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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Farewell, Silver Bird Presented at Library of Congress

Karolina Kolmanic's Farewell, Silver Bird, a story of love and danger set in Slovenia during World War II, has been presented to the Library of Congress by Vladimir Kolmanic, who is a member of the Slovenian diplomatic corps in Washington, DC.

Vladimir Kolmanic

Karolina Kolmanic, Farewell, Silver Bird

To order a copy, please visit this website.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

UFO Artifacts in Ojuelos, Jalisco, México

"Fernando has something he wants you to take a look at," said my dad. He gestured toward the third drawer in the dresser drawer where he kept maps, pencils, geological reports, notepads, envelopes and stamps.

He and Fernando shared a fascination with treasure hunting. So, I had a feeling it might have something to do with buried treasure, but I was not quite sure what.

I opened up the drawer, and in it was a box a bit larger than a cigar box. Inside were what looked to be carved and polished volcanic rock, something like the gangue one might find in Magdalena, Jalisco, in the opal mines. In addition, were dark polished volcanic rocks; I could not tell what they were, but they were quite heavy; if not ultra-mafic, definitely mafic.

The red-cream polished rocks (opal host rock, I believe) were carved into cylindrical beads.

The ultramafic dark gray stone was carved into disks and also into something that resembled a ceremonial knife. My mind immediately gravitated toward the cenotes of Yucatan where such items were found along with human bones and other incidentals.

Each item had carvings. In the center of each, where one might expect to see a human face was the unmistakable red ant-shaped head of the "Great Grey" variety of alien beings.  Coincidence?  I started to think so. But, I started look more closely, and to my surprise, I found little rounded mini-pyramid-like shapes which looked like the same vintage extraterrestrial equipage as the alien heads.  Curious, I looked more closely at each of the beads, disks, and knife.

To my astonishment, little worm-like carvings were, upon closer inspection, easily recognizable as spacemen, or astronauts, as you'd see in the early NASA program (1960s Gemini). There was one that even looked a bit more advanced - something of a body double for Neil Armstrong making his "One Step / Giant Leap" footprint on the cultural consciousness of the world.

"Did you take a look at these?" I asked my dad.

"No," he said. "Your sister thinks they're fakes. She said she saw glue."

"Did she say anything else?" I asked. "Fakes,  replicas, reproductions, sure.  But of what?"

"Fernando says they are 10,000 years old, and that there are lot more where these came from."

I held the knife with the alien face and what looked to be a flying saucer.  Then, I held up the ultramafic dark gray basaltic disk which had a prominent alien face in the center.

"Well. What we have is incontrovertible evidence of the visitation of alien beings, and the coexistence of aliens and ancient Mexican civilizations," I said, smiling. "Now we know how they obtained the technology needed to construct their amazing structures, and to create such detailed calendars."

I know it sounded as though I was mocking a bit, but I really was not. Of course, my first impulse is to be quite skeptical and to not believe it. I did not believe for a minute that what I held had actually been created 10,000 years ago. But, could they be replicas of something that really was that old?  Again, I doubted it, but I wanted to believe.

... Forbidden Planet  // Lost in Space //

The first thing I did was to do an online search on "Extraterrestrial UFO artifacts in Mexico."  I came up with all kinds of references to discoveries in Chiapas in the ancient city of Palenque. There were carvings that had been widely interpreted to be a Mayan piloting a spaceship. The interpretation was a bit fanciful, in my opinion, and the depiction made me think of the astronauts piloting their craft in 2001: A Space Odyssey. They did not look much like the artifacts that Fernando had presented my dad, but it was enough to convince me that there were, at least, numerous cases of artifacts purporting to document UFO / extraterrestrial contact with ancient civilizations.

"You know, if these really are 10,000 years old, Fernando could go to jail," I said. "I don't want to be involved in that. I don't want to hang out in a Mexican jail."

"He did not say anything about jail," said my dad.  He wanted you to take a look at them.

I doubted that my dad would pass on my thoughts.  He did not want to alienate Fernando, who was one of the few non-family members who visited my dad at the assisted living center where my dad was consigned to live after a series of health crises and complete failure at two rehab centers.  Now, he was better, but I know that it was very hard for him to think that he would never be able to go back home, and would spend entire days not leaving the room. Visits from the outside were tremendous bright spots.

I did not think much about them until the next week when I received a text message from Fernando. "Did you have a chance to take a look at the items I left with your dad?"

"They are interesting! I researched Mexican space alien artifacts. Are these from Palenque? Mayan?" I asked,

"Oh, no. They are from Jalisco. Ojuelos."

That surprised me. In looking at the map, I found that Ojuelos was located in the northeast tip of the state of Jalisco, far from Guadalajara, due east of Aguascalientes.

