Sep 17, 2011

Google Maps Mania: GIS with Google Maps

GIS Cloud is a powerful free cloud based GIS service, that allows users to create, edit, analyze and publish data from only one GIS service. When creating a map with GIS Cloud users can choose from a number of base tiles, including OpenStreetMap, Bing Maps and Google Maps. Users can then add GIS data to the map, either from data already hosted on GIS Cloud or from their own files. Because the application is web based GIS Cloud enables centralised access to projects. Teams can work together on a project, with each member having their own account. Any changes then made to a project are available immediately to every member of the team. GIS Cloud projects can be shared, either by sharing the GIS Cloud URL of the project or by embedding the map in your own website. GIS Cloud also comes with a REST API and a JavaScript API.

A. C. Grayling: The Good Book

British philosopher AC Grayling has created a secular Bible distilling the wisdom of the great non-religious traditions as a guide for life. Who needs the Bible of religion when you can have “The Good Book”?

British philosopher and public intellectual AC Grayling is considered the “nice guy” amongst the world’s leading “anti-religion” advocates … less cool and clinical than Richard Dawkins and more polite than Christopher Hitchens. Now, the mild-mannered atheist author has created a secular Bible, distilling the wisdom of the great non-religious traditions as a guide for life.

When it comes to God, Grayling is doggedly opposed. But he doesn’t put his book in the same league as Dawkins' “The God Delusion” and Hitchens' “God Is Not Great”. It doesn’t attack religion and is unfailingly optimistic, for one. But that doesn’t mean it won’t upset many Christians.

“The Good Book” is a manifesto for rational thought, but mirrors the Bible in both form and language. Grayling explains he has spent several decades on his ambitious project, distilling what he considers “the best that has been thought and said by people who've really experienced life, and thought about it".

His talk at the Sydney Writers Festival 2011 was introduced by Chip Rolley.

Sep 14, 2011

Loggers face massive cleanup job from Wisconsin storm - JSOnline

Stacy Hopke / Burnett County Sheriff’s Office
Large tracts of land in northwestern Wisconsin are covered in downed trees, the result of a severe thunderstorm in July. Winds in some areas topped 100 mph.

By Joe Taschler of the Journal Sentinel

Photo Gallery

Aerial images show storm's tree damage

During nearly 50 years in the logging business, Max Ericson has seen trees - lots of them - blown down by the wind. What took place this summer in parts of Wisconsin's North Woods, though, shocked him.

"I've never seen our forests so devastated as they are now," said Ericson, owner of Ericson Logging in Minong. "It's going to impact the timber industry for a least a couple generations."

Across a swath of northwestern Wisconsin, an estimated 2 million cords of wood - $160 million worth by one estimate - are on the ground, blown down during a severe thunderstorm in July.

"We've had blow-downs before, just nothing this size," said Henry Schienebeck, a third-generation logger and executive director of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association in Rhinelander.

The amount of wood on the ground is about what the state's loggers usually cut in a year, Schienebeck said.

"If a tornado hits, a tornado is a half-mile to a mile wide and two to three miles long," Ericson said. "Then it lifts and it's done.

"This went on for miles."

The huge number of trees in northern Wisconsin makes the region vulnerable to severe thunderstorm winds, and timber blow-downs occur often in the area.

"But not to this degree," said Rick Hluchan, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service forecast office in Duluth, Minn., which provides forecast coverage for northwestern Wisconsin. "It's been awhile since we've had winds this bad."

Weather Service meteorologists used a combination of radar images and damage surveys done from the air and on the ground to determine that wind gusts in the storm were greater than 100 mph.

One person was killed and 39 others were injured in the storm.
National Guard called in

In Wisconsin, anything that affects timber is a big deal. The industry employs more than 56,500 people in the state when you add up forestry, logging, wood products, pulp and paper jobs, according to the Washington, D.C.-based American Forest & Paper Association. Total value of products produced in the state is $16.2 billion, the organization says.

On Aug. 24, Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency in Burnett, Douglas and Washburn counties and ordered state agencies to help clear the downed timber.

Members of the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 724th Engineer Battalion are set to deploy for the rest of this month to Burnett and Douglas counties to help remove debris left by the storms. The deployment begins Friday, the governor's office said.

The state Department of Natural Resources is estimating that 130,000 acres are affected. Of that, 65% is privately owned, said Robert Manwell, deputy spokesman for the agency. Burnett County was hardest hit, with nearly 81,000 acres affected, he said.

