Archive for August, 2007

mmorpg to the rescue of epidemiology

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Who knew all those so-called wasted hours would become useful? According to the article, the course of vector-borne diseases are becoming better known. However, individual reactions are not.

Writing in the September issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases, the researchers say diseases can be introduced into the controlled environments of online game worlds — which are populated by thousands or even millions of individual players — where their effects can be studied and then applied to real-world epidemic control and prevention.

(h/t Peter J)

y2k bug in climate change data: how much does it change the results?

Saturday, August 11th, 2007

I’ll let the computer and climate scientists speak for themselves.

I’ve great concern for communicating climate change to the public. Science simply doesn’t work that way that the climate change skeptics demand it to (i.e., someone wins and someone loses). We create falsifiable hypotheses and our data has error bars. Working with complex models means we have trouble asserting causality to individual components. Against the qualifications and uncertainties with which our scientist culture has grown accustomed, the public is buffeted by clear memes of what is accurate or (in the case of the y2k bug) inaccurate about the data. Once again, science doesn’t work that way.

(BTW, environmental students do not enter university accepting uncertainty of data and outcomes. They want the undeniable evidence that their view of the environmental calamity is correct and want us to supply them with the exact tools to fix the planet. Not to say all students are like that but many are dismayed that the world is far more complicated than that.)

Update: James Hansen responds.

undersea sensing a threat to wildlife

Saturday, August 11th, 2007

A start, although I’m skeptical that the ruling will find its way into practice:

A federal judge on Monday ordered the Navy to stop using medium-range sonar in training exercises off Southern California, saying that the Navy’s own assessments predicted that dozens of marine mammals, particularly deep-diving whales, could be harmed by the intense sound waves.

but I need a supercomputer to watch youtube!

Saturday, August 11th, 2007

via Slashdot, which alert us to the following article at c/net: Will the $100 laptop spell the end of Moore’s Law?

Since 1965, the tech world has obsessed about keeping pace with Moore’s Law — an empirical observation that computing performance will double every 24 months. Concurrently, consumers have lusted after the latest and greatest computing hardware, encouraged in part by newer, fatter, ever more demanding operating systems and applications.

Moore’s law is great for making tech faster, and for making slower, existing tech cheaper, but when consumers realise their personal lust for faster hardware makes almost zero financial sense, and hurts the environment with greater demands for power, will they start to demand cheaper, more efficient ‘third-world’ computers that are just as effective?

Of course, a first world demand for cheaper laptops doesn’t spell the end of environmental damage, considering the millions (billions?) of $100 laptops may be produced. But that’s the tricky trade-off between environmental protection and social equity. Personally, I prefer that needs of the developing world don’t get lost in our (largely) first world concerns for the environment.

shrinking ice

Saturday, August 11th, 2007

And you wonder why the Canadian government wants to establish two new military bases in Resolute Bay (and whether this is a benign scientific expedition)? Satellite image analysis tells the story:

Today the Northern Hemisphere sea ice area broke the record for the lowest ice area in recorded history. The new record came a full month before the historic summer minimum typically occurs. There is still a month or more of melt likely this year. It is therefore almost certain that the previous 2005 record will be annihilated by the final 2007 annual minima closer to the end of this summer.

The quote that the report’s author made to the media is rather more dramatic:

William L. Chapman, who monitors the region at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and posted a Web report on the ice retreat yesterday, said that only an abrupt change in conditions could prevent far more melting before the 24-hour sun of the boreal summer set in September. “The melting rate during June and July this year was simply incredible,” Mr. Chapman said. “And then you’ve got this exposed black ocean soaking up sunlight and you wonder what, if anything, could cause it to reverse course.”

it’s turtles all the way down

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

Snapping turtles are fairly widespread, from southeast Canada down the eastern US coast. However, their habitats are quickly disappearing and their aggressive behaviour makes them somewhat problematic to study (especially at night).

A group of biologists computer engineers at the University of Massachusetts have built a hardware and software platform that tracks the movement and habits of snapping turtles. The mobile platform, glued to each turtle (sorry, but it is common practice and can be more humane than radio collars), consists of a GPS unit, a solar panel, and antenna. The platform also contains a USB drive to keep a turtle-specific log of information.

For computer engineers, the idea behind the project is

a network of constantly moving devices that record and store information, transmit data from one device to another, then relay all the saved information to a central location while running on self-charging batteries.

“A lot of the existing technology works great as long as you’re not moving around and you have stable networks and people who could recharge batteries,” said Jacob Sorber, a doctoral candidate in computer science who designed the network he calls TurtleNet, a project funded by grants from the National Science Foundation.

From another site, check out live webcams of turtles, which combines nature and public participation in Japan.