I spoke to a friend of mine who grew up on a ranch near San Miguel Los Altos that had no running water, no indoor plumbing. He and his 13 brothers and sisters dispersed to Mexico City, Guadalajara, and other cities in order obtain education and work.

"Ojuelos is a part of Jalisco that is totally desert and the main products are tunas."


"Prickly pear fruit," he responded.

I could not imagine surviving on the proceeds of prickly pear fruit. They must of have been quite poor.  My friend seemed to read my mind.

"My father used to say that he could not imagine a more hard-scrabble place. He used to hire people from Ojuelos because they so desperately needed work, but he said it was tough. They had no equipment. No tools. Just their bodies."

I was filled with admiration for the enterprising ones who decided to manufacture an alien encounter back in deep caves.

Further contemplation of the artifacts led to a few observations:

1.  Encounters with aliens, gods, or mystical beings often take place in the poorest of poor places, where the people have suffered. The examples are almost countless: medieval mystics (Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, St. John of the Cross); the various Virgin Mary sightings (Virgen of Guadelupe, Virgen of Caacupe, Virgen of the Apocalypse in Quito, Ecuador, etc.).

2.  Inexplicable building techniques are most easily explained by means of space aliens, extraterrestrials, etc., and the uses of the different buildings are assumed to correspond to current customs. This is particularly the case of the Egyptian pyramids. In terms of interpreting the uses of the buildings, I'm reminded of the Anglo-Saxon work, The Ruin, which describes Roman ruins. They were bath houses which even had plumbing (of lead, unfortunately) and systems of heating and cooling the water. The rooms, now empty, were said by the Anglo-Saxon author to be "mead halls" where people joined together in "beorshipe" (literally, "beership" which meant fellowship and friendship). Well, they were partially right -- friendship, but by maintaining cleanliness, not huddling in skins and furs, eating roasted meat off the pointed tips of knives in smoky rooms illuminated by open fires.

3.  When there are human events of great destructive force, it's perhaps not surprising to see a sudden flurry of sightings of angels
and space aliens who purport to be emissaries from a different dimension with a message of hope, support, (but generally apocalypse) for a powerful rallying cry.

4.  According to the Mexicans who have had contact with the artifacts, they are real. In fact, there are a few prominent (at least on YouTube) Mexicans who assert that there is something really remarkable about the Ojuelos artifacts. Supposedly, the transmit energy.

And that fact brings me to my next observation, which is that people are always eagerly seeking transforming energy.

The more I research this topic, the more I find and it's hard to imagine that all of it is of post-Forbidden Planet sci-fi provenance.

On some level the space alien carvings are real. All these artifacts are authentic. That is to say that they were carved by hand. But, are they really depicting space aliens? Were they really carved 10,000 years ago? They resemble 1950s pop culture representations of alien encounters. But, just because they resemble a phenomenon in our world, does that mean our interpretation is correct?

Again Anglo Saxons in early England come to mind. Long-abandoned Roman baths were"mead halls." They thought "beor shipe" when the Romans thought "spa day." Kant's synthetic a priori comes into play here. We can't transcend the cognitive or conceptual frame we've created for ourselves. So, what do we do?

I read an article where a supposed 10,000 year-old human skull-size carving which looked all the world to be the pinched head of a space alien was sold for $4 million.

Perhaps that's what Fernando had in mind.

Unfortunately, I don't think his alien-head skull carving would fetch a million dollars.  I found a place on where you could buy 1 - 2 inch long "space alien skulls" from Mexico for $10.99, shipping and handling included for Amazon Prime members.

Actually, they looked like they could do double-duty and be skulls (Calaveras) for Día de los Muertos as well as alien skulls.

Oh, and let's not forget how everything has been turned into fodder for a tourist spectacle; the most desirable are the ones that maintain themselves aloofly Post- PoMo, tongue in cheek, as they assert their position at the top of a boho-chic hierarchy.

And, I guess that's what it all boils down to. Some are hard and Machiavellian. Others are simply the dreamers who might have had benign dreams if they had not become infected with the twin fevers of quick profits and quick "mesalliances" with "outsiders" whom they think deserving of a good pecuniary scalping.

I'm a dreamer and I'd like the artifacts to be real.

Friday, August 25, 2017

New Certification and Micro-Credentialing

In 2016 and continuing through the summer of 2017, a number of universities offering either a traditional face-to-face 2-year MBA, or an executive MBA, began confirming what many observed: enrollments started to drop, and students and employers commented that the cost had risen too high. Students and employers could not justify the cost due to a lack of return on investment.

People are turning to alternatives such as micro-credentialing which forms the core part of a competency-based learning program. Even Google is offering micro-credentials in its G-Suite for Education, which helps students develop skills using its cloud-based software.

