The Scout Report -- Volume 14, Number 30

August 10, 2007

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

Global Service Fellowships: Building Bridges through American Volunteers [pdf]

Throughout the years, the United States has always been on the lookout for ways to improve the country's image overseas. Early in the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt embarked on a round-the-world journey, and by the 1950s, various jazz ambassadors (such as Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman) were spreading that unique American musical idiom from Islamabad to Moscow. As it turns out, several Brookings Institution staff members have some rather fine ideas about how to share the best of America with the world. Written in March 2007, this policy brief authored by David L. Caprara, John Bridgeland, and Harris Wofford talks about the inherent possibilities of a program they call "Global Service Fellowships". The program would have American volunteers serve abroad with qualified nongovernmental organizations, faith-based group, and universities that are "committed to advancing peace and development." In the brief, they also suggest that Congress and the White House should work together to double the Peace Corps and increase support of other related efforts designed to enable global service. It's a very intriguing policy idea, and the paper is well worth a look. [KMG]

Assessing-to-Learn Physics: Project Website

Based at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, the Physics Education Research Group is committed to performing "rigorous research into science education, cognition, and learning." One of their more recent projects was the "Assessing-to-Learn Physics" initiative, which was designed to look at the ongoing process of learning physics in the classroom. As such, this site provides public access to a large library of questions and problems that can be used in the classroom. First-time visitors may wish to look over the "About" section, and then proceed to the "Items Library" section. Within this area, users can select an educational level, pick several keywords, and then look at the items that are returned from the database. If any of this is confusing or unclear, they should make use of the "Library Help" area, which usually can answer any queries that might come up about using the database. [KMG]

Functions Grapher [Macromedia Flash Player]

Discussing functions can be a tricky endeavor, but having a handy interactive way to talk about functions can relieve a great deal of stress. As part of the Mathematical Sciences Digital Library, this Functions Grapher application is designed to let users enter one or two functions. After doing so, users can trace along either one with coordinates shown dynamically changing at all times. The application was created by Professor Barbara Kaskosz of the University of Rhode Island, and it can be used by students in algebra, pre-calculus, or calculus courses. Of course, educators may wish to use it in their classrooms for illustrative purposes and they can also pass along to students who might find the very idea of functions and their operation a bit puzzling. [KMG]

United States Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Center [pdf]

From Wenatchee to Orono, the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is looking into everything from colony collapse disorder to hop cultivation. Of course, their work doesn't stop there as they also coordinate science partnerships with a wide range of businesses and government agencies. Visitors to their website will be presented with a list of "I Want To.", where they can find an ARS location, locate an ARS employee, search for a research project, or just even ask a question. The "Spotlight" area on the homepage is a great place to learn about some of their latest work, which has included research on high-quality corn, and a national research action plan for investigating colony collapse disorder. Moving on, the "Products & Services" area includes the archive of their monthly magazine and links to their newsletters, which address nutrition and animal health-related matters. [KMG]

A Case Study: Gross Domestic Product

Teaching economics at the high school or college level can be tremendously interesting, and at the same time, it can be difficult to find high-quality classroom resources for this particular discipline. The EconEdLink website (created by the National Council on Economic Education) is a great place to find just such resources, including this recent lesson plan and activity. Written by Stephen Buckles of Vanderbilt University, this lesson deals with the world of the gross domestic product (GDP). The goals of this particular activity are to provide teachers and students with access to easily understood monthly announcements of rates of change in real GDP, along with questions and activities that will help reinforce understanding of relevant concepts. The site includes access to teacher materials, key economic concepts, and basic explanations of what is included within the GDP and how it is tabulated. [KMG]

The Life Cycle of a Mineral Deposit-A Teachers Guide for Hands-On Mineral Education Activities [pdf]

Whats a mineral deposit? How is it formed? These and many other questions are answered between the pages of this useful and informative teacher's guide dealing with the life cycle of a mineral deposit. This 40-page guide was written by Dave Frank, John Galloway, and Ken Assmus and published first in 2005. Created under the auspices and direction of the US Geological Survey, the guide covers topics like the use of mineral resources in everyday life, and how minerals are mined. Within the guide, teachers can also make use of ten different activity-based learning exercises that can be used to educate students on basic geologic concepts and the processes of finding and identifying resources from any given mineral deposit. The guide is rounded out by the inclusion of an appendix of key terms. [KMG] [pdf]

E.O. Wilson may be the best-known academic working on the biology of ants, though it is likely that most myrmecologists will find this site rather helpful and interesting. The site and its database are maintained by staff members at the American Museum of Natural History and the Ohio State University. As their website proclaims, they are moving "Towards the 12,000 species!", and visitors can search the database by taxon or author, and visitors can also avail themselves of the help feature. The site also includes a very helpful collection of ant-related websites, along with links to related blogs. For casual visitors, the site also provides an answer to the question "How many ants are there?" and actual lists of the ants of the world. [KMG]

