Ask Google Maps for the location of zombies around the world?

Click on map for larger view

How do you combine an obsession with Zombie movies and data analysis of Google Maps?

Simple, you produce the map, above. It was created by Oxford University’s Internet Institute – and the guys behind the fantastic dataviz site, Floating sheep: Mark Graham, Taylor Shelton, Matthew Zook and Monica Stephens.

Using a keyword search for “zombies”, it visualizes the absolute concentrations of references within the Google Maps database.

The map reveals two important spatial patterns. First, much of the world lacks any content mentioning “zombies” whatsoever. Second, and related, the highest concentrations of zombies in the Geoweb are located in the Anglophone world, especially in large cities…

Graham, whose favourite Zombie movie is the original Romero Dawn of the Dead (“the classic of the genre”) says of the map:

The results either provide a rough proxy for the amount of English-language content indexed over our planet, or offer an early warning into the geographies of the impending zombie apocalypse.

Actually zombie movies bore the hell out of me. I much prefer to be scared by extraterrestrial aliens.

Midwest farmers on the alert for pig rustlers

Here in pig country, the pigs are vanishing.

This month, 150 pigs — each one weighing more than an average grown man — disappeared from a farm building in Lafayette despite deadbolts on its doors. Farther north near Lake Lillian, 594 snorting, squealing hogs disappeared last month, whisked away in the dark.

And in Iowa, with added cover from the vast stretches of tall cornfields, pigs have been snatched, 20 or 30 at a time, from as many as eight facilities in the last few weeks, said the sheriff of Mitchell County, adding that among other challenges, the missing are difficult to single out.

“They all look alike,” said Curt Younker, the sheriff, who said he had only rarely heard of pig thefts in his decades on the job. “Suddenly we’re plagued with them.”

Some livestock economists pointed to the thefts in this hog-rich region as…a reflection of record-high prices for hogs this year and the ease of stealing pigs from the large barns that are often far from the farmer’s house.

“This is the hot commodity of the moment, like copper…and gold,” said Ryan Bode, whose family company, Rebco Pork, discovered that 150 of its pigs were missing on Sept. 16, shortly before they were to be taken to market…

Mr. Bode seemed doubtful about seeing his pigs again. “My guess is that they’re bacon and pork chops already…”

Investigators suspect that the pigs may have been taken to meat-processing plants or affiliated “drop-off” facilities or that they were sold at auction barns, which are less common these days as more large pig producers have direct arrangements with food-packing companies.

But that has raised an uncomfortable suggestion in an industry where many of the biggest farmers and pork buyers know one another personally and where a stranger pulling up to sell 100 hogs should give pause.

Someone in the business somewhere has the answer as to who’s doing this,” said Sheriff Marc Chadderdon.

RTFA. Crime stories are a magnet for me. Not only catching the thieves; but, how the thieves pulled off the job.

Some of the article is hogwash. 🙂 It’s absurd for an informed journalist to blame the lousy economy for the thefts – though she tries to. It’s the skyrocketing value of the pigs that motivates these crooks. Easy access to something worth stealing – and someone ready to buy.

Language about to die out – the last two speakers aren’t talking

Manuel Segovia

The language of Ayapaneco has been spoken in the land now known as Mexico for centuries. It has survived the Spanish conquest, seen off wars, revolutions, famines and floods. But now, like so many other indigenous languages, it’s at risk of extinction.

There are just two people left who can speak it fluently – but they refuse to talk to each other. Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69, live 500 metres apart in the village of Ayapa in the tropical lowlands of the southern state of Tabasco. It is not clear whether there is a long-buried argument behind their mutual avoidance, but people who know them say they have never really enjoyed each other’s company.

They don’t have a lot in common,” says Daniel Suslak, a linguistic anthropologist from Indiana University, who is involved with a project to produce a dictionary of Ayapaneco. Segovia, he says, can be “a little prickly” and Velazquez, who is “more stoic,” rarely likes to leave his home.

The dictionary is part of a race against time to revitalise the language before it is definitively too late. “When I was a boy everybody spoke it,” Segovia told the Guardian by phone. “It’s disappeared little by little, and now I suppose it might die with me.”

Segovia, who denied any active animosity with Velazquez, retained the habit of speaking Ayapaneco by conversing with his brother until he died about a decade ago. Segovia still uses it with his son and wife who understand him, but cannot produce more than a few words themselves. Velazquez reputedly does not regularly talk to anybody in his native tongue anymore.

Suslak says Ayapaneco has always been a “linguistic island” surrounded by much stronger indigenous languages.

Its demise was sealed by the advent of education in Spanish in the mid 20th century, which for several decades included the explicit prohibition on indigenous children speaking anything else. Urbanisation and migration from the 1970s then ensured the break-up of the core group of speakers concentrated in the village. “It’s a sad story,” says Suslak, “but you have to be really impressed by how long it has hung around…”

The name Ayapaneco is an imposition by outsiders, and Segovia and Velazquez call their language Nuumte Oote, which means the True Voice. They speak different versions of this truth and tend to disagree over details, which doesn’t help their relationship. The dictionary, which is due out later this year, will contain both versions.

I’m of the opinion there needs to be a certain minimum of community and voluntary continuing of that community for a language to last, to sustain something beyond history, record.

