The Scout Report -- Volume 12, Number 22

June 2, 2006

A Publication of the Internet Scout Project
Computer Sciences Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Sponsored by University of Wisconsin - Madison Libraries.

Research and Education

General Interest

Network Tools

In The News

Research and Education

Rocket Science 101 [Macromedia Flash Player]

On occasion, when one is asked to describe a common activity or simple concept, the other party may exclaim, Well, its not exactly rocket science. Well, this website is exactly that: rocket science. To be more precise, NASA has created this elegant and visually stimulating demonstration website that allows guests the opportunity to learn how two different types of rockets (the Delta II and the Atlas V) are constructed. First-time visitors will most likely want to take advantage of the short tutorial that explains the basic part of the launch vehicle, how it is constructed, and how all of these parts effectively help launch a NASA spacecraft. After looking over this section, visitors will want to get started on constructing their own rocket. They will have the opportunity to learn about different parts of each device, and then select each item for the rocket. At the conclusion, visitors will get to see a demonstration of how each rocket works during flight. [KMG]


Designed and maintained by Elizabeth Stapel, an educator and holder of an advanced degree in mathematics, Purplemath contains hundreds of lessons designed to help students who might be having trouble with algebra. As Stapel notes on the sites homepage, These lessons emphasize the practicalities rather than the technicalities, demonstrating dependable techniques, warning of likely trick questions, and pointing out common mistakes. Visitors can get started by clicking on the Lessons Index tab on the left-hand side of the homepage, and they will be whisked away to a categorized section that contains lessons on dozens of algebraic situations, such as using the midpoint formula, finding the slope of a straight line, and graphing systems of linear inequalities. The site also contains a section of external sites which have been reviewed by Stapel, including those that offer quizzes, worksheets, and related materials. [KMG]

Coin & Conscience: Popular Views of Money, Credit and Speculation

In 1986, the Baker Library at the Harvard Business School issued a rather elaborate exhibition catalog that presented a collection of materials from the Bleichroeder Collection of prints. These prints ranged in date from the sixteenth to nineteenth century, and included images of stock exchanges, money lenders, corruption, and other such related topics. This exhibit is essentially an updated and greatly enhanced version of this original exhibit, and it is a true delight. Visitors have access here to a great selection of images divided into such contentious and intriguing categories as Politics and War, Speculation and Credit, and Vanity and Virtue: Allegories on the Pursuit of Riches. There are a few images that should not be missed, including The Unhappy Lot of the Rich by Phillip Gale and The Ill-Sorted Couple by that old master, Albrecht Durer. The site is rounded out by a nice bibliography for those with a further penchant for works including Religious Factors in Early Dutch Capitalism, 1550-1650. [KMG] [pdf]

As more and more persons are seeking high-quality English as a Second Language (ESL) resources, a number of sites have sprung up to provide just such materials. One notable site is, which provides grammar glossaries, reference sheets on irregular verbs, phrasal verbs and idioms, teacher handouts, and ESL forums. The forums are particularly useful, as registered users can post questions in the Ask a Teacher! feature, and receive a response from one of their team of expert advisors. The articles area contains short pieces on using punctuation properly, teaching English in South Asia, and formal letter writing. The site also has its own weblog, which contains brief musings on various elements of the English language that may be helpful both for ESL teachers and those seeking to learn the language. [KMG]

Botanic Gardens: Using Biodiversity to improve human well-being [pdf]

Comprised of over 800 botanic gardens and botanical institutions located around the world, the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BCGI) group frequently produces publications of interest for both the general public and those interested in the role of such institutions in contemporary society. This rather intriguing 36-page report, authored by Kerry Waylen, looks at how botanic gardens across the world are involved in a variety of projects that use biodiversity to improve human well-being. It is an ambitious work, and is based upon a rather exhaustive literature review and a survey of BGCIs members. The report contains information on some specific programs currently in place, such as the work of the Aburi Botanical Garden in Ghana, which has successfully improved local access to medicinal plants by helping communities set up medicinal gardens. Overall, this is a timely report that is definitely worth a closer look. [KMG]

The Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary [pdf]

In his writings, Benjamin Franklin once observed, If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing. Franklin certainly followed this sage advice, as people continue to read his works and replicate some of his experiments (and adventures) across the globe. 2006 happens to mark the three-hundredth anniversary of his birth, and a consortium of interested organizations and individuals have created this website to act as a clearinghouse of information about the various celebrations, exhibits, and other such activities that will be taking place over the next couple of years to celebrate Franklins life and accomplishments. Complete with a typeface that would be familiar to those reading American printed works of the 18th century, the homepage contains sections on the ongoing Franklin exhibition that is traveling the world and an education area that contains materials for teachers seeking to incorporate discussion of Franklin into their classrooms. The Programs area is a real gem, as it contains links to a variety of projects (including a multimedia site designed by middle school students that examines Franklins legacy) created in honor of this most momentous occasion. [KMG]

General Interest

The Happiness Formula [Real Player]

Measuring something as subjective as the feeling or state of happiness is a tricky business. While some may take pleasure in closing a big financial merger, others may be content to watch a babbling brook as they sip lemonade. The BBC has never shied away from taking on such weighty matters and they have recently created this website to complement their ongoing series titled The Happiness Formula. Users may wish to orient themselves to the site by viewing some of the short video clips featured on the right-hand side of the sites homepage. The site also contains material on the relationship between economic success and overall happiness levels and the health benefits of happiness. The site is rounded out by a place where visitors can offer their own suggestions for improving happiness and another area where they can take a quiz on happiness. [KMG]

U.S. Customs and Border Protection [pdf, Windows Media Player]

Committed to vigilance, integrity, and service to the United States, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency performs a wide range of tasks every day, including monitoring the borders of the country as well as investigating disputes over imports and exports. On their site, users can learn about the agencys latest accomplishments and read about some of their most recent initiatives along the Mexican border. The fact sheets area is quite good, and it contains information on port security, trade, travel, canine enforcement, and their On a Typical Day, which offers some statistics on what occurs on the average day at the agency. The site also contains a number of very pragmatic resources, such as the Know Before You Go brochure, which is designed to inform U.S. residents what they may and may not bring back to the States after a trip abroad. Finally, for those persons considering a career with the agency, there is a Careers area which offers a listing of available positions. [KMG]

Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table, 1500-2005 [Macromedia Flash Player]

To the millions of individuals with harried lifestyles, the artistic flourish or design of a fork or knife may escape notice. However, the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum in New York is intimately concerned with such matters, and they have created this delightful online exhibit that explores the design of various table tools and accessories from 1500 to 2005. As its focal point, the website is primarily concerned with the Big Three of the table: the fork, the knife, and the spoon. Visitors can browse through the interactive timeline offered here that traces through each utensils respective evolution, as well as read three short biographies of each. Along the way, visitors are treated to images of a ponderous spoon from 17th century Germany and a dagger-like knife from 16th century France. The site also contains a number of specialized thematic offerings, such as short essays and images that address the ergonomics of the table, flatware for children, and the naturalism movement in tableware design. [KMG]

Two on Bankruptcy and Credit

Bankruptcy: Maxed out in American [Real Player]
Credit Score, Reports, and Getting Ahead in America [pdf]

More and more Americans are experiencing problems with their credit, and in a rather ominous trend, the year 2005 saw a record number of personal bankruptcy filings. The first site offered here was created by the American Radio Works documentary group, and it profiles the current state of personal bankruptcy, along with offering some investigative reporting on the credit reporting industry. Visitors to the site can read about the personal experiences of those profiled in the program, listen to the radio documentary in its entirety, and also offer their own experiences with bankruptcy. The second link here leads to a paper from Matt Fellowes of The Brookings Institution that reports on the growing role of consumer credit reports and scores in the ability of families to get ahead in terms of obtaining loans and insurance. The well-written 20-page report reveals some interesting facts, including the finding that the South has the highest concentrations of consumers with weak credit scores. [KMG]

Frozen Angels [Real Player]

