Edgy Stuff: August 2015 Recommendations

The Edge Effects editorial board brings you a handful of recommendations based on the most interesting stuff that’s come across our desks, screens, and speakers over the last month (or so). From books and articles, to podcasts, music, and film, we’ll keep you on the edge.

Rachel Boothby

Ten years ago this week Hurricane Katrina made landfall, devastating New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.  In the months and years following Katrina, social science and humanities researchers (along with everyone else) attempted to make sense of the disaster. Some of the best early analyses were collected by the Social Science Research Council, and are still very much worth reading. As we try to make sense of the aftermath of Katrina a decade later (see Eric Nost’s recommendation, below), I’d like to recommend a brief story on NPR about the struggle of restaurants to return to New Orleans and what this has meant for communities and identities.

Daniel Grant

Daytime fire visualization from the NASA Earth Observatory.

Daytime fire visualization from the NASA Earth Observatory.

Forest fires are now burning throughout the western United States. While many fires burn up to several hundred thousand acres, their smoke reaches communities much farther away, sometimes within hundreds of miles. Powerful real-time imaging tools allow us to see where fires are burning and where their smoke is going. NASA’s Earth Observatory recently developed a tool showing satellite images of fires in both day and night (click on “Image Comparison” and drag the bar on the left of the photo to transition from day to night). And NOAA has an air quality tool that maps the locus of each fire and the geographic range of the smoke.

Nathan Jandl

Part autobiography, part creative nonfiction, part public humanities project, and part photo essay, Peter Matthiessen’s Men’s Lives (1986) is above all a labor of love. The seemingly unimaginative, MensLiveseven uninviting title comes from a line by Walter Scott: “It’s no fish ye’re buying, it’s men’s lives.” The book tells the long history of the intimate fishing community on eastern Long Island, NY, a community in which Matthiessen lived and fished for many years. Ultimately we witness its painful decay: the fishermen (and their wives and families) are pushed to desperation by unfair regulations, the invasion of wealthy landowners, declining fish stocks, a fickle market—and their own conservative, sometimes immoveable personalities. It’s worth reading on a number of accounts, but Men’s Lives is perhaps most interesting for how it reveals the complex interplay of belief, history, science, and cultural practice that actually makes up our environmental dilemmas.

Eric Nost

August marks the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I’m compiling a list of reflections, news stories, and commentaries on the state of New Orleans here. So many of these are turning out to be moving and incisive. A must-read is Larry Blumenfeld’s careful analysis of what NOLA’s new planning and zoning policies might mean for the city’s vibrant and “spontaneous” jazz culture, and how musicians are responding. Then take a look at how flooding complicated the raced and classed geographies of lead contamination in the city.

Kaitlin Stack Whitney

House Sparrow

“A house sparrow at Chanonry Point,” copyright Walter Baxter, CC BY-SA 2.0.

As I walk around my neighborhood, I see lots of what birders call LBBs—little brown birds, common backyard sparrows, wrens, and finches. They’re referred to in this shorthand because they all seem to look similar, even the males and females. Seem is apparently the key word here. Recently, scientists have figured out that the vast majority of birds where sexes appear to be look-alikes actually do have distinct differences in plumage color. They are just not visible to the human eye, as I learned from this excellent blog post by Dr. Joseph Smith for Cool Green Science.  Birds can literally see colors that we can’t even imagine, thanks to an additional color receptor. It’s an excellent reminder of how even a simple “truth” can be very complicated—and of how differences in perception change our ability to imagine and explain how nonhumans interact in the world. But don’t worry—there’s now software to help humans attempt to experience the world through animal (or plant) vision. Try it out!

Rebecca Summer

And you thought sand castles were cool? The Augmented Reality Sandbox, out of UCLA, combines high-powered sensors, open-source software, projected contour maps, and regular old playground sand to create a sandbox experience that puts my summer beach-time drip castles to shame. Designed as an undergraduate teaching tool, the mobile sandbox allows users to create mountains, canyons, and rivers, and then manipulate them to study water flow or volcanic eruptions. Watch the following video for a demo of this truly interactive modeling.

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