Organizations are developing fast-track certification and micro-credentialing programs in response to quickly evolving industries and the need to obtain and demonstrate mastery with specific skills and knowledge.  Some of the emerging areas include new data analytics techniques, new areas of medical technology, home health care provider management, hospitality marketing, technology entrepreneurship, drones and UAV operation and analytics, urban organic farming, and more. 

Certification providers include companies with specialized experience and experts, colleges and universities, professional associations, and government agencies.
  •  Assessment to determine needs for new skills and knowledge
  •  Emerging needs aligned with certificates
  •  Situated learning: connect knowledge and skill to real-life setting
  •  Fast-Track Certification: Fewer courses, tighter timeline
  •  Characteristics of a “Fast-Track” program
  •  Digital badges used to motivate
  •  Content quality control to assure relevance of the content
  •  Assessment strategies to apply knowledge and skills in real-life situations
  •  Collaboration to encourage learning from each other
Mini-credentialing and certification programs appeal to individuals who need to expand their skills, and to do It quickly. Ideally, an individual should be able to complete their training within six months. In addition, the program should be affordable so that there is a very clear positive return on investment which more than pays for itself in increased income, expanded opportunities, and enhanced adaptability.

Big Data and Machine Learning: Susan Smith Nash and seismic lines for the Gulf of Mexico

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Russian Horror Film, "The Bride" (2017) Does Not Disappoint

I recently saw the Russian horror film, The Bride (Svyatoslav Podgayevskiy, 2017).  The film is often listed as HEBECTA (pronounced Nevestia – which means “The Bride” or “The Fiancee”).

Any good horror film worth its salt is subversive. This film reminded me of that.

Okay, to start, let me make a confession. I’m not a fan of horror films. In fact, I would say that I avoid them whenever I can. I’m not sure why I thought that the Russian film, “The Bride” would be a chick flick. Probably because I did not watch the trailer. I was also wrong in thinking that it would be in Russian with English subtitles.  It was dubbed. So, I was prepared to be underwhelmed.

To my surprise, I liked it. And, I was reminded that horror is something that, if it’s really good, gives you insight into the dynamics of our social and political milieu, but in coded form, if you will.

Like the best horror films, the premise is of a scientific breakthrough and technology gone horribly wrong, combined with creepy anthropology and folklore.

Moscow University. Professor is talking about two things: first, the belief in the 19th century that the silver emulsions used in photography captured not just the image but the essence of the soul of the subject. So, they took to taking photographs of their dead loved ones .. painting eyes on their eyelids.

Second, the ancient Slavic belief that a wedding ceremony was actually a funeral ceremony for the bride, because she was dead to her old life – hence, the bridal veil (inspired by shrouds used to wrap the cadaver), the color white (of death; “purity” would have been good old nunnery and nun’s habit black), and the flowers.

Now, in the case of the movie, the bride died, and so a replacement bride was found to inter with the dead girlfriend and a silver emulsion containing her soul, with the hope that the silver plate would be as potent as lightning in Frankenstein’s laboratory. Yeah, a bit weak, and very derivative, but the fact that the entire film was shot in Moscow and the Moscow Oblast made it interesting.

So, here is a checklist underpinning ideas and psychological / existential anxieties:
Fear of women’s sexuality: CHECK
Suspicion of technology: CHECK
Belief in the suppression of scientific discoveries of the 19th century: CHECK
Belief in a hungry, devouring, undead entity that seeks to steal your healthy body, will killing your soul: CHECK
Belief that the body-snatcher is consumer culture?? NO NON NYET NYET NYET
Belief that the body-snatching soul-stealer is the GOVERNMENT (or that the “Bride” is ‘gasp' a politician!) CHECK CHECK CHECK

The special effects of horror leave me cold. I am disgusted by them.  I do not care to see wormy cadavers, or to vicariously experience a rotted zombie female checking to make sure that the prospective new bride is a virgin so she can consign her soul to her rotting cadaver, thus using the new, living bride for her evil designs.

Okay, I liked the Russian house. It made me think of the Romanov times, and the museums I visited in Russia. I also recognize the metonymical significance of secret passages, hallways, and ducts in the old house. The metonymical potential of the silver nitrate images on glass, and the images of candles, winding stairways, foggy trackless forests are also clear to me. I enjoy them, but they are like eating candy corn for breakfast. You’ve just substituted discounted Halloween candy for the tough, bitter, adult palate that prefers something steel-cut.

