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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Thou Art the Man: Sensation, Epilepsy, Genetic Determinism, and Feminine Spunk

For the podcast, click here:

Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1837-1915) is known for her sensation novels – novels written for all levels of Victorian readers, randing from those grabbing a cheap book bound in yellow covers and sold in railway stations to those who read work serialized in popular magazines (one of which she founded and ran). 

Her novels explored the dark sides and inner workings of Victorians at all levels: prim and proper professionals, landed gentry, impoverished women, people in desperate poverty. Her novels also explore secrets and the question: “What on earth do you do if you find yourself in an impossible situation?”  In that manner, she is not so far from Jane Austen, who explored the issue of women in states of abject powerlessness almost a century earlier in Sense and Sensibility. 
Mary Elizabeth Braddon in her early years when she earned her living as an actress. 

I often wonder what kind of father Mary Elizabeth Braddon had. Her books are chock-full of absolutely amoral (if not immoral) fathers, who are frauds, imposters, scam artists, wastrels, cheats, bigamists, and, in some cases sociopathic murderers.

In Thou Art the Man (1894), Braddon’s father figure plunges to a new low. He has used his friend’s fishing knife to stab a beautiful young woman to death in a dark grove simply because she rejects his proposal of marriage, which was motivated by a combination of self-interest (she had been promised a large dowry by her adopted (who turned out to be her real) father) and lust. The father figure, Hubert Urquhart, the heir apparent of an impecunious earl who married stunningly well, into wealth, beauty, and breeding, is a dissipated, gambling, vice-prone former cavalry officer, who is also a widower with a young daughter.

To listen to a reading, please visit the Librivox recording of Thou Art the Man click here

Urquhart gets away with it because his friend, Brandon Mountford, whose fishing knife he used, suffers from epilepsy and has memory losses after his convulsions. Not surprisingly, when Mountford happens across the dead woman, the sight of it triggers a grand mal seizure. He comes to consciousness with no idea what has happened. He does not think he had any reason to kill – but Victorian psychology held that epileptic seizures turned people into demons (remember, this was the age of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) who slipped into uncontrollable homicidal rages, that generally targeted lovely (and often hot-blooded) women who happened to stray into their way.

In fact, the mystery in Thou Art the Man revolves around the question of guilt and also the nature of epilepsy itself. Mountford has lived in a kind of existential horror as he has witnessed his seizure disorder slowly destroy his dreams of being an attorney, and then of love, since he was determined never to marry, have children, and potentially pass along the disease. He read the medical literature of the day which detailed the progress of the disease and the prevailing belief that the seizures transformed the sufferer into a violent beast with no self control, and later, no memory of their actions.

Exploring debilitating conditions brings to mind other sensation writers, namely Wilkie Collins. 

Three years later, Urquhart’s young daughter, Coralie, happens upon the aftermath. Mountford, thinking himself to be a ravening monster, runs away (with the help of the murderer, who wants to make Mountford look guilty). Sibyl, the wealthy heiress in love with Mountford, marries Urquhart’s brother, the Earl, because she thinks that the community thinks that she was somehow part of the murder because she helped Mountford get away. So, in this loveless situation, she moves forward with her life, until a few fate-triggering incidences happen – she helps Urquhart’s unfortunate daughter and invites her to stay with her, and a mysterious note is delivered to her by a wild-eyed possibly mad vagrant.

I’m providing a little bit of plot summary just to give you an idea of how tangled and dark the webs are that Braddon weaves, and how every little sticky thread has a secret, a hidden past, a shameful horror, and a glittering prism of feelings, ambivalence, and confusion about one’s own identity and the identity of one’s loved ones.

Unlike many of Braddon’s earlier novels, in Thou Art the Man, it’s hard to know who is the hero. I maintain it is Coralie, although in theory, it could be Lady Sibyl.  Sibyl is not as interesting, though, and even though she is the one who really solves the mystery of the murder, it is Coralie, whose ambivalence and questionable morality both problematize her and make her sympathetic. After all, she knows she is her father’s daughter, much to her growing horror.