Since the creation of that now celebrated sheep Dolly in Scotland back in 1996, there has been a deluge of talk (and significant scholarly work) about the possibility of creating scientifically engineered humans. This recent documentary from the people at the Independent Lens organization takes a close look at the current research being done in the field of reproductive technology. On the homepage, visitors can look through sections that offer profiles of the people featured in the film, ask questions of the filmmakers, and also read a provocative and thoughtful essay by Professor Lori Andrews of the Chicago-Kent College of Law about the ethical ramifications of various reproductive technologies. Visitors will not want to miss the Talkback area, which features some rather heated debate and a few retorts, which might be expected given the sensitive material covered by such a program. [KMG]


Like a smart mob, SwarmSketch communicates online to bring people together to complete a task, in this case a collective sketch. Currently, the swarm is sketching a map of New Zealand. At the site, visitors contribute a short bit (100px) of line, and then have the chance to vote on whether existing lines should be darker or lighter. SwarmSketch has been running since September of 2005, so there are lots of past sketches to browse, on a wide variety of topics from the Rwanda Genocide to the World's Ugliest Dog. One of the sites best features is the animated viewing of the history of each sketch - individual users can only contribute a small piece of line, so the pictures grow bit by bit, without a single sketcher dominating the composition. You can also sign up for an RSS feed, to be notified on what the swarm is drawing today. [DS]

Network Tools

MappingService 1.0

More and more applications are offering the ability to map various addresses and locations, and users seem to enjoy having this option embedded into such programs. With that in mind, users may also find Mapping Service 1.0 quite helpful. Essentially, the application allows users to selected an address in an email (or other document) and then immediately use the mapping function to display a map using Google Maps. This version is compatible with computers running Mac OS X 10.4.6. [KMG]

iJournal 1.77

iJournal 1.77 is a handy application that allows users to create online journals, complete with embedded visual graphics and background music for a rather unique and customized look and feel. Users can also select who can have access to their journal, and they will also be able to tweak certain graphic aspects of their own journal, if they so desire. This version is compatible with computers running Mac OS X 10.2 and newer. [KMG]

In The News

Experiment Shows That Poison Ivy Will Grow More Potent as Earth Becomes Warmer

Poison Ivy Itchier, More Plentiful With Warming, Study Says

Poison ivy to grow more noxious as Earth warms

Unlikely Fan of Global Warming: Poison Ivy [Real Player]

Poison Ivy: treatment options

Outsmarting Poison Ivy and its Cousins

Poison Ivy [Quick Time]

Some know it by its scientific name, toxicodendron radicans, while some just call it a plain nuisance. Regardless of which appellation one might use, recent research findings released this week indicate that this rather widespread plant might become more potent as a result of global warming. A team of researchers working in a forest laboratory owned by Duke University created a system to pump carbon-dioxide throughout the area, and the results were fairly dramatic and as Jacqueline Mohan (one of the primary researchers on the site) noted, a bit of a surprise. The research is part of a broader project designed to explain how rising carbon dioxide levels may alter forest ecosystems. Mohan continued by noting, Woody vines [including poison ivy] are probably going to take off with increased atmospheric levels of CO2. The other disconcerting finding was that these increased carbon dioxide levels also appeared to make poison ivy produce a much stronger type of urushiol, which is the active compound that resides in the plant. [KMG]

The first link will take readers to a good piece written by Brian Handwerk this past Tuesday for the online National Geographic News service. The article gives a bit of background about the research involved and also includes links to other relevant writings. The second link offers more coverage of this discovery from the San Jose Mercury News. The third link will take users to an audio feature from National Public Radios All Things Considered, which contains some comments from Jacqueline Mohan. For those who find themselves besieged by the plant in question, the fourth link contains advice from an expert at the Mayo Clinic on treatment options. The fifth link is in the same vein, as it offers some remedies straight from the good folks at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. For a moment of respite from all of the dark talk of a potential poison ivy explosion, the sixth link leads directly to a rather choice chestnut from the golden age of rock and roll sung by the Coasters, titled Poison Ivy. Of course, the Lieber and Stoller lyrics might not be about the plant in question, but its quite a catchy number nonetheless. [KMG]

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