Department of Rhetoric and Writing

The University of Texas at Austin

Swastika barracks

US navy's Coronado base barracks The image above was taken from Google Earth and shows the barracks at the U.S. Naval base in Corronado, California. Aparently the buildings are lovely from the ground, but from the air they’re, uh, offensive. The Navy is planning to spend “$600,000 for landscaping and architectural modifications” to alter the way the barracks look from the air. What I find interesting about this story is that Google Earth “created” this problem for the Navy. The technology literally allowed people to see this symbol. It reminded me of this passage from Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Aleph”:

Digital forensics

The New York Times has posted an interview with Dartmouth’s Hany Farid, the creator of “digital forensics.” Here’s how Dr. Farid describes the field:
It’s a new field. It didn’t exist five years ago. We look at digital media—images, audio and video—and we try to ascertain whether or not they’ve been manipulated. We use mathematical and computational techniques to detect alterations in them. Doctored Star magazine cover of Brad Pitt and Angelina JolieIn society today, we’re now seeing doctored images regularly. If tabloids can’t obtain a photo of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie walking together on a beach, they’ll make up a composite from two pictures. Star actually did that. And it’s happening in the courts, politics and scientific journals, too. As a result, we now live in an age when the once-held belief that photographs were the definitive record of events is gone. Actually, photographic forgeries aren’t new. People have doctored images since the beginning of photography. But the techniques needed to do that during the Civil War, when Mathew Brady made composites, were extremely difficult and time consuming. In today’s world, anyone with a digital camera, a PC, Photoshop and an hour’s worth of time can make fairly compelling digital forgeries.
Dr. Farid makes some other interesting claims as well. Since 1990, the percentage of fraud cases involving photos has risen from 3 percent to 44.1 percent. While the majority of the interview focuses on digital manipulation in scientific research, clearly photographic forgery is becoming a significant problem in all areas of society.

Scientific Imaging & Looking Inside a Knee

Over the summer I was unfortunate enough to require a reconstruction of my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). As I was wheeled out of the clinic in an anaesthetic haze, my doctor handed me a series of photos not unlike the ones below. Endoscopic Images of Knee Interior

Scientists investigate paintings for clues about volcano eruptions

The Fighting Téméraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken by J. M. W. Turner, 1838 GLOBAL WARMING!


On the heels of yesterday’s post about the art (and absolute fidelity to reality) of scientific photographs, this story from The Guardian describes how scientists from the National Observatory of Athens are investigating sunset paintings “to work out the amount of natural pollution spewed into the skies by [volcanic] eruptions such as Mount Krakatoa in 1883.” Apparently the method has some validity:
They used a computer to work out the relative amounts of red and green in each picture, along the horizon. Sunlight scattered by airborne particles appears more red than green, so the reddest sunsets indicate the dirtiest skies. The researchers found most pictures with the highest red/green ratios were painted in the three years following a documented eruption.
via Boing Boing

Microscopic photography at the Micropolitan Museum

A cross section of a Leaf of Prunus Laurocerasus, Common Cherry laurel Those of you interested in the rhetoric of science should enjoy The Micropolitan Museum of Microscopic Art Forms, which is supported by the fantastically-named Institute for the Promotion of the Less than One Millimeter. The site boasts some beautiful imagery which, along with the accompanying text, should be able to spark some fantastic discussions about the relationship of visuals and scientific knowledge.

"The Shock Doctrine"

This video does contain some pretty disturbing imagery of people receiving shock therapy and other forms of state-sanctioned violence. So consider yourself warned before you click "play."

Read more about "The Shock Doctrine"

9/11 Report -- Graphic Novel vs. Authorized Edition

Students in my Rhetoric of Spying Class recently read sections of the 9/11 Commission Report, along with the graphic novel version of the report (for a thorough discussion of the graphic novel version and its critics, including some great links, click here).

Wolrd Freedom Atlas

The World Freedom Atlas gathers a number of interesting datasets related to world politics and human rights and converts them into a dynamic map display. Interestingly, the visual display helps to foreground the rhetorical choices made by the authors of those datasets. For instance, the map below displays a country’s governmental structure, ranging from a parliamentary democracy (white) to monarchic dictatorship (dark blue) (Cheibub and Gandhi, 2004). Notice that the U.S., a presidential democracy, falls in the middle of the classification scheme, closer to the dictatorships than Canada and Australia, which are both white, as well as Russia, which is a light teal.

world map showing Cheibub and Gandhi's regime institutions via Information Aesthetics

Blogger Play Photos

I just came across this nifty new feature from blogspot called "Blogger Play." Its designers describe Blogger Play as "a real-time slideshow of photos Blogger users have recently uploaded to their blogs. It's a great snapshot of what people are thinking and posting about, right now!" While it may not actually be as exciting as their exclamation point suggests, it's still pretty mesmerizing. Most of the photos are pretty mundane, lots of them are weird, and of course there are tons and tons of baby pictures.

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