Thursday, April 12, 2007

iPod + Taxonomy = Taxon-podcast

During a recent visit by Brian Fisher I showed him some Scanning Electron Micrographs from my work on ant morphology that I had stored on my iPod as a curiosity. While these gray-scale SEMs look already very good on the iPod screen, we decided to upload some full-color images from AntWeb. The results were fantastic.

Then the idea came of some sort of taxon-podcast. One can, for example, load into the iPod the ants of Arizona before going into the field or all the species of Pogonomyrmex
before sitting at the microscope in the Museum. However, for the regular AntWeb user the only way to currently upload sets of ant images into an iPod is to painstakingly save into one’s hard-drive each image individually from the desired biogeographic or taxonomic set to have iTunes read the resulting folder. Ideally taxon-podcasts could be automatically produced the way now AntWeb capably produces field guides in pdf format.

One drawback is that the iPod doesn’t have the same capabilities for dealing with images the way it can deal with a collection of audio and video files by way of hierarchical categories (artist, album, genres, composers, etc) and playlists. One can turn to Pocket PCs that are “proper” computers with touch screen interfaces. In fact, Kevin Nixon from Cornell University has had a fully functional version of WinClada for such devices for some years now, including a powerful algorithm to manage identification keys in matrix format with the ability to include images. However the idea here is to utilize the most popular electronic device to date for research and education.

Such taxon-podcasts are not going to be needed when wireless networks become global and iPhone type devices with full web capabilities become common, so we can tap directly into antbase and AntWeb. For now, with 100m units sold, iPod seems the logical choice.