The subversive elements of The Bride have to do with the vexed relationship a culture has with its past. The past is usually mythologized, and history is hammered into a weapon or a plowshare to do the bidding of the one's in power. To have a past that persists, and actually devours today is quite a subversive message, especially in a culture that tries to build on past accomplishments to reinforce a national identity capable of cohering and fending off outside threats.  To have a being from the past who insists on taking over the body of a young, virginal woman admits that there is a profound fear of one's own latent impulses. Dostoevsky's doppelgangers (The Double and Notes from Underground) are alive and well.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Free Canvas Tutorials for Instructors and Designers

Canvas is a virtual learning environment and also a learning management system that makes it easy to collaborate through its incorporation of Google Apps.

It is also ideal for individuals who would like to offer their own course, since individual accounts are free.

The flexibility of Canvas has made it the LMS of choice for MOOCs, and many universities are transitioning to it because it is easy to integrate and can be launched with a minimum of disruption.
I've put together two collections of video tutorials for Canvas. Here are six samples that I've uploaded into a YouTube playlist.

Here's the link to the playlist 

Here are the titles:
Planning and designing using learning objectives
Building collaborative presentations


Learning through Collaboration

Assessment and Learning Objectives in Canvas
For More
Overview of the full Quick Start Guide to Canvas Video Course (with free sample):  35 modules / more than three hours of video guidance

 Overview of Canvas for Collaboration (with free sample) - 30 modules / 3 hours 10 minutes of instruction

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Drones and UAV Software

Software for drones and UAVs cover a wide spectrum of possibilities. They range from very basic cloud-based applications that you download onto your smartphone or tablet, to extremely sophisticated programs that will allow you to work with all kinds of data from many sources, including photogrammetry, thermal, hyperspectral, multispectral, laser, and more. Some programs and packages have a steep learning curve, while others are intuitive and you can develop basic maps and 3D images within a matter of hours.

Images: Pix4D

But, let’s start with the basics.

What will you be using your drone-derived images for?  Let’s think about this a moment. Most drones and UAVs are used to create 3D images and also to try to detect anomalies.  So, what that means in practical terms is that you’ll need to be able to generate geo-referenced images that can be moved, manipulated, and rotated for a better look.  You’ll also need to be able to process data so that the values correspond to different colors, so that any anomalies really “pop” as in a heat map.

The second most basic issue is that of storage space and connectivity. If you’re able to use your phone and you have a good signal, you can take advantage of cloud-solutions and you can gather a lot more data. If not, you’re going to be stuck with what you can carry onboard, which means your sampling rate is going to have to go down quite significantly. It also means that you’re better off with a software package which allows you to adjust your sampling rate.

Keep in mind that software that contains pre-prepared applications will limit you, and you may not even know how you’re being limited. But, unless you’re NASA, a military contractor or a movie studio, chances are it’s not in your budget to pay millions of dollars for your drone’s software.

Here are some of the most widely-used drone software packages. Some are aimed more toward the lighter businesses uses, and others are appropriate for very demanding commercial applications.

In addition, some of the software includes flight planning as well as processing of the digital data once it has been acquired. Are you ready to upgrade your drone? Check out drones for sale.

It is good to keep in mind that for every day you spend in the field collecting information, you’ll spend at least two days at your computer in processing the information. You’ll spend even more if you use the data in the future for additional purposes, such as creating models for games or building simulations. 

DroneDeploy’s UAV mapping software is often the first mapping software that people use after they buy their first drone. It offers more tools and options than many of the software packages that come with the drones, and has the huge advantage of having a free “lite” version. With DroneDeploy, you can upload your data to the cloud. DroneDeploy gives you four main categories of images to choose from. Although they may not provide a wide array of options, they are easy and quick to use.
  •             Orthomosaics: Georeferenced, orthorectified
  •             Terrain models: Useful for topographic modeling. The maps have DSMs.
  •             NVDI analysis:  This is a “normalized difference vegetation index” that is used to identify live green vegetation. In this case, it is best to use a multispectral sensor.
  •             3D model:  DroneDeploy allows you to create rotatable 3D models and also point clouds.
Image: DroneDeploy
DroneDeploy is widely used in real estate, inspections, security, agricultural, and event management.  

Identified Technologies -
Identified Technologies is a robust solution for individuals and companies that use the images for construction, large infrastructure projects, massive inspection activities and more. They work well for civil and environmental engineers, as well as construction and project managers. Their programs are ideal for project management because they allow one to evaluate progress.

