June 29, 2024

London Outer Orbital Path

I finally completed the London Outer Orbital Path today! It's about 150 miles (245 km) long and almost completely encircles Greater London; it's clearly visible on my iNaturalist observations map. There are 24 sections. I completed most of them in 2020 and 2021 during the pandemic but had three sections remaining: two in Essex near Chigwell, and one in Surrey between Banstead and Ewell, which was the section I walked today. The botanical highlight of this final stretch was finding Thesium humifusum growing in a chalk grassland patch along the edge of a golf course!

Posted on June 29, 2024 09:32 PM by danielcahen danielcahen | 6 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

January 12, 2024

Let's do both!

The digital photography revolution, followed by smartphone photography, transformed biological recording. There has been a spectacular increase in the number of biological records. This is fantastic, as long as it does not come at the expense of collecting and storing samples in scientific institutions and studying life under a microscope. Let's do both!

Posted on January 12, 2024 12:20 PM by danielcahen danielcahen | 5 comments | Leave a comment

October 31, 2023

Towards an AI-assisted world Flora? Some personal thoughts.

  1. Gather a large dataset of plant images, taxonomic descriptions, geographic distributions, etc. This could come from existing sources like herbarium records, taxonomic literature, citizen science observations, etc. AI can help process and standardize this data.
  2. Use AI models like computer vision and natural language processing to automatically extract visual features, taxonomic characters, and locality information from the dataset. This allows rapid parsing of large amounts of data.
  3. Have the AI models automatically generate draft species descriptions, keys, distribution maps and other content for the world Flora using the extracted data. This provides a baseline to build on.
  4. Expert taxonomists and editors then review the AI-generated content, correct errors, fill in gaps, and finalize the descriptions, keys and images. The goal is to produce a high-quality world Flora.
  5. Set up a system for continuous updating as new data comes in. AI models can suggest changes and additions for human review. This keeps the Flora dynamic.

Is this feasible?

Posted on October 31, 2023 06:38 PM by danielcahen danielcahen | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 12, 2023

A Tale of Two Perspectives

While I was crouching and taking pictures along a trail in the Tatras mountains of Slovakia, a middle-aged woman caught my attention as she walked by. Intrigued, she curiously inquired about the object of my fascination. I gestured towards a magnificent Chrysosplenium alternifolium and proudly declared, "Behold, this splendid specimen is a Chrysosplenium." (Well, something more along the lines of, "there's an interesting plant; a Chrysosplenium"). As my words escaped my lips, I witnessed a sudden shift in her demeanour—an abrupt vanishing of enthusiasm, replaced by an unmistakable disappointment. With a tinge of regret, she uttered, "Oh, just a plant."

Posted on July 12, 2023 09:28 AM by danielcahen danielcahen | 1 observation | 3 comments | Leave a comment

September 20, 2022

Heroes that deserve more recognition

How much thought have you given lately to Karl Landsteiner? Karl who? He only saved a billion lives by his discovery of blood groups. Or how about these other heroes?

Abel Wolman (1892–1982) and Linn Enslow (1891–1957)
chlorination of water
177 million lives saved

William Foege (1936– )
smallpox eradication strategy
131 million lives saved

Maurice Hilleman (1919–2005)
eight vaccines
129 million lives saved

John Enders (1897–1985)
measles vaccine
120 million lives saved

Howard Florey (1898–1968)
penicillin
82 million lives saved

Gaston Ramon (1886–1963)
diphtheria and tetanus vaccines
60 million lives saved

David Nalin (1941– )
oral rehydration therapy
54 million lives saved

Paul Ehrlich (1854–1915)
diphtheria and tetanus antitoxins
42 million lives saved

Andreas Grüntzig (1939–1985)
angioplasty
15 million lives saved

Grace Eldering (1900–1988) and Pearl Kendrick (1890–1980)
whooping cough vaccine
14 million lives saved

Gertrude Elion (1918–1999)
rational drug design
5 million lives saved

From Steven Pinker in "Enlightenment Now"

Posted on September 20, 2022 04:00 PM by danielcahen danielcahen | 2 comments | Leave a comment

August 23, 2022

Scientific discovery and playing with toys

Physics, chemistry, and biology discoveries were almost always dependent on the technology available to peer into the workings of the natural world. There would be no cellular biology or molecular biology without microscopes or electron microscopes, no astronomy or classical mechanics without telescopes, no modern particle physics without particle accelerators, no analytical chemistry without spectrometers, and so on. Making scientific discoveries is frequently a matter of having access to the newest and most powerful toys.

Posted on August 23, 2022 09:53 AM by danielcahen danielcahen | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 13, 2022

Inaccurate coordinates

My camera's GPS is unreliable; coordinates for my observations are often about 20-30 meters off.

Posted on May 13, 2022 03:51 PM by danielcahen danielcahen | 1 comment | Leave a comment

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