remote video

Benjamin Martin Waggoner bmw at UCLINK2.BERKELEY.EDU
Tue Jul 11 11:46:18 CDT 1995


I've been involved in developing the UC Museum of Paleontology's
WWW "virtual musem" (shameless advertising: http://ucmp1.berkeley.edu/)
One of our museum scientists has started putting up SEM images of our
foraminifera type specimens; this catalog is small but projected to
grow. So I have my two dinars' worth about putting types on-line, in
view of Arthur Chapman's comments.

For some material, there might be no need for video; still images are
probably enough. My reservation about video is that, to get useful
images, you'd need both high-res video and fast connections to get
the images in anything like real time. That's all either available or
under development; certainly it's not technologically unfeasible --
but it's going to be expensive, and I imagine that only a few museums
would be able to make use of that capability. Some of this argument has
been about accessibility of types, and video might not help much. Even if,
say, the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC has that
kind of system, and has remote hi-res video of, say, Bolivian spiders,
it won't be of much use to scientists in Bolivia, where (I am told) the
Internet backbone crashes nearly every day, and the telecommunications
infrastructure might not be able to handle floods of data coming in
fast. Not that systems like hi-res video shouldn't be worked on, but I
see it as useful in the long term, but not that helpful right now.

Putting up still images on the WWW may be more useful for the worldwide
community, since I gather that "Third World" institutions are not
badly off when it comes to computer hardware. But the usefulness of
this probably depends on what kind of material you've got. Big SEM images
of forams, diatoms, etc., taken from several angles, might go a long
way towards supplementing type specimens, as might digitized herbarium
sheets. With something like insects, on-line images would probably be
of less value. The value also depends on what you want to do with the
type material -- if morphometrics, then video or still images might be
just fine; if chemical analysis or dissection, then video won't help.

I'm not saying that on-line information can ever replace type specimens;
there will always be things that aren't possible with a computer
simulacrum. Nor can every piece of data always be freely accessible;
UCMP, for instance, doesn't make available on line fossil locality
data more specific than U.S. county, for obvious reasons.
However, putting collection data on-line can go a
long way towards making the specimens more accessible to the scientific
community; it can reduce travel costs and wear on specimens, if
everyone has the option of downloading images and curation data before
deciding whether to visit Museum X. I think that increasing accessibility
in this way will take the rancorous edge off of the exchanges I've seen
on this list and elsewhere. If good specimen data is on-line, then for
many researchers it may not be so important where the physical specimens
actually are, as long as the museum where they are is taking good care
of them. After all, any museum worth its formalin jugs is holding its
collections in trust, for its own researchers and for the world scientific
community - this is one way to help fulfill that trust, and break down
geographic and institutional barriers to sharing the data and the labors
and the value that type specimens represent.


Sincerely,
Ben Waggoner
Museum of Paleontology
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720 USA
bmw at uclink2.berkeley.edu
http://ucmp1.berkeley.edu/people/bmw/bmw.html




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