For a wide range of industries, with customized solutions.
  • Change Detection Technology (CDT)
  • Truck IQ
  • Contour Line Map and Orthomosaic
  • 3D Volumetric Analysis
  • As Built vs As Planned Overlay
  • Excavation Progress Tracking
  • Highway Construction 3D Model
  • Watch Fly Through Video
  • All standard mapping formats
  • Boomerang
  • ·       3D Meshes
  • ·       Contours
  • ·       Digital Surface / DSM
  • ·       Orthomosaics

Pix4D is often the program of choice for individuals and companies that need an easy to use solution that can be customized for many different uses. They are the favorite of many surveying companies because of the granularity of the georeferencing. Each 3D point in a point cloud is georeferenced. Pix4D is very robust and can be used to develop high resolution maps for commercial, industrial, and personal use.
  • Pix4Dmapper Pro: photogrammetry software for professional drone-based mapping
  • Pix4Dcapture: Flight planning mobile app for optimal mapping data with your drone
  •             Android
  •             iOS
  •             Sorts most drones // basemaps – Google Earth or ArcGIS
  • Can use any handheld camera or drone
  • Optimized
  • Direct to cloud
  • Georeferenced down to each 3D point in the point cloud
  • rayCloud editor
  • 2D and 3D models, 3D point clouds, digital surface models, and orthomosaics
  • Surveying
  • Agriculture
  • Construction
  • Real Estate

Datumate has a number of advantages for companies and individuals who focus on photogrammetry. Their software is ideal for surveying and civil engineering purposes.  They even have a case study in which they use drone photogrammetry to create 3D images of a car accident for the report. What gives their software packages an advantage is ease of use and the fact that one can process volumetrics without having a constant internet connection. I do not know if it means that you have to download the package and run it on your computer or if you are emailed a link to download the solution when it is ready. In either case, it’s very appealing
  • DatuSurvey: Photogrammetry software for land surveying, construction, infrastructure
  • DatuSite: 3D mapping software for construction and infrastructure
  • DatuFly:  Drone app for land surveying and construction
  • Site Survey Solution:  Surveying suite for civil engineering 

ENVI (Harris Corporation) -
Harris Corporation is a multi-billion dollar company that provides geographical systems support to FAA, NASA and the U.S. military.  They have provided imaging software for satellites for many years as well. Thus it is no surprise that their software for use with UAVs and drones is extremely robust and flexible.  Harris provides a wide array of industry-specific solutions, and they also allow one to integrate additional data sets with theirs, and to incorporate geographical information data sets from many different sources to build a robust, multi-layer geographical information system.

The cost of ENVI can be higher than other solutions, but if you are a company that provides analytical services, it would constitute the backbone of your business.  Large shipping, logistics, and transportation companies also use ENVI along with other integrated services.

More Software for a Future Post
Other notable image processing software for georeferenced, 3D, orthomosaics, point clouds, and more. I will review them in a future post.
End of Part 1.
Drones for Sale:

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Thou Art the Man: Sensation, Epilepsy, Genetic Determinism, and Feminine Spunk

For the podcast, click here:

Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1837-1915) is known for her sensation novels – novels written for all levels of Victorian readers, randing from those grabbing a cheap book bound in yellow covers and sold in railway stations to those who read work serialized in popular magazines (one of which she founded and ran). 

Her novels explored the dark sides and inner workings of Victorians at all levels: prim and proper professionals, landed gentry, impoverished women, people in desperate poverty. Her novels also explore secrets and the question: “What on earth do you do if you find yourself in an impossible situation?”  In that manner, she is not so far from Jane Austen, who explored the issue of women in states of abject powerlessness almost a century earlier in Sense and Sensibility. 
Mary Elizabeth Braddon in her early years when she earned her living as an actress. 

I often wonder what kind of father Mary Elizabeth Braddon had. Her books are chock-full of absolutely amoral (if not immoral) fathers, who are frauds, imposters, scam artists, wastrels, cheats, bigamists, and, in some cases sociopathic murderers.

In Thou Art the Man (1894), Braddon’s father figure plunges to a new low. He has used his friend’s fishing knife to stab a beautiful young woman to death in a dark grove simply because she rejects his proposal of marriage, which was motivated by a combination of self-interest (she had been promised a large dowry by her adopted (who turned out to be her real) father) and lust. The father figure, Hubert Urquhart, the heir apparent of an impecunious earl who married stunningly well, into wealth, beauty, and breeding, is a dissipated, gambling, vice-prone former cavalry officer, who is also a widower with a young daughter.

To listen to a reading, please visit the Librivox recording of Thou Art the Man click here

Urquhart gets away with it because his friend, Brandon Mountford, whose fishing knife he used, suffers from epilepsy and has memory losses after his convulsions. Not surprisingly, when Mountford happens across the dead woman, the sight of it triggers a grand mal seizure. He comes to consciousness with no idea what has happened. He does not think he had any reason to kill – but Victorian psychology held that epileptic seizures turned people into demons (remember, this was the age of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) who slipped into uncontrollable homicidal rages, that generally targeted lovely (and often hot-blooded) women who happened to stray into their way.

