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Earthquakes, Megaquakes, and the Movies

USGS seismic hazard map

USGS seismic hazard map

The summer’s first big blockbuster movie “San Andreas” is out this friday. So this is a good time to get some facts about earthquakes by checking out the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program. This is a great site to go to for facts, earthquake monitoring (there’s an app for that!), USGS publications and data as well as educational topics for various school levels, like this: Earthquakes, Megaquakes, and the Movies and Earthquake Facts & Earthquake Fantasy.

Throughout the history of Hollywood, disaster films have been sure-fire winners for moviemakers. Beginning with “The Wind” in 1928, Americans have been plagued by a “Twister” and “The Perfect Storm”. We’ve survived “Volcano” and “Earthquake” and “The Swarm” all followed by “Armageddon”. That’s not even mentioning us getting through “The Towering Inferno” and finally making it to “ The Day After Tomorrow”.

With amazing special effects, it’s easy to get caught up in the fantasy disaster epic. But real-world science is often at odds with Hollywood. What makes a great science fantasy film often bears no relation to real facts or the hazards people truly face.

The U.S. Geological Survey is the lead federal agency responsible for researching, monitoring and forecasting geologic hazards such as earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides. And we have the further responsibility to educate Americans about the real hazards they face and to separate science fact from science fantasy.

Since earthquakes are featured in the most recent offering in the made-for-television disaster film genre, let’s start with some science-based information on them.

Libraries could outlast the internet … IF …

This article is making the social media rounds so many of you have no doubt seen it — Libraries could outlast the internet, head of British Library says – Telegraph. While I completely agree with Mr Keating, the director of the British Library, he only defined libraries in terms of vagaries like “trust” and “traditional values” and “privacy.” All good terms to be sure, but what was left unsaid — and what I think is most important about libraries and which leads to trust, privacy and sanctuary — is that they’ll outlast the internet … ONLY IF libraries stick to the values that got them this far: collecting, describing, giving access to and preserving information in all its forms.

Stop worrying about whether libraries will survive the digital age, the head of the British Library has said, as he argues that they could outlast the internet.

Roly Keating, director of the British Library, said he was shocked at how many “smart people” still questioned whether libraries were still viable in the modern age.

Saying the institution had countless values worth defending, including trust, he argued that libraries could prove the most “powerful and resiliant network yet”.

“These values predated the internet,” he said. “And if we get it right may yet outlast it.”

via Libraries could outlast the internet, head of British Library says.

@POTUS

potus

Introducing @POTUS: President Obama’s Twitter Account. Alex Wall, The White House Blog (May 18, 2015).

Today, with a tweet from the Oval Office, President Obama launched @POTUS, the official Twitter account of the President of the United States.

Other Twitter accounts you might want to know about:

The White House: @WhiteHouse
Vice President Joe Biden: @VP
First Lady Michelle Obama: @FLOTUS
Dr. Jill Biden: @DrBiden
Live coverage from the White House: @WHLive
Press Secretary Josh Earnest: @PressSec
Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett: @VJ44
Communications Director Jen Psaki: @Psaki44
White House updates in Spanish: @LaCasaBlanca
Chief Official White House Photographer: @PeteSouza

Full list of White House Twitter accounts at twitter.com/WhiteHouse/lists/whitehouseaccounts/members.

In act of cognitive dissonance, House Renews Ban on public access to CRS Reports

In a remarkable example of ironic short-sightedness, the House Appropriations Committee again banned public access and dissemination of publications from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) according to Secrecy News’ Steven Aftergood, “House Renews Ban on CRS Publication of Its Reports.”

I find this particularly frustrating in light of the House recently holding its fourth annual Legislative Data and Transparency Conference (LDTC). Danial Schuman Reported significant successes from the LDTC including modernization efforts around House committee hearing reports and the new “legislative lookup and link” tool as well as Government Publishing Office (GPO) about to release in bulk bill status and summary information for Senate legislation and Library of Congress moving to update Congress.gov on a more frequent basis.

With all this great work on Congressional transparency, how can Congress continue to ban the distribution and access to CRS reports? It reminds me of something Adam Gopnik recently wrote in a New Yorker article The Plot Against Trains, saying sadly that ideology “give[s] you reasons not to pursue your own apparent rational interest.” He was talking about trains, but I would add schools, libraries, post offices, and yes government information to that list.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) will continue to be barred from releasing its reports to the public, the House Appropriations Committee said yesterday in its report on legislative branch appropriations for the coming year.

“The bill contains language which provides that no funds in the Congressional Research Service can be used to publish or prepare material to be issued by the Library of Congress unless approved by the appropriate committees,” the House report said….

…In a move that is perhaps even more worrisome for CRS, “The Committee directs the Library of Congress to commission an independent survey of all Members and committees of the House of Representatives to ascertain their fundamental and optimal requirements for services and support from the Library of Congress and especially the Congressional Research Service.”

The problem here is that the CRS services that congressional offices are likely to find most “useful” are not necessarily those that are most “valuable.”

The race to preserve disappearing data

Here’s a good piece in the Boston Globe, “The race to preserve disappearing data”. While primarily focusing on the film industry, it also mentions link rot, disappearing government information in the form of Supreme Court decisions and other issues on which government information librarians should be working. I’ve said it often and I’ll say it again, when documents librarians focus on digitizing historic government publications, they ignore the far greater danger of the disappearance of born-digital government information. We need the entire documents community to step up and work on the issue of born-digital collection development lest we risk becoming a “digital dark age.”

The problem of preservation is not unique to the film industry. It spans the digital artifacts of our age — from photos to music to scientific research data. One study of more than 500 biology papers published from a 20-year span found that as time passes, less original research data can be found; it suggested that up to 80 percent of raw data collected for studies in the early 1990s is lost. A crucial virtue of science is that researchers can reproduce findings or correct them over time by reevaluating original data. Fields from epidemiology to education to climate change require records that span decades or longer.

Lost data also plagues the legal world. A 2013 study of Supreme Court decisions by Harvard University Law School professors found that so-called link rot is eroding intellectual foundations of legal scholarship: Nearly half of all Supreme Court decisions up to that date and more than 70 percent of law journals from 1999 to 2012 referred to Web pages that no longer existed…

…What was once a race to rescue information from going-extinct media (think of old files trapped on floppy disks) has morphed into a mounting need to copy and curate massive troves of data, says Dr. David Rosenthal, the founder of a library-led digital preservation network run out of the Stanford University libraries. Digital information decays over time and files grow corrupt from “bit rot,” which Rosenthal says is best fended off by creating copies of data in multiple virtual and physical locations…

…“Digital preservation is essentially a hot potato problem, where everyone wants to pass responsibility onward,” said Berman, also a professor of computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She notes that in the private sector, companies invest in preserving data that give them a competitive advantage. The larger challenge is preserving those digital artifacts that have broad societal relevance for the future, but no urgent private interest.

Publicly funded archives such as the National Archives and those supported by federal R&D agencies fulfill only a fraction of the preservation needed to pass on society’s knowledge to the future. Less than 1 percent of the Library of Congress’s 1.4 million archived videos and film reels were born digital. While the Library of Congress can preserve digital films if filmmakers share their unencrypted files, less than a dozen filmmakers and studios have done so, and the library has yet to preserve a single born-digital feature-length film.

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