Nieman Watchdog [Macromedia Flash Player, pdf]

Harvard doesn't have a formal journalism program per se, but they do have the world-famous Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. Along with their celebrated fellowship programs, they also have a strong web presence, and the Nieman Watchdog site is just one important part of that presence. Operating under the motto "Questions the press should ask", the Watchdog project helps the press ask penetrating questions. On their homepage, they offer up some of their highlights, including recent commentaries on issues that may not be receiving enough critical coverage in the media, along with links to compelling blogs. The "Showcase" section is quite a tour-de-force, as it features best practices and innovative features across the news media. Recent features here have included a primer on US detainee policy and links to extended investigations on the restructuring of the FBI after 9/11. The site is rounded out by a search engine and by the inclusion of their own in-house blog. [KMG]

General Interest

Conversations about Creativity

For the most part, creative people tend to be rather engaging interview subjects, and this website corroborates that statement. Located on the Cecil Vortex site, this site brings together interviews with a wide range of creative types, including poets, web innovators, choreographers, visual artists, playwrights, clowns, stand-up comics, and screenwriters. Along the way, Cecil Vortex asks his interviewees about everything from the creative process to coping with (or embracing) success. Some of the more notable gems here are interviews with Dan Piraro (creator of the slightly off-beat "Pizarro" comic) and Daniel Handler, who is perhaps better known as "Lemony Snicket". Visitors can also sign up to receive RSS feeds from the site, so they will always be on top of the latest interview as it is posted online. [KMG]

Notable New Yorkers [pdf, Real Player]

Lets face it: There have been hundreds of "notable" New Yorkers, and picking even those individuals who grew up in just one of the city's hundreds of neighborhoods would be hard. Fortunately, the good souls at the History Research Office of the Columbia University Libraries have plucked out some great interviews with ten New Yorkers from their rather prodigious collection. Now, before visitors jump into the interviews, they should take a look at one (or all three) of Dr. Ronald J. Greles background essays offered up here on the homepage. Dr. Grele is the director emeritus of the Oral History Research Office and here he comments on the history of the Office, the list of "Notable New Yorkers", and the social and cultural milieu of both New York and the entire nation during the time period when these interviews were conducted in the last five decades of the 20th century. After these introductions, visitors should go over to the interviews, which include conversations with noted psychologist Kenneth Clark, famed publisher and humorist Bennett Cerf, and former New York mayor, Edward I. Koch. [KMG]

Inscribing Meaning: Writing + Graphic Systems in African Art [Macromedia Flash Player]

The power of the written word and its graphic form is a subject that has fascinated humankind for millennia. This relationship within the world of African art is explored by this nice online exhibit offered by the National Museum of African Art. Working with the Fowler Museum at UCLA, the exhibit looks at how various writing traditions have communicated a wide range of ideas, such as those regarding religious traditions, cultural activities, and so on. The exhibit is divided into sections titled "Ways of Knowing", "Inscribing the Body", "Sacred Scripts", and "Writing Politics". While all of the sections are worthy of attention, the Sacred Scripts section is a great place to start. Here, visitors can look at a talismanic Qur'an board from the Sudan and learn about the importance of amulets to the Limba peoples of Sierra Leone. [KMG] [pdf]

Taking a cue from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) is interested in promoting media literacy and citizen journalism "of, by and for the people." To achieve this goal, they publish a quarterly investigative journal, their "Spin of the Day", and the very useful PR Watch website. On the site, they investigate and craft critical appraisals of various public relations media. Recently, they have looked at the "green" claims made by print advertisements for various automobiles and media claims about other products. Visitors can browse through the latest material added to the site here, and they will also want to look at their investigative series as well. One particularly noteworthy set of pieces is titled "The Politics and PR of Cervical Cancer", authored by the associate director of the CMD, Judith Siers-Poisson. Overall, the site is a good resource for journalists and for people who are just plain curious about the world of journalism and investigative reporting. [KMG]

Human Rights [Macromedia Flash Player]

The idea of "human rights" is a relatively new development in history, but as this website from Britains National Archives notes in its discussion of the long trajectory of struggles for equality and so forth, "We could do worse than characterizing this history as the struggle for human rights." This visually compelling online exhibit uses original documents from The National Archives to take a long view of these struggles and movements. Visitors can start their journey through the site by picking a time period, and then reading an introductory essay on the period. Each time period includes a timeline and links to digitized version of relevant documents, such as The Poor Act of 1601 and a poster for a Staffordshire coal miners union public meeting from 1831. The site is rounded out by a thorough glossary and a document index. [KMG]