So, when the story opens, we meet Coralie, who had been relegated to a finishing school, where she is constantly on the verge of being ejected for lack of payment, and whose clothes are so worn that she is mocked by her fellow students.  By the way, this condition is nothing extraordinary in Braddon’s novels. I can think of at least a dozen young women in Braddon’s novels, who, talented and sensitive, must bear the horrors of abject dependency on the good will of the female owner of a young ladies’ school. In Thou Art the Man, Urquhart’s daughter, Coralie, is rescued from this cold, humiliating limbo by Lady Sibyl, who gives Coralie a place to live and a dress allowance – just enough, as Coralie says, to keep her completely aware of her dependence.

And this, I think, is a good place to talk about what is really revolutionary and fresh about Braddon’s novels, and Thou Art the Man in particular.

Coralie’s voice constitutes a large part of the narrative. It’s not all of it, nor is the structure something like Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, which is, in essence, a series of letters, reports, and documents, none of which give us the calming “we live in an ordered universe” feeling of the omniscient narrator.

Coralie has her own thoughts. She innately distrusts (wise girl!) her father. When her father asks her to observe Lady Sibyl’s household and send reports, she decides to keep two journals: one for him, and one for herself. It’s fascinating to read her reports to her father, and then to read her personal diary and learn what she really thinks, and how she truly questions what is happening.

I’m not aware of any other novel that contains such a technique. What is interesting, too, is that Coralie herself has doubts about her own integrity. She readily admits that she tends to prevaricate, and that it is difficult for her to be transparent. The reader sympathizes immediately because the poor girl has been absolutely abandoned in the world except for a very damaged (and damaging) scion. Like many of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s heroines, such as Violet Tempest in Vixen, Coralie is perhaps not a hothouse orchid, but is a quick-witted and intelligent young woman, who, if not a classic beauty, an energetic, practical and attractive woman, drawn to horses and long, revitalizing walks in nature.  

Darwinian ideas are alluded to in Thou Art the Man, and they are challenged at every turn. Braddon champions the idea of self-determination, and provides refutations at every turn of the over-deterministic notions that you are and must be the product (or consequence) of your perverse parental genes.

Secrets, deception, and hidden motives are standard fare in the Victorian sensation novel. In Wilkie Collins's novels, the core dilemma is often a challenge to middle class mores and a secret longing for polygamy (or at least legitimized bigamy). The requirement for monogamy destabilizes identity and has all sorts of pernicious consequences; one being murderous tendencies, and the other, a sad longing for oblivion, usually in the form of laudanum.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s world is animated by secrets, but most are driven by the need to survive, and can be often excused as misdirected pluckiness. That is, except for the truly dissipated and scoundrel father figures, which are often undeservingly forgiven at the end.

In Thou Art the Man, perhaps the most satisfying moment comes when Hubert Urquhart meets his end. He is now an Earl. He is powerful.  He is rich. And, he is miserable and in hideously poor health, thanks to years of vicious living. The fact that he murdered the one true love of his life and then murdered his own brother never escapes the reader; nor does it escape the reader that he is part of the British aristocracy.

Yes, Braddon is subversive, but not in ways that favor anarchy. She uses sensation to problematize hierarchy, and thus encourages her female readers to dream and to envision their own personal path to self-actualization and empowerment.


Just a quick response to TinkieToes’s review: Thank you.  I recorded on Librivox as beyondutopia. I held myself back – I thought that some of the passages were almost pleading for an exaggeratedly operatic delivery.  Sensation invites the “camp” response. 

But – Coralie’s diaries and her realistic voice militated against high camp, so I read in what I thought was the most modulated and almost flat way possible. I’m a bit surprised that it was considered at all dramatic. Well. It’s good to know how others respond. At any rate, I’m very appreciative of the opportunity to read, and also of the positive response. Thank you.



Now, just a very quick aside -- Brandon Mountford is portrayed in terms that are usually reserved for the feminine. As such, the dominating rhetorical mechanism is that of pathos. The character functions to trigger feelings of empathic helplessness, objectification, abject dependency upon the action of something or someone else...  and in that dependent state, there is an erotic trigger that is, above all, unhealthy. Braddon recognizes this.

So, when Mountford is held captive in an underfunded curate's crumbling extension of his cottage, it is not too surprising that he is utterly helpless and in his impotence, he is weirdly eroticized.

