Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything

Therapy Snakes Redux

Another data point in support of the idea of therapy snakes: CBC News reports on a couple of rescued Burmese pythons that have been put to work by Nova’s Ark, a zoo just north of Whitby, Ontario that focuses on special-needs children.

(Anyone else notice the reporter making the distinction between Burmese and rock pythons? That’s very interesting.)

Previously: Therapy Snakes.

The PQ Charter’s Unintended Consequences

The Parti Québécois saw its Charter of Values a vote-getter, a popular measure intended to help it win the next election. Well, obviously it didn’t. The conventional wisdom during the campaign was that the electorate was more in favour of the Charter than against it, but the Charter was well down on the list of priorities. Since the PQ’s rout at the polls earlier this month, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Charter did the PQ more harm than good.

Sure, the people who bitterly and vehemently opposed the Charter were never going to vote PQ, but that didn’t mean that the Charter’s opponents didn’t matter. For one thing, as Claire Durand points out in La Presse, the Charter drove up voter turnout among non-francophone voters. While overall turnout was down a few points over 2012, turnout was up significantly in places like West Island Montréal and the Pontiac. And the non-francophone vote tipped massively toward the Liberals: 93 percent, up 17 points since 2012. Durand notes three electoral districts in the Montreal area with significant non-francophone populations that flipped from the PQ to the Liberals. (Meanwhile, the PQ appears to have narrowly won the francophone vote, but its share dropped six points since 2012.)

Less quantifiable is the Charter’s effect in mobilizing not just voters, but activists. The Charter was sufficient, Martin Patriquin writes in Maclean’s, to get former Quebec premier Daniel Johnson Jr. off the bench and working behind the scenes for the Liberal campaign’s war room.

The PQ’s brain trust was too clever by half; they thought the reaction they’d be provoking was in the rest of Canada, not Quebec. And they forgot that intensity matters. The debate over gun control is a textbook example: gun control has more people in favour than against it in Canada, but its opponents are really opposed to it, and are willing to back that opposition with donations, activism and other means.

The lesson should be clear enough: don’t motivate your opponents more than your supporters.

My Camera Usage

In March 2013 I bought a Nikon D7100, my third digital SLR since 2006. Lately I’ve been wondering whether doing so was strictly necessary, given how often I use my iPhone as a camera.

So I counted up the photos I’ve posted to Flickr since then. Turns out I still use the digital SLR a fair bit; it’s the pocket cameras that don’t get used much any more:

Camera used for photos I uploaded to Flickr since March 25, 2013
Camera used to take photos I’ve uploaded to Flickr since March 25, 2013

The S100 was mainly used on a trip where I deliberately left the digital SLR behind; the AW100, a ruggedized, water-resistant camera, got brought out in wet or winter conditions. The D7100 was used for deliberate photography: wildlife photography, newsworthy events (such as a fire next door) and science fiction conventions. The iPhone was my walkabout camera and my cats-are-being-cute camera — very much the “best camera is the one that’s with you” — but would have done very poorly in lieu of the D7100 or the AW100.

Tracks and Shadows

Book cover: Tracks and Shadows Field biologists’ memoirs can often be a hit-or-miss affair, but Harry W. Greene’s Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art is definitely more hit than miss, precisely because it is much more than a memoir.

Greene, who writes far too well for a biologist, is the author of the highly lauded Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature (1997). That book combined science, photography and personal experience in a lyrical and literate fashion, and may well have been the only snake book to win a literary award.

In Tracks and Shadows, the mix is more personal. In tracing the origins of his own career, parallelling it with that of Henry S. Fitch (1909-2009), a major figure in herpetology, Greene ably sketches out the why of fieldwork. Too many stories deal with the travel and the chase but elide the purpose of going out into the field to collect snakes; Greene shows us the science.

It’s a personal viewpoint, but this is not an autobiography; little of Greene’s personal life is mentioned past graduate school. There is plenty to indicate why a former mortician’s assistant and army medic became a herpetologist, less that reveals how he writes as well as he does. The scholar fades into the background of his own work: present as a field biologist in the context of a discourse on field biology.

As for that work, Greene is a snake ethologist: his research focuses on snake behaviour — why snakes behave the way they do, from hunting to defence to reproduction. The best parts of the books are the discoveries: his dissertation showing that primitive snakes all constrict in the same fashion, implying that constriction as a tactic is ancient; the discovery that night snakes predate on diurnal prey during the day; the evidence of parental and social behaviour in black-tailed rattlesnakes. The idea that there is more going on in those little serpentine heads than we expected is frankly quite exciting. Greene’s elegant writing cannot help but make that excitement infectious.

Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art
by Harry W. Greene
University of California Press, October 2013
Buy at Amazon (Kindle) | publisher’s page | Goodreads | LibraryThing

The Only Fantasy World Map You’ll Ever Need

The Only Fantasy World Map You'll Ever Need

The Only Fantasy World Map You’ll Ever Need by Jake Manley isn’t the first map of its kind that I’ve seen (see also the map in Diana Wynne Jones’s Tough Guide to Fantasyland); still, it’s clear that fantasy maps are a proven vehicle to satirize and critique the genre. (And be satirized and critiqued.) Via @scalzi.

