Using Google Maps for Collecting Trips

May 28th, 2010

I saw that Ted MacRae had used a Google Map to show where he was going for his weekend collecting trip. Whilst I’ve used Google Maps to work on collaborative maps, this was the first time I had seen one used like this. When next blogging about a collecting trip or an LNHS walk I’ll probably make one. For now (as a test) here is a map with sites I intend to visit this year.


View Sites to visit 2010 in a larger map

I noticed that when putting the map into this post that sometimes the map HTML was made dysfunctional and I had to paste it in again.

There is a nice guide for adding Google Maps to a post on the WordPress Support Site.

Inspirational Infographics & The Reith Lectures 2010

May 28th, 2010

I am a big fan of infographics and generally good presentations of data. Nathan Yau’s site, Flowing Data, is an excellent place to pick up new ideas, tutorials and to be entertained (see also Nathan’s take on the Bristol Stool Chart).

Working on a taxonomic catalogue can get very dry and for a non-taxonomist it looks incredibly boring. Traditional printed catalogues are the foundation of most biological studies (the intricacies I may go into another time) but now we are starting to make entirely digital catalogues. When our online Coreoidea catalogue is finished I hope to produce some interesting representations of the data. One of the potential ideas would be a heatmap for worldwide species distribution, looking similar to this map for “touristiness” (seen on Flowing Data):

Worlds most and least touristy places By: www.bluemoon.ee

"World map color-coded by level of touristiness, based on analysis of photos on Panoramio. Yellow indicates high touristiness, red medium touristiness, and blue low touristiness. Areas having no Panoramio photos at all are grey. " By:-www.bluemoon.ee

I think data visualisations and infographics need to be used more often as they can provide information in an accessible way. The first topic in this year’s Reith Lectures will be “The Scientific Citizen” by Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society. Rees will discuss how scientists need to do more in helping the public understand scientific issues that affect us all, rather than relying on the government and the media. I am certain that good visualisations and infographics will play an important part in delivering good science to the public.

The first Reith Lecture will be on Radio 4, Tuesday 1st June at 0900.

Free Tethered/Remote Photography Software

May 27th, 2010

Part of my work is to photograph pinned insect specimens and I had previously been manually shooting then transferring photos from the SD card to my PC. At work our imaging lab is entirely Canon-based, so I was aware of EOS Utility, Canon’s own remote camera operation software. It wasn’t until I recently went to visit the Paris museum (MNHN) that I worked with Nikon’s Camera Control Pro 2 and realised how much time it would save when organising files if I was using remote photography software.

I started looking at the prices for Nikon remote photography software and Camera Control Pro 2 is fairly expensive, costing around £130 if you buy it from Amazon. Other commercial software was also fairly pricey (NKRemote @ $130), so I looked around for something free.

After a little Googling I found DIYPhotobits.Com Camera Control. It’s completely free and does the job (while using a paltry 373KB of hard drive space)! The interface was so simple that I have already taken photos of two specimens and depth-stacked them (in CombineZP). This means I can now remotely control my camera and produce depth-stacked images using free software :)

Here is an example of Zopherosis georgei (Coleoptera: Zopheridae) that I took today:Zopherosis georgei - dorsal habitus

Why I will not renew my Royal Entomological Society membership this year

March 8th, 2010

There was an article in the latest issue of Antenna (“High cost of electronic access to RES Journals” by Mike Wilson) which discussed the extortionate costs of basic membership and e-access to the Royal Entomological Society’s (RES) journals. It is more expensive than The Linnean Society, The British Ecological Society and the Entomological Society of America!

I had already considered cancelling my membership because it’s my most expensive subscription (£44) and I do not feel I get much for my money. Whilst RES membership offers more than just their journal Antenna, I do not use the library which is no longer in London, nor do I attend many of their lectures of meetings.