I suppose at the heart of it is the idea of power dimensions and differentials: the difference between Brandon's power (absolute ZERO) and anyone else's was something utterly empowering (and intellectually eroticizing). His seizure disorder stripped away his self-determination and made him weak and vulnerable. 

The implicit message is that you can have your way with him. That may not have been true, but it was the message. And, it was the message usually reserved for females. Does it take this sort of psychological atrocity to wake us up? It is good we know how it works.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Drones for Surveys, Methane Detection, Reservoir Characterization, More

Drones are becoming an almost indispensable tool in the oil industry, especially when it is necessary to inspect land, equipment and infrastructure in hazardous or hard-to-access conditions. Drones are also important for safety and security because the information is quick, accurate, and can be easily archived. But, those applications tend to be in the mid-stream (transportation and processing) and downstream (refining and distribution) segments of the industry. But what about upstream, in the exploration and development phase of the industry? Drones are used extensively there as well; they are just more subtle, and they do not create such a ubiquitous presence. This presentation reviews the main applications of drones and UAV-derived information in upstream oil and gas, which includes drilling and operations, as well as using drones for outcrop studies that are then used to create more accurate geological models, and better reservoir characterization. Be sure to watch the video which also includes a review of quadcopters with the best flight time

This presentation covers some of the most quickly growing uses of drone / unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) uses in oil and gas exploration and development:

Site surveys in tricky terrain: Building locations, determining the best places to put the equipment and all the trucks during hydraulic fracturing, as well as positioning gates, fences, and cattle guards can be significantly expedited by using drone surveys. Seismic surveys require an evaluation of the land ahead of time. Archeological and endangered species surveys are required on many federal lands.

Oil and Gas Exploration: Direct Hydrocarbon Indicators
Surface geochemistry has been used since the very beginning: the methane seeps around the Caspian Sea in Baku, Azerbaijan, were indicators of vast reserves in the subsurface; in Tulsa “Creekology” usually meant going up the creek from where you saw an oil seep.
Now, a combination of methane seep detection and airborne gravity magnetics can be used to find “pinpoint play” reservoirs, such as pinnacle reefs in Michigan or serpentine plugs in South Texas.

Fugitive Methane Emissions
Methane detection is also used to detect fugitive emissions, which create safety hazards in pipelines and facilities.

In addition, EPA and BLM regulations require monitoring and reduction of methane emissions in oil and gas operations. While it is possible to mount static methane detectors or sniffers in compressors, gas gathering systems, and pipelines, they need to be maintained each year, and also installation can be slow. If it is necessary to install several thousand of them, the time sink can be significant. So, having airborne surveys has become a popular option. In the past, helicopters were used, because the sensors were heavy. Today, there are a number of quadcopters that have methane sensors onboard. There are different types of methane sensors, which range from sniffers, laser detectors, thermal (FLIR) with infrared, to hyperspectral.

Environmental Applications
Upstream operations must concern themselves water management, site restoration, archaeological surveys, rare / endangered species surveys, floodplain management, offshore / coastal erosion, flooding, spills, fires, and monitoring. In addition, drone surveys are useful in determining volumetrics, such as the amount of water in a pond.

Constantly Evolving Technology
Quadcopters are increasing in capacity, with longer flight times and better payloads (high-definition cameras, thermal cameras (FLIR), methane sensors, and more).  The weak link continues to be the issue of battery life: the lithium batteries average 25 minutes of flight time, and then must be recharged.

Sensors are evolving rapidly, and in the case of methane sensors, there is a rivalry among them, with spectroscopy, sniffers, optical sensors, infrared, hyperspectral, laser, and more.

Drones for Better Reservoir Characterization
Digital outcrop studies are useful in and of themselves, but when integrated with subsurface data of the same formations, the resulting models are truly surprising. They can be used to characterize reservoirs, and thus predict and depict heterogeneity, facies changes, lithology, fracture networks, and faults. The information can be used to calculate porosity and permeability, as well as to predict fluid flow and reservoir conditions.

While custom drones are used, many studies use off-the-shelf quadcopters, which are surprisingly affordable and have up to 30 minutes of flight time (bring extra batteries into the field).  