Southwestern Historical Quarterly Online

The Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) has created a number of very fine online resources over the past few years, including The Handbook of Texas Online. Recently, they placed the first fifty years of the esteemed Southwestern Historical Quarterly online right here, and those with a passion for history will not be disappointed. Visitors can search the archive, which includes every issue of the Quarterly from July 1897 to April 1947. More casual users may just want to browse the contents by author, title, date, or volume. Looking over the many years, historians will appreciate the developments within the field of academic history, and even changes in tone and viewpoint are evident over the decades. Overall, its a great resource, and one that will merit several return visits. [KMG]

The Brain Matters [Macromedia Flash Player]

Understanding how the brain works can be difficult, and understanding how brain disorders work can be equally as taxing and complex. One nice online resource for understanding both subjects is "The Brain Matters" site, created by the American Academy of Neurology Foundation. About a dozen brain disorders are covered within the site, including epilepsy, brain injury, Alzheimer's disease, and stroke. For each disorder, visitors can learn about how the disorder works, its cause, its symptoms, and how it is properly diagnosed. For some visitors, the most helpful sections may be the individual "Patient Story" section, which gives visitors the opportunity to read about the personal experience of an individual who is living with one of these disorders. [KMG]

International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives [pdf, Real Player]

Founded in 1990 in New York, the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) is a broad international association of local governments and related units of governance committed to sustainable development. The ICLEI provides support to their members through technical consulting and training programs, and their website also serves as a clearinghouse for this material, along with offering additional items, including research reports, newsletters, and policy briefs. On their homepage, visitors can read about their latest news, check job postings, and also learn about recent developments from their members. Most visitors will want to continue their exploration of the site by clicking over to the "Programs" area. Here they can learn about their "Cities for Climate Protection" campaign, read up on their biodiversity initiative, and take a look at their tools for creating sustainable cities. [KMG]

Network Tools

SlimBrowser 4.10

There are many web browsers out there, but SlimBrowser 4.10 has some defining features that warrant a look. This latest version has the ability to render RSS feeds into readable web pages and visitors can also customize the appearance of the browser with over 100 unique skins. Additionally, this version also includes online translation capabilities and a form filler. SlimBrowser 4.10 is compatible with computers running Windows 95 and above. [KMG]

VLC Media Player 0.8.6c

Some media players play just a few formats, but VLC Media Player 0.8.6c an handle just about any format. The player supports more common formats (such as mp3s and DivX) and a number of less common media formats. Some users will also find VLCs ability to function as a streaming media server to be tremendously useful. This version is compatible with computers running Windows 95 and above or Mac OS X and above. [KMG]

In The News

Baijis, a rare Yangtze river dolphin, "now extinct"

Pollution Leaves Beloved Dolphin Of Yangtze 'Functionally' Extinct

Yangtze River Dolphin

Yangtze River

Alarm sounded for Yangtze River

World Conservation Union Red List of Threatened Species

How are species classed as extinct?

Researchers recently spent six weeks along the Yangtze River searching for the Yangtze River dolphin, and the search has produced no evidence of the species. Prior to this most recent search, the dolphins had been listed as "critically endangered" and are now believed to be extinct. The Yangtze River dolphin or baiji is the only living representative of an entire family of mammals, which diverged from all other river dolphins more than 20 million years ago. The white, freshwater dolphin had a long, narrow beak and low dorsal fin; lived in groups of three or four and fed on fish. The Yangtze Basin is home to over 10% of the world's human population and pollution concerns along with illegal and legal fishing practices have placed a large number of species into the category of "critically endangered". If the extinction of the baiji is confirmed, it would be the first extinction of a large vertebrate in over 50 years. Researchers noted, "Unlike most historical-era extinctions of large bodied animals, the baiji was the victim not of active persecution but incidental mortality resulting from massive-scale human environmental impacts - primarily uncontrolled and unselective fishing." With the loss of the baiji, Chinese officials, scientists, and marine conservationists are making moves to protect other endangered species found in and along the Yangtze River including the finless porpoise, the Chinese alligator, and the Chinese Paddlefish. [CMH]

The first link is a piece from the Washington Post discussing the announcement of the baijis extinction and details of the search. The second link leads visitors to the Zoological Society of London's EDGE programme, which works with researchers around the globe to prevent total extinction. Here visitors will find more information on the Yangtze River dolphin including photos and a video. The third link leads to the World Wildlife Fund's Yangtze River section, the short piece describes many of the environmental issues facing the river as well as information about what steps are being taken to improve the conditions in and around the river. A BBC news article is the fourth link and it further discusses the serious list of problems facing the Yangtze River inhabitants both human and animal. For more information on species facing imminent danger, the fifth link leads to the World Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened Species. Finally, if you have ever wondered about the process for declaring a species extinct, the last link from the BBC explains how a species earns the dubious distinction of extinction. [CMH]

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