I am not alone in my feelings toward the pricing of RES membership. Many of the young working entomologists, amateurs and enthusiasts will not subscribe because of the price. As the stated aim of the RES is,

“The improvement and diffusion of entomological Science”

Lowering prices and having a greater online presence would make RES more accessible. If RES starting giving access to more e-resources (PDFs of Antenna and journal access) for a reasonable cost, I would resubscribe. Currently, I feel that the £44 would be much better spent on a decent entomological book, or three years membership of another entomolgical society.

The Bulletin of the Dipterists Forum: Two winged goodness!

March 8th, 2010

Last week I received my Spring 2010 copy of “The Bulletin of the Dipterists Forum” (The Bulletin). In addition to having a much improved redesigned layout compared to Spring 2009, this is undoubtedly the best entomological publication that I subscribe to. Even though my main interest lies with the Hemiptera, The Bulletin is always an engaging read and contains a range of generally interesting to specialised articles. One of the features I particularly like is the separation of the newsletters for the various recording schemes and study groups because you can quickly find information on your taxonomic groups of interest.

The Dipterists Forum is a good start for those interested in finding out more about our British flies. This handsome individual is the Hornet Robberfly, Asilus crabroniformis.

The other really great thing about The Bulletin (and the Dipterists Forum) is the value for money. The annual membership fee is £15 and includes two publications (twice yearly bulletins and the journal, “Dipterists Digest“). The Dipterists Forum website is also particularly useful and you do not have to be a member to use it, although additional material is available to members (test keys, unpublished material, PDFs of past Bulletins and distribution maps). As previously mentioned, Diptera are not the order that I work with, but such good value means I can happily subscribe anyway.

In the latest issue alone there were six articles that I want to comment on and discuss. Some other entomological societies should take note and try to offer similar online services and good content (e.g. PDF back issues and extras).

Rotatable Type Specimen Photographs

February 9th, 2010

I was sent a link today for a Brownewell Photography which specialises in 360° photography, including taking photos of type specimens. The previews on the site are composed of 20-30 photographs to give the illusion of 360°, which works well enough. You are given rotational control of the photos through Flash, as opposed to some other 360° images which use GIFs that you cannot control.

A quick search for 360 degree photography came up with a site (Red Door VR) which sells photographic turntables that had “click stop” intervals. They also recommended the program Object2VR to produce panoramas with Flash-based controls.

I think we will start to see more of these panoramic specimen images, although the major constraint will be the time it takes to produce them.

Building an LED Ring Light (part 1)

February 1st, 2010

After failing to find a reasonably priced LED ring light which does what I want, I have decided to build one myself. My electronics knowledge was never particularly good at school, so it should be fun!

My basic requirements are that it:

  1. Illuminates small (~5mm) to medium  (~2cm) sized insects without casting too many shadows
  2. Fits on different microscopes
  3. Is powered by a (rechargeable) battery

Additional requirements are:

  • The option to power it from the mains
  • The ability to dim the LEDs
  • Switch groups of LEDs on/off

I shall start with a basic prototype consisting of 8 white LEDs, potentially adding more and making the circuit more complex. It shouldn’t be too hard but I haven’t used a soldering iron for years!

Where can I buy a cheap LED ring light?

January 25th, 2010

At work (and soon at home) I will be taking many depth stacked insect images from both a microscope and using a macro lens. Whilst I have a ring flash for the camera, I need a constant light source for the microscope, so I’ve started thinking and searching for a cheap LED ring light. My target price is under £50.

I remember seeing some fluorescent and white LED ring lights at an entomological fair and thinking they were rather expensive. The cheapest ring lights were the fluorescent ones, costing about £30 each. The LED rings were more, costing over £50. A quick Google search brings up a ring light for a Marumi compact camera ring light for £40 (RRP £77.62!) which still seems expensive and I don’t know how it attaches or if it would fit a microscope. Further searching turns up some in-car lights which could be adapted and an  LED microscope light which does exactly what I want (AC power, adjustable lighting and thumb screws) but costs a mere £500 and is not for sale in the UK.

DIY Ring Light © fdecomite

DIY Ring Light © fdecomite

I am beginning to think I’ll need to build one… Any ideas?