In fact, the mystery in Thou Art the Man revolves around the question of guilt and also the nature of epilepsy itself. Mountford has lived in a kind of existential horror as he has witnessed his seizure disorder slowly destroy his dreams of being an attorney, and then of love, since he was determined never to marry, have children, and potentially pass along the disease. He read the medical literature of the day which detailed the progress of the disease and the prevailing belief that the seizures transformed the sufferer into a violent beast with no self control, and later, no memory of their actions.

Exploring debilitating conditions brings to mind other sensation writers, namely Wilkie Collins. 

Three years later, Urquhart’s young daughter, Coralie, happens upon the aftermath. Mountford, thinking himself to be a ravening monster, runs away (with the help of the murderer, who wants to make Mountford look guilty). Sibyl, the wealthy heiress in love with Mountford, marries Urquhart’s brother, the Earl, because she thinks that the community thinks that she was somehow part of the murder because she helped Mountford get away. So, in this loveless situation, she moves forward with her life, until a few fate-triggering incidences happen – she helps Urquhart’s unfortunate daughter and invites her to stay with her, and a mysterious note is delivered to her by a wild-eyed possibly mad vagrant.

I’m providing a little bit of plot summary just to give you an idea of how tangled and dark the webs are that Braddon weaves, and how every little sticky thread has a secret, a hidden past, a shameful horror, and a glittering prism of feelings, ambivalence, and confusion about one’s own identity and the identity of one’s loved ones.

Unlike many of Braddon’s earlier novels, in Thou Art the Man, it’s hard to know who is the hero. I maintain it is Coralie, although in theory, it could be Lady Sibyl.  Sibyl is not as interesting, though, and even though she is the one who really solves the mystery of the murder, it is Coralie, whose ambivalence and questionable morality both problematize her and make her sympathetic. After all, she knows she is her father’s daughter, much to her growing horror.

So, when the story opens, we meet Coralie, who had been relegated to a finishing school, where she is constantly on the verge of being ejected for lack of payment, and whose clothes are so worn that she is mocked by her fellow students.  By the way, this condition is nothing extraordinary in Braddon’s novels. I can think of at least a dozen young women in Braddon’s novels, who, talented and sensitive, must bear the horrors of abject dependency on the good will of the female owner of a young ladies’ school. In Thou Art the Man, Urquhart’s daughter, Coralie, is rescued from this cold, humiliating limbo by Lady Sibyl, who gives Coralie a place to live and a dress allowance – just enough, as Coralie says, to keep her completely aware of her dependence.

And this, I think, is a good place to talk about what is really revolutionary and fresh about Braddon’s novels, and Thou Art the Man in particular.

Coralie’s voice constitutes a large part of the narrative. It’s not all of it, nor is the structure something like Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, which is, in essence, a series of letters, reports, and documents, none of which give us the calming “we live in an ordered universe” feeling of the omniscient narrator.

Coralie has her own thoughts. She innately distrusts (wise girl!) her father. When her father asks her to observe Lady Sibyl’s household and send reports, she decides to keep two journals: one for him, and one for herself. It’s fascinating to read her reports to her father, and then to read her personal diary and learn what she really thinks, and how she truly questions what is happening.

I’m not aware of any other novel that contains such a technique. What is interesting, too, is that Coralie herself has doubts about her own integrity. She readily admits that she tends to prevaricate, and that it is difficult for her to be transparent. The reader sympathizes immediately because the poor girl has been absolutely abandoned in the world except for a very damaged (and damaging) scion. Like many of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s heroines, such as Violet Tempest in Vixen, Coralie is perhaps not a hothouse orchid, but is a quick-witted and intelligent young woman, who, if not a classic beauty, an energetic, practical and attractive woman, drawn to horses and long, revitalizing walks in nature.  

Darwinian ideas are alluded to in Thou Art the Man, and they are challenged at every turn. Braddon champions the idea of self-determination, and provides refutations at every turn of the over-deterministic notions that you are and must be the product (or consequence) of your perverse parental genes.

Secrets, deception, and hidden motives are standard fare in the Victorian sensation novel. In Wilkie Collins's novels, the core dilemma is often a challenge to middle class mores and a secret longing for polygamy (or at least legitimized bigamy). The requirement for monogamy destabilizes identity and has all sorts of pernicious consequences; one being murderous tendencies, and the other, a sad longing for oblivion, usually in the form of laudanum.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s world is animated by secrets, but most are driven by the need to survive, and can be often excused as misdirected pluckiness. That is, except for the truly dissipated and scoundrel father figures, which are often undeservingly forgiven at the end.

In Thou Art the Man, perhaps the most satisfying moment comes when Hubert Urquhart meets his end. He is now an Earl. He is powerful.  He is rich. And, he is miserable and in hideously poor health, thanks to years of vicious living. The fact that he murdered the one true love of his life and then murdered his own brother never escapes the reader; nor does it escape the reader that he is part of the British aristocracy.