Importing CanVec Data into OpenStreetMap

Last February I imported CanVec data into OpenStreetMap for the first time.

CanVec is a dataset produced by the federal Department of Natural Resources. It’s been made available to use in OpenStreetMap: users have to download the data for a given area and import it into the OSM database.

It’s a great resource, but I’ve been giving CanVec the side eye for years, largely because OSM users had been bungling the imports and not cleaning up the mess they made. To some extent it also encouraged a certain amount of laziness from Canadian OSM users: why go to the trouble of tracing imagery or going out with a GPS if you could just download the data from the Natural Resources FTP server?

That said, most of my complaints were from a few years ago; it’s been a while since I’ve seen a CanVec-induced mess in the database (for example, doubled or even tripled roads imported on top of one another). And between existing imports and the improved Bing aerial and satellite imagery coverage, there weren’t many places I was aware of that I could, you know, try a CanVec import for myself.

Except one.

Continue reading this entry

Art and Personal Mapmaking

Book cover: Map Art LabBook cover: Make Map Art

Two books (well, one is sort of book-ish) related to map art and personal cartography to tell you about:

  1. Map Art Lab: 52 Exciting Art Explorations in Mapmaking, Imagination, and Travel by Jill K. Berry and Linden McNeilly (Quarry Books, 5/14): “map-related activities set into weekly exercises, beginning with legends and lines, moving through types and styles, and then creating personalized maps that allow you to journey to new worlds.”

  2. Make Map Art: Creatively Illustrate Your World by Nate Padavick and Salli Swindell (Chronicle Books, 2/14), a “creative toolkit” that includes a booklet and 30 pull-out sheets to use as templates for personal mapmaking projects.

Via Fuck Yeah Cartography.

Jill Kelly’s previous work, Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed-Media Mapmaking, was reviewed here in 2011.

WQSB Contracts Audited

The Pontiac Journal reports the results of an audit the Western Quebec School Board commissioned into its own procurement and contracting policies, this done in the wake of allegations of impropriety involving a WQSB director and a construction company. (More from the Journal here and here; a newspaper website should really timestamp its articles, you know?) But buried in the lede, and apparently unrelated to the O’Shea allegations, are revelations that contracts were done rather sloppily: non-compliant contracts, single-bid contracts without price verification, that sort of thing. It smells of incompetence rather than malfeasance. Take, for example, a surprising amount of money that had been spent on contracts for cleaning services:

For example, for the 2001-2002 school year, the cleaning contract for South Hull Elementary School was $40,131 and in 2012-2013 it reached $83,665, but for 2013-2014 the contract dropped to $37,098. For Eardley Elementary, the cleaning contract was $20,713 for the 2001-2002 school year. In 2010-2011 it jumped to $156,563 from $36,432 in 2009-2010. In 2011-2012 it reached a staggering $173,668. For the 2013-2014 school year the school board changed service providers and the price dropped to $23,144.

That’s astonishing: cleaning services for just two of the WQSB’s five urban elementary schools had ballooned to nearly a quarter million dollars a year. But those services now cost $60,000 a year — a savings of $180,000. How could one contractor justify $173,668 for a job another contractor could do for seven and a half times less? Anyone who recalls the stress and angst over the Board’s proposal to close schools (such as Shawville’s elementary school) to make up a million-dollar shortfall last year should be shaking with rage right now.

The Geology of ‘Game of Thrones’

The Geology of Game of Thrones

In The Geology of Game of Thrones, a group of geologists has created a geologic map of Westeros and Essos, as well as an invented geologic history of the planet on which George R. R. Martin’s epic takes place. Via io9.

This isn’t the first time a fantasy world has been looked at through a geologic lens. Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle-earth took a reasonably rigorous look at the landforms of Middle-earth. And Antony Swithin — a geologist in real life under his real name, William Sarjeant — created a geologic map of his invented island of Rockall (see previous entry).

Previously: Review: The Lands of Ice and Fire.

Pontiac’s Voting History

Pontiac's Voting History, 1981-2014
Pontiac’s Voting History, 1981-2014

A graphical look at the Pontiac electoral district’s voting history since 1981. “Nationalist right” includes the Union Nationale, ADQ and CAQ; “separatist left” includes Québec Solidaire and its antecedents as well as Option Nationale.

Obviously this has been a safe Liberal seat for a very long time; what’s interesting is the fluctuation in voter turnout.

Older Entries

2014 Quebec Election: Pontiac Results
Ottawa Valley Twang
A Snake Science Roundup
Unlikely Cartography ToC
2014 Quebec Election: Pontiac Candidates
Trap Street, the Movie
The Snake Charmer
Ecdysis Editorial Posted
Snake Handling and Freedom of Religion
Ecdysis 2
Reality Show Snake Handler Dies
Ganymede and Mercury
Lyle Lanley Moves On
A Map of U.S. Intercity Bus and Train Routes
A Book About Globes
Mapping How Much Snow Cancels School
Fun with Power Lines
Two More Map Books