Ant Anecdote & Summer Summary

September 17th, 2009

To begin the post I have a small entomological anecdote to share: Last summer I was told about a very small island in a Swedish lake. The island was not often visited but humans (or probably much other wildlife) because it was supposedly teeming with ants. Whilst I don’t know much about ants, this seemed a bit improbable and I wondered what they would eat.

This summer I had the opportunity to visit this island. The stories were true. My visit was brief and I should have worn different clothes. Being in a small rowing boat with ants in your pants is not fun!

I have never seen so many ants on almost anything. There were ants all over the ground, all the low vegetation and on the tree trunks.

Unfortunately, in my haste to leave I forgot to take any specimens. I would guess that they were a Formica species but would need to go back and confirm. Does anyone have some good suggestions for keeping ants at bay?

Anyway, autumn is definitely underway here. It’s dark when I get home from work, the leaves are changing colour and I have started packing my waterproof jacket for the inevitable rain.

My summer has been incredibly busy and that’s one of the poor reasons I have not written recently. The more important reason is due to changing jobs, where it matters more if I identify myself online, especially entomologically. Thankfully, I think I’ll have the latter reason resolved soon.

Entomologically, this summer has been action packed. I have been to many interesting sites and seen more new insects that any other year.

North Thames/Stanford-le-Hope Marshes

North Thames/Stanford-le-Hope Marshes - One of the more interesting sites which has a salt marsh area.

Soon my insect photo count will breach the 1,000 mark! I even managed to do a little insect hunting in Sweden and saw one of the world’s oldest tractors :)

Ferguson Tractor

Ferguson Tractor

In previous years I remember feeling somewhat sad when summer ended and the insect season was finishing. Right now I am looking forward to sorting out my insect records, investigating photographic metadata and catching up on some reading!

Thoughts on Entomology & Flickr

June 30th, 2009

I am a fan of Flickr and think it’s a wonderful place to store and tag photos. Recently I’ve been wondering about how useful Flickr is as an entomological resource and thought of a few questions:

  • How many new insect photos are being added daily?
  • How common are misidentifcations?
  • How many insect photographers add geographic data (geotags)?
  • What is the number of unique insects represented on Flickr?
  • How could Flickr be used in an insect-based meta-analysis?

As I wrote this there were (searching everyone’s uploads with no filter):

  • 839,123 results for ‘insect’
  • 28,014 results for ‘hemiptera’
  • 1,673 results for ‘pentatomidae’
  • 816 results for ‘palomena prasina’
Flickr map of Palomena prasina © Yahoo 2009

Flickr map of Palomena prasina © Yahoo 2009

I found that there have been around 1,000 extra hits for insect everyday in the past week and that searching for ‘palomena prasina on the Flickr map gave ~217 results (depending on the type of sort) which were spread around the UK, France, northern Spain, Germany, Finland, Belgium and the Netherlands.

As I browsed through general search results for the Palomena prasina photos, I saw a few that were obvious misidentifications. I think that misidentifications are probably the biggest limiting factor that would be hard to control if you wanted to use Flickr tags/information in an academic way. Whilst there are plenty of very knowledgeable Flickr entomologists, it’s hard to know which photos are identified correctly.

Whilst the map search was interesting, it wasn’t overly useful in it’s basic form. I think that a more sophisticated map search might be possible using of the Flickr API, but you would still be limited by the proportion of images that have geographic data.

Finally, everyone tags and organises their photos differently. I try and enter in as much information as I can without it being too long or bothersome. For an insect shot I try and include: country, county, area name, specific location (like the nature reserve), class, order, family and genus+species. By doing this I can search for particular insects in different areas quite easily. I started added a few six-figure grid references to the images, but as every specimen has a map location, this isn’t a priority for me.

I feel that Flickr could be used in a more powerful way and have a few ideas how, but I’ll save that for another post.

For now, why not check out some of the Flick insect groups? I’ve linked a few below:


Creative Commons License
Sections by Laurence Livermore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.