The DNR has established a special website to provide information to landowners about clearing their land of debris left by the storm.

The potential economic impact from the widespread damage is tough to measure, loggers say.

"There's a lot of value in those trees and that forestland," said Bill Johnson, president of Johnson Timber in Hayward. "A lot of folks lost value in their property."

In addition to the three counties where the state of emergency was declared, damage also occurred in Ashland, Bayfield and Polk counties, the DNR says.
Market awash in wood

The damage is spread across species. The greatest damage occurred to aspen, red and jack pine, and oak, according to the DNR.

As the cleanup continues, concerns are being voiced about the financial impact a huge volume of timber hitting the market might have.

In addition, there are at least as many acres of downed timber across the border in Minnesota, loggers say.

"That's the struggle everybody is fighting with," Johnson said. "The industry is one big balancing act - keeping the logging infrastructure in place, keeping the wood supply sustainable and keeping the mills profitable.

"Sometimes that's a tough act to juggle."

For now, mills are accepting as much lumber as the loggers can cut.

But clearing all the downed timber is not as simple as going in and using machinery to selectively thin a forest. It takes more time - making it more expensive - to harvest blown-down timber.

"When it's lying on the ground, the value is just not as high as when it's standing timber," Schienebeck said.

What's more, logging in tangled, blown-down areas is often dangerous, especially when areas must be cut by hand.

"Other trees might be on top of the tree. It could be hung up in other trees," said Roger Scalzo, a contract logger based in Spooner. "To try to hand-cut that stuff is about the most dangerous thing you can do."

Fires and insects also have the DNR concerned. Both have the potential to devastate huge areas.

"This downed wood in the spring will represent a tremendous fire hazard," Manwell said. "A lot of it is conifer - soft wood that burns very readily. And this area is mixed with a lot of residences - second homes, resort homes, primary homes.

"That represents some real potential property loss there if a big fire should get going."

Another concern is insect infestation that could spread to the healthy timber on the edges of the blow-down areas.
A long, slow recovery

Even for fast-growing trees, it will be decades before some areas recover.

"It's really disrupted the forest management plans," Schienebeck said. "In spots that were leveled, they are basically starting over now."

"We've got trees that blew down that were 10 or 15 years away from being mature," Ericson said. "Then you've got wood that was 30 years from being mature."

Mature trees were clobbered, too.

"That storm blew down 200-year-old white pines," Ericson said. "I was cutting up white pine that was three feet (in diameter)."

In other cases, blown-down trees had reached their maximum life expectancy, making them susceptible to wind damage, said Neil Ambourn, a Webster forester who consults with private landowners.

The wind was nature's way of clearing the forest of old, weak timber.

Even though things are a mess now, the forests will come back.

"These forests are resilient and sustainable," Ambourn said. "Most are going to regenerate naturally."

That means fewer of the tall, stately North Woods forests, though.

"We're going to have a lot of young forests," Ambourn said.

"Aesthetically, we may not like those forests. But they are healthy and sustainable and making forest products for future generations," he said.

"Environmentally, it's not catastrophic."
How much wood

Here are a few ways to look at the amount of timber blown down in storms this summer:

If you cut and stacked the logs on 40-foot logging trailers and included the trucks to haul them, they would stretch 1,700 miles, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. That's about the distance from Milwaukee to Las Vegas.

An acre is roughly the size of a football field. The DNR says 130,000 acres of timber sustained damage.

A cord is unit of measure for loose, stacked wood equal to 128 cubic feet - or a stack 4 feet high and 8 feet wide with wood pieces that are 4 feet long, according to the University of Wisconsin Extension. Estimates say there are about 2 million cords of wood on the ground in areas of northwestern

Sep 13, 2011

Where Was the Pat Tillman Story on NFL Sunday? | The Nation

File:Corporal Patrick Tillman.jpg
Photo Wikimedia Commons

Dave Zirin on Monday, September 12, 2011 - 15:08
In 2004, President George W. Bush appeared on the Jumbotron at Arizona’s Sun Devil stadium to address the combat death of former NFL player turned Army Ranger, Pat Tillman. Bush said: “Pat Tillman loved the game of football. Yet, as much as Pat Tillman loved competing on the football field, he loved America even more.… Courageous and humble, a loving husband and son, a devoted brother and a fierce defender of liberty. Pat Tillman will always be remembered.”

