Friday, May 30, 2014


I am a bit of a sucker for citizen science projects. The latest one I have jumped on to is Cal Flora. They have been compiling information about California native plants for some time now. I just discovered that they have an iphone app. While in some ways the app is very crude, it only lets you submit data not search through data others have submitted, it is also very easy to use for submissions.

In the last two days, I submitted 9 plants to the site. Once you have submitted a particular plant one time, a second plant of the same species can be submitted in seconds so it is quite efficient. This might even be more of a time waster than the time I signed up for Snapshot Serengeti. At least it is more exercise.

Little details may drive me crazy though. For example I just learned there are many very similar mustard plants growing in this area, Sinapis arvensis, Brassica rapaBrassica nigra and Hirschfeldia incana. I can identify mustard, but telling those apart is rough. The same for wild oats, telling Avena barbata from Avena fatua is not trivial.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Apple is slipping

After getting lost one too many times from relying on Apple maps I switched back to Google maps a few months ago. It has some flaws, for example it is not as easy to bookmark common destinations and if it does not know a location it will sometimes send me to the center of the city, or even the state, where I said to go without telling me it did this. However, it does not give absolutely ridiculous directions nearly as often as Apple does.

Now I just switched to Chrome as my browser on the iphone. Apple has refused to implement the most basic and necessary feature I need in a browser. The ability to turn off mobile sites. In Chrome I just select one option, and magically all mobile sites disappear. After years of pressing "desktop site" buttons which don't work, and trying to find covert ways to avoid the mobile version of sites I feel stupid for not making the switch years ago.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

What's this plant?

In some ways, the What's This Plant subreddit is the most remarkable crowd sourcing I have seen. On a couple occasions I submitted pictures of plants to the site. So far the subreddit has never been wrong. Now, it doesn't actually have a perfect record. I am sure a good botanist could stump it. It still manages to come up with identifications for most plants which is no small feat given how many millions of plants there are.

Matching its ability with a computer would be a neat trick. The pattern recognition of humans still seems like it is ahead of computers but I imagine we are getting close to the point a computer would do this. Would make for a neat iphone app, take a picture of a field and get all of the plants tagged.