The Western Citizen Science Project

This afternoon, I gave my first interview (as a subject; I’ve been the interviewer plenty) about citizen science. It was with Natalie Paddon of the Western Citizen Science project.

Western Citizen Science is a student journalism project investigating citizen science based at Western University in London, Ontario. They’re in the early days of the project, but it should be interesting to watch it develop.

Link Dump Sunday: On Mars Time

This new weekly feature is simply a wrapup of cool stuff I’ve seen this week. Enjoy!

At Scientific American, Katie Worth writes about her experiences living on Mars time.

Wordcount ranks words by how often they are used. Commonest is 15,319th commonest. (Via the QI Elves.)

I’m going to be an uncle soon, and I’m about to be employed, which means that I have legitimate reason to look at kid’s toys. Right? I love biking, and I hope the kid does too, so this balance bike intrigues me.

This has been making the rounds, but still pretty funny: Goats Yelling Like Humans

A Video (semi-)Brag

Recently, I’ve been dabbling in entering video contests. It’s fun, and a nicely directed creative outlet. I haven’t won any yet, although my entry for the Property Room “Journey to Auction” contest was a runner-up and won me a nice gift card.

I’ve got a second instance of near-victory to report. I entered the Language Addicts “State the Obvious” contest. While I didn’t win anything, I did place a couple of videos in the “showcase of a handful of our more notable entries.” It’s nice to be able to come close, at least.

These are simple videos, with good reason: They’re for a language-learning company for use to help people learn English.

More videos are on their way. I’m working on one for another contest, and I’ve been rolling around an idea for a set of comedy videos as well.


While this has nothing to do with video, it does have something to do with citizen science. This weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count, a 4-day count that is working to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are in North America. It’s a relatively quick and easy project suitable for beginners, requiring only 15 minutes of observation, although it’s worth reviewing local species before starting if you’re not a bird expert.

Citizen Science Wednesday: What is Citizen Science?

Monarch butterflies on a flower

Monarch butterflies are the subject of several citizen science projects. Source: David Wagner,

I’ve been immersed in citizen science for the past year. When I talk about what I’ve been doing, I have a tendency to assume that everyone else has been as well.

That’s not remotely true; most people, in fact, don’t have any idea what citizen science is. As a result, “What is citizen science?” is the most common question that I’ve been asked.

My basic definition is “Organized scientific research that welcomes observations or analysis from the general public.” But in discussions, I find it easier to start with an example. So here’s the reasonably quick answer that I’ve developed:

Imagine that you’re a scientist and you’re studying animal migrations. Obviously, you can’t be everywhere that a specific animal is migrating. But it’s not generally real difficult information to collect. So these scientists have opened their research up to contributions from anyone who’s interested.

At this point, many people will respond with some variation of “I didn’t realize there were so many scientists studying animal migrations.” Whether they do or not, the next bit of my spiel covers the same area: I explain that citizen science is, in fact, broader than that illustration, and includes research in a lot of topics that invite the general public to contribute either observations or analysis. In fact, a lot of the book is given over to simply describing some of the projects that are available that people can get involved in.

The variety is bigger than topic, though. Some citizen science projects are worldwide, while others are restricted to specific localities; some require extensive training, while others require minimal outside knowledge; and some are time-consuming while others require only a few minutes. The book—and this site—will help provide a road map to these projects for anyone interested.

A note about definitions: My definition isn’t the only one. Some people might include any scientific research that’s done by non-professionals or science-related activities that don’t involve some sort of research aspect. I wouldn’t, but that’s not a value judgment—just how I break things down.

Big News for Me, Inc.

I have big, and good, news: As of Feb. 21, I am employed.

Assuming it works out, it’s fantastic. It means an obvious means of self-support, and stability, and blah blah blah. You know what a job means.

This post really isn’t about that. I’m hoping for this to serve as a promise to myself to do what else I need to do.

As good as having a job is—and it is, I think—it’s not everything. I want to make sure that I’m not in as powerless a situation as I have been for a while.

The last full-time job I had really did a number on me. I knew it was a dead end, for some fairly frustrating reasons. It wasn’t paying enough to let me build much in the way of financial reserves, and it frankly sucked so much life out of me that it was hurting my efforts to get much of anything else going.