Though I oppose the imposition of a majority language – as was done with English here in Spanish-speaking communities, with speakers of Native American languages and African slaves speaking Gullah and Geechee – I think the culture of the society predominant in commerce and entertainment will prevail. Inevitably.

Regardless, the record must be kept. It is a contribution to ethnology, the history of communities that preceded whatever we become next.

Thanks, Cinaedh

Santorum begs Google to clean up search results for his name

Rick Santorum is the 8th dillweed from the right
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Former U.S. Sen. and Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has a well-known Google problem.

For the uninitiated, if you Google Santorum’s name, the first result you’ll probably get is not his personal website but a fake definition of “santorum,” a sexual byproduct that’s a bit too graphic to talk about in detail here.

We’ll get into how that all happened in a second, but here’s what’s new: On Tuesday, the socially conservative politician lashed out at Google, saying the company could get rid of the sexual references to his name on the search results if it wanted to — and perhaps would do so if he were a Democrat…

Santorum contacted Google and asked the company about the issue, Politico said.

In an e-mail to CNN, a Google spokeswoman said, “Google’s search results are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the Web. Users who want content removed from the Internet should contact the webmaster of the page directly. Once the webmaster takes the page down from the Web, it will be removed from Google’s search results through our usual crawling process.”

She added: “We do not remove content from our search results, except in very limited cases such as illegal content and violations of our webmaster guidelines…”

The lewd “santorum” definition popped up after the former senator compared homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality in a 2003 interview with The Associated Press…

That angered gay rights supporters, including gay podcast host and sex columnist Dan Savage, who launched a campaign for his listeners to redefine Santorum’s name. Savage created a website to promote the winning definition and enough bloggers linked to it that the spoof site eventually eclipsed Santorum’s campaign website in search rankings.

Danny Sullivan, who writes at the blog SearchEngineLand, notes that Google has a history of being hands-off when it comes to these controversies, regardless of the politics or sensitivities involved:

“Google is loathe to touch its results in any way, shape or form. That’s because if it does intervene in any way, there’s some interest group that will immediately claim a bias…

Just an example that reactionaries are as likely as anyone else to put in a claim for political correctness.

Yes, there are qualities of bigotry that I personally think should be shunted into the garbage can of discourse – but, I’m not in charge of anything in the public eye except this blog. Santorum is getting exactly what bigots like him deserve. A joking finger up his self-image.

Bjork’s gravity harp utilizes robot pendulums

This half-pendulum half-harp musical instrument is the creation of New York based interactive design company, Pattern Studio. Dubbed “The Gravity Harp,” it was commissioned by Icelandic musician Bjork for her recent Biophilia tour.

The innovative device features four robotic pendulums, each housing an eleven string harp. Hanging 20 feet above ground, the pendulums slowly swing back and forth whilst communicating with a control computer using an RS485 network. In order to maintain an even sequence of notes, each pendulum swings 90 degrees out of phase with its neighbor and is controlled by a motor attached at the top.

The harp can play pre-programmed or live melodies by using control software written in Python, which sends out commands to each pendulum to keep them synchronized and playing the correct notes. An artist can therefore “play” the instrument live by entering the notes into the computer in real time, and as with a classical instrument, this also permits the musician to perform an improvised piece of music.

Keep on rockin’ in the Free World.

Hospital privacy curtains prove to be laden with germs

The privacy curtains that separate care spaces in hospitals and clinics are frequently contaminated with potentially dangerous bacteria, researchers said in Chicago this week.

To avoid spreading those bugs, health care providers should make sure to wash their hands after routine contact with the curtains and before interacting with patients, Dr. Michael Ohl…said at the 51st Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

“There is growing recognition that the hospital environment plays an important role in the transmission of infections in the health care setting and it’s clear that these (privacy curtains) are potentially important sites of contamination because they are frequently touched by patients and providers,” Dr. Ohl told Reuters Health.

Health care providers often touch these curtains after they have washed their hands and then proceed to touch the patient. Further, these curtains often hang for a long time and are difficult to disinfect…

Tests detected Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, including the especially dangerous methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA), as well as various species of Enterococci — gut bacteria — some resistant to the newer antibiotic vancomycin.

The researchers used additional tests to identify specific vancomycin and methicillin-resistant strains to see whether the same strains were circulating and contaminating the curtains over and over.

The study found significant contamination that occurred very rapidly after new curtains were placed…

“The vast majority of curtains showed contamination with potentially significant bacteria within a week of first being hung, and many were hanging for longer than three or four weeks,” Dr. Ohl noted.

We need to think about strategies to reduce the potential transfer of bacteria from curtains to patients,” he added. “The most intuitive, common sense strategy is (for health care workers) to wash hands after pulling the curtain and before seeing the patient. There are other strategies, such as more frequent disinfecting, but this would involve more use of disinfectant chemicals, and then there is the possibility of using microbial resistant fabrics. But handwashing is by far the most practical, and the cheapest intervention.”

How about reinstating the traditional hospital laundry? That’s gone by the boards in many hospitals. Outsourcing to save money and keep the beancounters on the board of directors happy.

Hospitals are supposed to be about healthcare, right?