The key to developing an integrated reservoir model that includes digital outcrops and other information is developing a flexible and appropriate workflow.

  • Collect traditional information (outcrop data)
  • Digitize and georeference the conventional outcrop data
  • Collect satellite and drone-derived digital images of the same location (process and georeferenced)
  • Incorporate LIDAR (process and georeferenced)
  • Incorporate still photography (process and georeferenced)
  • Integrate all the surface data
Build a model using geocellular modeling with a program such as Schlumberger’s Petrel
After the surface digital outcrop 3D model has been created, it can be possible to find the corresponding sections and sequences in the subsurface, and then to create a cross section that reflects the seismic (synthetic seismogram) that has been correlated with the petrophysical and lithological data.  Relating the digital outcrop to the digital subsurface model can result in highly detailed seismic geomorphological models that reflect structure as well as subtle stratigraphic sequences and facies changes.

Getting started?
Drones for sale.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Loving Canvas LMS!: New Training Courses - Collaboration & Quick-Start Guide

Many colleges, universities, and training organizations are moving away from the learning management system they have used for years and are adopting Canvas.

Canvas, which is a learning management system, can also be considered a virtual learning environment (VLE) because offers cloud-based hosting and can integrate with a number of cloud applications, such as Google applications (Docs, Drive, Sheets, Slides), Microsoft 365 applications, and media hosting (YouTube, for example). In addition, Canvas encourages webinars (live and archived) by building in Big Blue Button.

Also, Canvas offers free hosting to instructors who can create their own courses (which are, in effect, MOOCs if they catch on) and offer them through Canvas’s portal.

Canvas is not as flexible as Moodle, and it does not have as many built-in templates as Moodle’s Virtual Learning Environment competitor, MoodleCloud, but it does offer remarkable simplicity.
In addition to making collaboration very easy, the SpeedGrader function in Canvas is a huge hit with students and instructors alike.

That said, changing to a new LMS can be daunting, even if you are very familiar with Blackboard, D2L, Moodle, as well as the commercial solutions.

Easing the pain of transition was one of my main goals of putting together training courses.  I also really wanted to help unlock the joy of discovery, unleashed creativity, and productive collaboration which is possible with Canvas.

Rather counter-intuitively, I started with Collaboration with Canvas.  I wanted to help students, instructors, and administrators jump in and explore the many ways in which Canvas facilitates collaboration.

People learn from each other. Moodle has long made a discussion / forum-focused approach the cornerstone of connectivist / connectionist learning theory.  Canvas embraces this approach, as people can easily share and collaborate on documents and presentations in order to create group projects and portfolios.  Also, Canvas makes it possible to use the discussion board as a blog and to subscribe to it via RSS feed.

Canvas for Collatoration
Canvas for Collaboraiton
 At any rate, I explored these and many other ways to collaborate in Canvas for Collaboration, which is a 6-unit, 30 module course:
  • How Canvas works for many different applications
  • Canvas and collaborative activities for academic applications
  • Group editing best practices
  • Using Canvas for event planning
  • Using Canvas for building a product with distributed team members
  • How to collaborate to demonstrate learning goals and compliance
  • How to assess the end products of collaborations
  • Collaborating using different types of media
  • Compliance training
Quick Start Guide for Collaboration
Quick-Start Guide for Canvas
Then, I backed up a bit and created a 6-unit, 30 module course on getting started in Canvas. Entitled Quick Start Guide for Courses in Canvas,, the objective is to provide all you need to create great courses in Canvas.

This course is a practical guide filled with examples. It covers the basic and advanced concepts of Canvas. Every recipe is as simple as possible without compromising creativity.

In this course, you can
  • See the best way to plan and design an online course
  • Discover the unique features of Canvas and how to use them
  • Get to know the best way to organize content
  • Understand how to incorporate multimedia
  • Know how to use Canvas’ social media features
  • Make sure that students achieve their learning goals and objectives
  • See different forms of assessment in Canvas
  • Use Canvas’ features to motivate and encourage students
I truly enjoyed creating the courses, and I hope that taking them and participating in them is as enjoyable for the learner.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Some of Today’s Most Profitable Quadcopter Drone Uses

Drones, in particular, quadcopters, are quickly becoming the standard way to obtain high-quality images and other data for areas that have been hard or expensive to access. There are many quadcopter on the market, and their capabilities are unfolding rapidly, and companies such as WingsLand offer a wide array of capabilities, ranging from a mini-quadcopter that can fold up and fit in one's pocket, to larger drones capable of longer flight times (check out Drones for Sale).