Yes, Braddon is subversive, but not in ways that favor anarchy. She uses sensation to problematize hierarchy, and thus encourages her female readers to dream and to envision their own personal path to self-actualization and empowerment.


Just a quick response to TinkieToes’s review: Thank you.  I recorded on Librivox as beyondutopia. I held myself back – I thought that some of the passages were almost pleading for an exaggeratedly operatic delivery.  Sensation invites the “camp” response. 

But – Coralie’s diaries and her realistic voice militated against high camp, so I read in what I thought was the most modulated and almost flat way possible. I’m a bit surprised that it was considered at all dramatic. Well. It’s good to know how others respond. At any rate, I’m very appreciative of the opportunity to read, and also of the positive response. Thank you.



Now, just a very quick aside -- Brandon Mountford is portrayed in terms that are usually reserved for the feminine. As such, the dominating rhetorical mechanism is that of pathos. The character functions to trigger feelings of empathic helplessness, objectification, abject dependency upon the action of something or someone else...  and in that dependent state, there is an erotic trigger that is, above all, unhealthy. Braddon recognizes this.

So, when Mountford is held captive in an underfunded curate's crumbling extension of his cottage, it is not too surprising that he is utterly helpless and in his impotence, he is weirdly eroticized.

I suppose at the heart of it is the idea of power dimensions and differentials: the difference between Brandon's power (absolute ZERO) and anyone else's was something utterly empowering (and intellectually eroticizing). His seizure disorder stripped away his self-determination and made him weak and vulnerable. 

The implicit message is that you can have your way with him. That may not have been true, but it was the message. And, it was the message usually reserved for females. Does it take this sort of psychological atrocity to wake us up? It is good we know how it works.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Drones for Surveys, Methane Detection, Reservoir Characterization, More

Drones are becoming an almost indispensable tool in the oil industry, especially when it is necessary to inspect land, equipment and infrastructure in hazardous or hard-to-access conditions. Drones are also important for safety and security because the information is quick, accurate, and can be easily archived. But, those applications tend to be in the mid-stream (transportation and processing) and downstream (refining and distribution) segments of the industry. But what about upstream, in the exploration and development phase of the industry? Drones are used extensively there as well; they are just more subtle, and they do not create such a ubiquitous presence. This presentation reviews the main applications of drones and UAV-derived information in upstream oil and gas, which includes drilling and operations, as well as using drones for outcrop studies that are then used to create more accurate geological models, and better reservoir characterization. Be sure to watch the video which also includes a review of quadcopters with the best flight time

This presentation covers some of the most quickly growing uses of drone / unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) uses in oil and gas exploration and development:

Site surveys in tricky terrain: Building locations, determining the best places to put the equipment and all the trucks during hydraulic fracturing, as well as positioning gates, fences, and cattle guards can be significantly expedited by using drone surveys. Seismic surveys require an evaluation of the land ahead of time. Archeological and endangered species surveys are required on many federal lands.

Oil and Gas Exploration: Direct Hydrocarbon Indicators
Surface geochemistry has been used since the very beginning: the methane seeps around the Caspian Sea in Baku, Azerbaijan, were indicators of vast reserves in the subsurface; in Tulsa “Creekology” usually meant going up the creek from where you saw an oil seep.
Now, a combination of methane seep detection and airborne gravity magnetics can be used to find “pinpoint play” reservoirs, such as pinnacle reefs in Michigan or serpentine plugs in South Texas.

Fugitive Methane Emissions
Methane detection is also used to detect fugitive emissions, which create safety hazards in pipelines and facilities.

In addition, EPA and BLM regulations require monitoring and reduction of methane emissions in oil and gas operations. While it is possible to mount static methane detectors or sniffers in compressors, gas gathering systems, and pipelines, they need to be maintained each year, and also installation can be slow. If it is necessary to install several thousand of them, the time sink can be significant. So, having airborne surveys has become a popular option. In the past, helicopters were used, because the sensors were heavy. Today, there are a number of quadcopters that have methane sensors onboard. There are different types of methane sensors, which range from sniffers, laser detectors, thermal (FLIR) with infrared, to hyperspectral.

Environmental Applications
Upstream operations must concern themselves water management, site restoration, archaeological surveys, rare / endangered species surveys, floodplain management, offshore / coastal erosion, flooding, spills, fires, and monitoring. In addition, drone surveys are useful in determining volumetrics, such as the amount of water in a pond.

Constantly Evolving Technology
Quadcopters are increasing in capacity, with longer flight times and better payloads (high-definition cameras, thermal cameras (FLIR), methane sensors, and more).  The weak link continues to be the issue of battery life: the lithium batteries average 25 minutes of flight time, and then must be recharged.