But Sunday—while NFL teams around the country commemorated the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks—Pat’s name was mentioned only before the game in Arizona. In stadium after stadium, in pregame show after pregame show, as the NFL’s 9/11 commemoration strategy was rolled out with lockstep discipline, Tillman’s name was conspicuously absent. George W. Bush certainly got his moment in the spotlight, receiving a standing ovation by 70,000 fans at the Meadowlands. On other football fields, massive flags were unfurled, “official NFL/9/11 logos” were unveiled, soldiers were cheered, Reebok’s “We Will Never Forget” 9/11 gear was worn, and yet it was as if Pat Tillman had never existed.

The NFL’s media man, Brian McCarthy, vigorously contested this when we called for comment. “Yesterday was a day to remember to those who lost lives on 9/11.... We did not single out any NFL player that had been in the military. We saluted all military members around the country and the world. Pat means so much to the NFL. We have funded the ‘Pat Tillman USO Center,’ a USO center in his name in Afghanistan at Bagram [Airfield]. We also worked with his wife Marie on the creation of the NFL scholarship. The first thing you see in the NFL [New York] building is Pat’s jersey. He is very dear to the NFL family. We salute him every day. If [you are] trying to create controversy, there is none.”

I respectfully disagree. I don’t contest that Tillman’s jersey is in the NFL office, or that “he is honored every day.” But I think it’s worth asking why the NFL paid so little attention to Pat. It’s worth asking because the answer says a great deal. 

Pat Tillman is the only NFL player—or professional athlete—to die in the theater of war since September 11, 2001. He walked away from millions of dollars to join the US Army because of the way 9/11 shook his system. On 9/12/01, Tillman gave an interview where he said, “My great-grandfather was at Pearl Harbor and a lot of my family has gone and fought in wars, and I really haven’t done a damn thing.”

Twenty-two months after enlisting, Pat Tillman was dead. His memorial service was aired on national television. The Army awarded him a Silver Star for his “gallantry in action against an armed enemy.” They said Tillman╩╝s convoy had been ambushed in Afghanistan. They said Tillman charged up a hill to protect his men but was shot down by the Taliban. Responding to this heroic story, the NFL, as they are quick to mention, created statues and memorials in his honor.

Why didn’t we hear Tillman’s name on Sunday? It’s because the Pentagon’s official story, the very story the NFL initially embraced, is an awful lie. Tillman actually died in friendly fire, a fact that was criminally hidden from his family, his fans and the greater public. Tillman also began to turn against the war before his death, telling friends in the Rangers that he believed the war in Iraq was “illegal.” A voracious reader, he started reading antiwar authors in an attempt to wrap his head around how he had become the most famous solider in an endless conflict.

After the Bush administration finally revealed the truth, Tillman’s shocked family and friends did the only thing they could do: fight to find out the real facts of his death. They went public with the narrative of a Pat Tillman that was inconsistent with the Bush administration and NFL’s. They put forth a Pat Tillman that was an intensely iconoclastic atheist, turning against war.

The misrepresentation of Pat Tillman’s death speaks to the lies used to sell war, and to the way people’s rage and grief was exploited in the wake of 9/11. But thanks to the tireless work of his family, and the creators of the documentary The Tillman Story, his true story is now public knowledge. As Pat’s mother Mary said in The Tillman Story, “I think they just thought, if they spun the story and we found out…we'd just keep it quiet because we wouldn't want to diminish…his heroism or anything like that…. but, you know, nobody questions Pat's heroics. He was always heroic. What they said happened, didn't happen. They made up a story, and so you have to set the record straight.”

In one respect their effort saved Pat Tillman’s name this past Sunday. In the least it saved his family and friends the pain of knowing that Pat was being displayed in a way he would have found, in the words of fellow Ranger Jade Lane, “criminal.” But the NFL’s exclusion of Tillman in their commemoration is a statement of its own. They could have discussed Tillman’s service in all its complicated, messy glory. They could have respected his sacrifice as well as his inner conflicts. They could have interviewed the eloquent and elegant Mary Tillman on all the pregame shows. The country could have learned not just about Pat Tillman but that the former commander in chief being cheered at the Meadowlands had committed a felony in falsifying the facts of Tillman’s death. It’s an awful story, but it’s real. It's also far from finished. As The Tillman Storydirector Amir Bar-Lev said: “This is an unsolved mystery; nobody has ever really paid a price for what was done to the Tillmans. No one has taken accountability or made an admission for a deliberate attempt to conceal the truth. This story is not over yet.”