Small drone services providers maintain at least four drones to assure there are sufficient back-ups and also redundancy in order to cover more than one job at the same time.  Technology is changing so quickly that it’s a good idea to have a plan for quick payout of the drone (along with the cameras and sensors), along with software licenses and cloud-based storage so that you can plan to upgrade your equipment and maintain a high-quality product.

It is important to keep in mind that FAA regulations still involve a number of restrictions, and it is illegal to fly near airports, over stadiums, and in cities. There are also a number of privacy and security issues which must be considered when developing the flight plan and workflow.

You also need to have a good idea of the flight time for your drone. Which are the drones that have the longest flight time, and what payload can they carry? You must investigate this aspect very carefully. Here is a link to the longest flight time drone and others.

Photography and 3D Imaging

Real Estate:  Drone photography is used in many ways in real estate, including surveys, sales and in evaluation of projects.  In addition, drone photography is used in conducting inspections of the structures as well as the grounds.
Sales and Surveys
High-end residential
Commercial buildings, especially for planning renovations
Reconnaissance / Opportunities assessment, especially in rural or coastal areas
Acreage / ranches / development
Commercial buildings: fa├žade, windows, roof

DJI Phantom 5:  Built-in camera, easy to get started.

Events:  Drones are often used at weddings, festivals, sporting events, but the usage must be carefully planned in order to avoid legal issues. First and foremost are safety and privacy issues.  It is important to obtain signed releases from the people who will be photographed.

Natural Disasters:  Drones are extremely useful in determining the scope and impact of a natural disaster, and can be extremely helpful in identifying impassible infrastructure. They are also used in search and rescue operations, and can help identify the direction of quickly moving wildfires. Drones used are often equipped with infrared / FLIR sensors as well as high-resolution cameras.

Inspections: Equipment / Operations:  In addition to real estate inspections, drones are being used to inspect inaccessible locations and ones requiring 3D visualization.
Insurance companies: Buildings, infrastructure
Solar panel inspections
Wind turbine inspections

Infrared / FLIR / Multispectral Sensors

In addition to high-resolution photography, using sensors that allow you to detect thermal variations can help you generate false color composites from which you can extract a great deal of very useful information. Here are some of the most popular uses. It is usually a good idea to combine multispectral images with photogrammetry. 

The FLIR Duo is a new product that combines thermal and visible light imaging and has been designed for drones.  FLIR is a leader in thermal imaging, both for professional and personal use. 

Watch video:

  • Agricultural: Precision agriculture; monitoring crop health and irrigation needs.
  • Security and Surveillance:  These sensors pick up heat sources, which include bodies – human, animal, or otherwise.
  • Environmental:  Determining coastal erosion, chemical spills, the depth of water bodies, and distressed vegetation.    
  • Herd Tracking (Commercial and Feral): Have a feral hog problem? Are deer eating your favorite bushes? Drones, combined with fixed surveillance cameras / sensors can help you identify the nature of your intruders.  
  • Leak detection in buildings: Thermal signatures are used to pinpoint leaks in roofs and other structures.
  • Hydrothermal resources / hot springs (and possible affiliated mineralization): Thermal anomalies are used in identifying geothermal resources and also places with possible mineralization due to the action of hot, mineral-saturated waters. 
  • Search and Rescue:  Heat signatures can help identify individuals needing to be rescued, especially at night. 
Fugitive Gas Emissions / Hyperspectral
Hyperspectral and multispectral sensors are being used to detect fugitive methane from operations and also natural gas seeps. The process is used for methane leak detection as well as identifying possible areas where oil and gas may be found in commercial quantities.

The Future
As the equipment and sensors improve, the cloud-based 3D imaging will also improve. The spoils are for the innovative, creative, and those who clearly identify the problems that are best solved by means of drones. Of course, drones will generate their own unintended issues -- but a problem is always another opportunity.

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