I finally did take the leap and get out, which was scary but wise. I’ve built a couple of good things since then: The citizen science book is a big one (and hey, how about that link to subtly point out that I’m on Amazon!), and I’ve also finished a first draft of another book, Dad’s Little Book of Rage. (I have several things to figure out on that one, including illustrations and publication options.) A few other things are in the hopper as well.

When I start my new job, I’ll be giving it my all. But I also want to make sure that I’ve got other things going so that if it doesn’t work out, I have options.

This site will be part of that. Soon, I’ll begin posting some of the citizen science information that I collected for the book here. Until then, though here’s a teaser from Rage. It’s an illustration that I did to accompany the first chapter. They childish crayon style is intentional. I have no idea if this is the direction that I’m going to go, but it’s certainly under consideration.


Watch for more!


New Year Plans: Citizen Science, Communications Business, Another Book, Videos, and Fitness

2012 is gone now, and good riddance. Well, maybe that’s a bit too harsh. 2012 was a year of building foundations that will hopefully pay off in 2013 and beyond. So while there was plenty that was frustrating, it added up to a year of building hope.

What for?

* The book. Or perhaps I should spell that out: The book on citizen science that I wrote and that will be published this year. (I’m accustomed to calling it “the book,” since it’s been such a dominating part of the last year that it doesn’t need any more description for me, but other people probably aren’t in that boat.) Of course, even though the book is done, it’s not really done: I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me to promote it, so that will be one of my focuses this year.

* The business. Ultimately, everyone’s in business for themselves, and since I’ve been doing some freelancing, I think it’s time to think that way. In fact, I’m even in the process of formalizing it; this site will soon be home to Landgraf Communications, a communications consultant offering writing, editing, videography, social media, Drupal, and special project services. (Don’t worry; I’ll still generally be a person, rather than a corporation.)

* Other projects. Currently on the docket is another book, one that I’m writing independently, but that I’m really excited about. It’s a comedy consisting of vignettes from the life of a very angry person and those who have enabled him, narrated by someone who’s been affected in a pretty strange way by the behavior. It’s pretty twisted, but I’m really pleased with what I’ve written so far. Especially the bit about Mark Russell with a Taser. I’ve also got some independent video projects that I’m working on.

* Fitness. In 2011, I lost about 60 pounds. I was hoping to continue that in 2012, but it didn’t happen. I kept the weight off, so 2012 wasn’t a failure on that front, but I still have some work to do, and I’m hopeful that 2013 will be the year for it.

I’ve stopped making resolutions, but I have a bunch of plans. I hope that whatever resolutions or plans you’re preparing for the new year, they bring happiness and success.

My Upcoming Book

As I’ve mentioned a bit, I’ve written a book, and it’s going to be published in spring 2013.

It’s exciting news, although I’ve been remiss in shouting it from the rooftops. It’s been a year-long process so far, and a year is a long time to remain overwhelmed, and now that the book’s done I’ve got other projects that are absorbing time. But it’s time (or past time) to start talking about the book, and I hope you’ll be interested.

Let’s start, at least, with the basics.

1) The book is called Citizen Science: How You and Your Family Can Contribute To Real Research. At least I think it is; that’s the title that I pitched it with, and the publisher hasn’t indicated that it’s changing, although as I understand it they don’t exactly have to.

2) Citizen science is a general term for research projects that invite interested members of the public to take part in collecting and/or analyzing data.

2a) For example, let’s say that you’re a scientist studying animal migrations. It would be impossible for you to be everywhere that a given species is migrating at any given time, so obviously you need some help to collect all the information. But it’s not particularly difficult information to collect—and lots of people enjoy collecting this kind of information already. So giving researchers access to an army of assistants makes great sense, and the internet’s ability to make communications easier has helped the number of citizen science projects to explode.

2b) No, citizen science isn’t limited to that example. A lot of projects study animals of all kinds, but some look at plants, astronomy, weather, archeology, genetics, and more.

2c) Yes, it is real research. Or at least, it can be. There are projects at all levels of the spectrum of scientific rigor. In reality, citizen science projects tend to have three broad goals: research, education, and advocacy. Most hit all three of these to some extent, but the mix varies a lot.

3) The publisher is Huron Street Press.

4) The book will be available online and in some retail stores.

5) More will be forthcoming here, but a couple of good resources include the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (which operates a number of projects and maintains Citizen Science Central, a good directory with some additional general information); Zooniverse, which offers a lot of projects in a variety of subjects that are aimed more at data analysis than collecting; and the Citizen Science Center blog.