why taxonomy has been so slow to adopt the new tools provided by information technology.

"Taxonomy, the science of identification and classification of new species, has been one of the slowest disciplines to adopt computers. When most other scientists routinely use these number crunchers to detect patterns within large sets of data, why have taxonomists only recently started to use them?

The reasons are many. Foremost has been the subtle variation among closely related species, which makes quantification of their traits difficult. No computer program can outdo the highly refined judgements of a taxonomic expert who can classify from nuanced alterations even the smallest organism. Consequently, new species are identified and described in a manner that would have been familiar to Charles Darwin 150 years ago.

Second, much taxonomic information has been, and remains, parochial. The expertise required for classifying fly parasites has little in common with that for fungal species or whales. Taxonomic information occupies niches — niche being the exact biological term for these narrow confines. Specialized niches of information with their own protocols challenge computerization.

Third, the low priority given to taxonomy has meant it is perennially underfunded. High-powered computation and software come low on the list after the meagre needs of traditional taxonomy are (barely) met.

Despite these hurdles, the related field of systematics (exploring relationships between organisms over time) is rapidly transforming itself as computation becomes integral. In Systematics as Cyberscience, sociologist Christine Hine investigates the effects of computers and communication technology on the taxonomic community."

Read more ... (Sorry, no Open Access).

Friday, April 18, 2008

A preview of the new look

For quite a while we have been very unhappy with the old Snet homepage. The content is completely outdated and simply does no more reflect or promote our current activities. Further, after more than 5 years we found it was really time to reconsider the overall look of the homepage ;)
The old version was based on the CMS Contenido which is nice, but develloping modules for such a system e.g. a search interface allowing direct access to Snet data is a pain. Further, contenido now is popular enough to attract hackers which forces us webmasters to carefully watch the latest vulnerability reports, thus frequently perform security fix updates.

Therefore I decided to completely redesign the Snet homepage. The new version will be home brewn, slimmer but more informative. It will concentrate more on content, Snet data , services and news.

To keep maintenance costs as low as possible, Snet 2 will support major standard protocols to ingest content from various sources. For example we will use OAI-PMH to collect data from Agenames, Taxonconcept (and possibly other 3d party sources). It will also use RSS feeds to include news from all Snet projects as well as from this blog.

More datails on the new Snet architecture will be published here soon. By now I would like to invite those interesed to visit the first beta of Snet2 here:

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

3D Scanners for Paleontology

Browsing through the pages of the Arts and Humanities E-Science Support Centre, I came across a really cool project: a 3D colour scanner.

This is what their short write-up states: "

E-Curator : 3D colour scans for remote object identification and assessment

This project will use University College London's collections and state of the art 3D colour scanner, which can revolutionize the traditional methods in museums and archives based on text and images. The project envisions to use 3D recording to describe artefacts as a whole. This method will offer yet unknown details and insights into the object's structure. Such 3D scans could then help with the identification of degraded surfaces. They would allow comparisons of whole three-dimensional objects. As a proof-of-concept, six artefacts will be 3D-scanned and stored at UCL and federated sites."

Wouldn't this be a really useful application for sharing paleontological collections without actually having to move anything physically?

Is anybody using this technology already in paleontology? I am curious to find out more.