Sensors are evolving rapidly, and in the case of methane sensors, there is a rivalry among them, with spectroscopy, sniffers, optical sensors, infrared, hyperspectral, laser, and more.

Drones for Better Reservoir Characterization
Digital outcrop studies are useful in and of themselves, but when integrated with subsurface data of the same formations, the resulting models are truly surprising. They can be used to characterize reservoirs, and thus predict and depict heterogeneity, facies changes, lithology, fracture networks, and faults. The information can be used to calculate porosity and permeability, as well as to predict fluid flow and reservoir conditions.

While custom drones are used, many studies use off-the-shelf quadcopters, which are surprisingly affordable and have up to 30 minutes of flight time (bring extra batteries into the field).  

The key to developing an integrated reservoir model that includes digital outcrops and other information is developing a flexible and appropriate workflow.

  • Collect traditional information (outcrop data)
  • Digitize and georeference the conventional outcrop data
  • Collect satellite and drone-derived digital images of the same location (process and georeferenced)
  • Incorporate LIDAR (process and georeferenced)
  • Incorporate still photography (process and georeferenced)
  • Integrate all the surface data
Build a model using geocellular modeling with a program such as Schlumberger’s Petrel
After the surface digital outcrop 3D model has been created, it can be possible to find the corresponding sections and sequences in the subsurface, and then to create a cross section that reflects the seismic (synthetic seismogram) that has been correlated with the petrophysical and lithological data.  Relating the digital outcrop to the digital subsurface model can result in highly detailed seismic geomorphological models that reflect structure as well as subtle stratigraphic sequences and facies changes.

Getting started?
Drones for sale.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Loving Canvas LMS!: New Training Courses - Collaboration & Quick-Start Guide

Many colleges, universities, and training organizations are moving away from the learning management system they have used for years and are adopting Canvas.

Canvas, which is a learning management system, can also be considered a virtual learning environment (VLE) because offers cloud-based hosting and can integrate with a number of cloud applications, such as Google applications (Docs, Drive, Sheets, Slides), Microsoft 365 applications, and media hosting (YouTube, for example). In addition, Canvas encourages webinars (live and archived) by building in Big Blue Button.

Also, Canvas offers free hosting to instructors who can create their own courses (which are, in effect, MOOCs if they catch on) and offer them through Canvas’s portal.

Canvas is not as flexible as Moodle, and it does not have as many built-in templates as Moodle’s Virtual Learning Environment competitor, MoodleCloud, but it does offer remarkable simplicity.
In addition to making collaboration very easy, the SpeedGrader function in Canvas is a huge hit with students and instructors alike.

That said, changing to a new LMS can be daunting, even if you are very familiar with Blackboard, D2L, Moodle, as well as the commercial solutions.

Easing the pain of transition was one of my main goals of putting together training courses.  I also really wanted to help unlock the joy of discovery, unleashed creativity, and productive collaboration which is possible with Canvas.

Rather counter-intuitively, I started with Collaboration with Canvas.  I wanted to help students, instructors, and administrators jump in and explore the many ways in which Canvas facilitates collaboration.

People learn from each other. Moodle has long made a discussion / forum-focused approach the cornerstone of connectivist / connectionist learning theory.  Canvas embraces this approach, as people can easily share and collaborate on documents and presentations in order to create group projects and portfolios.  Also, Canvas makes it possible to use the discussion board as a blog and to subscribe to it via RSS feed.

Canvas for Collatoration
Canvas for Collaboraiton
 At any rate, I explored these and many other ways to collaborate in Canvas for Collaboration, which is a 6-unit, 30 module course:
  • How Canvas works for many different applications
  • Canvas and collaborative activities for academic applications
  • Group editing best practices
  • Using Canvas for event planning
  • Using Canvas for building a product with distributed team members
  • How to collaborate to demonstrate learning goals and compliance
  • How to assess the end products of collaborations
  • Collaborating using different types of media
  • Compliance training
Quick Start Guide for Collaboration
Quick-Start Guide for Canvas
Then, I backed up a bit and created a 6-unit, 30 module course on getting started in Canvas. Entitled Quick Start Guide for Courses in Canvas,, the objective is to provide all you need to create great courses in Canvas.

This course is a practical guide filled with examples. It covers the basic and advanced concepts of Canvas. Every recipe is as simple as possible without compromising creativity.

In this course, you can
  • See the best way to plan and design an online course
  • Discover the unique features of Canvas and how to use them
  • Get to know the best way to organize content
  • Understand how to incorporate multimedia
  • Know how to use Canvas’ social media features
  • Make sure that students achieve their learning goals and objectives
  • See different forms of assessment in Canvas
  • Use Canvas’ features to motivate and encourage students
I truly enjoyed creating the courses, and I hope that taking them and participating in them is as enjoyable for the learner.

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