Archive for March, 2008

arthur c. clarke, childhood’s final end

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

My all-time favourite science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke, has just died. He of course is best known for 2001: A Space Odyssey but his prediction of geosynchronous telecommunications satellites made him a futurist of unparalleled proportion. His three laws are timeless lessons in the art of science:

¶“When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

¶“The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”

¶“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

I was deeply influenced by Childhood’s End and Against the Fall of Night and it led to my love of science (and my reading of every one of his books). His book Imperial Earth, predicted mobile computing devices while all the other sf writers continued to write about centralized computing. His later books, particularly the co-written works, never possessed the creative energy of his earliest works. But even those held predictive power (His book with Stephen Baxter created a strange but compelling portrait of an earth bereft of privacy). This is a sad day for me and for sf.

teaching in a socially networked world

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

A Ryerson University student may be expelled for, if you read many of the news articles, merely hosting an online study group.

The following exemplifies some of the crappy reporting on the subject, that this is about new (and scary) technology, that the old people just don’t understand:

Supporters of Chris Avenir, 18, broke out into applause following a faculty appeal committee hearing Tuesday where the computer engineering student defended himself against allegations he facilitated a study group on Facebook that amounted to cheating.

In what has sparked a debate over what constitutes collaboration versus cheating in cyberspace, Avenir was sent a notice of expulsion after a professor came across a group called Dungeons/Mastering Chemistry Solutions.

The group, which has subsequently been shut down, had 147 members from Ryerson’s first-year chemistry and computer engineering programs.

Avenir, who was listed as an administrator of the group, is facing one charge of academic misconduct and 146 charges of enabling, which means “helping others do the same,” according to Ryerson University spokesperson Janet Mowat.

“Facebook is a new realm and it is one the university is seeking to seize without any regard for the specific circumstances,” said John Adair.

“The online group was simply a forum for students to go to for help understanding the class lectures,” said Nora Loreto. “For him to be facing expulsion when there is no evidence linking him to anything on that site that even comes close to academic misconduct is outrageous.”

Not until almost the last paragraph does the reporter get to the meat of the university’s argument.

Avenir had received a B in the course but it was changed to an F after the professor discovered the site. The professor had stipulated students work independently on the assigned test problems. [emphasis added]

The reporter wants a sensational story involving emergent technology instead of reporting about what could just as easily happen without technology.

The Globe and Mail article, and this, from another report, is better:

What appears to have snared Avenir was the group’s main page, which read: “If you request to join, please use the forms to discuss/post solutions to the chemistry assignments. Please input your solutions if they are not already posted.”

A professor, who had stipulated assignments be done independently, discovered the group, gave the B student an F, then charged him with academic misconduct.

This begs the question, is a facebook host responsible for moderating the content of his/her list? More importantly for us academics, with these new technologies, can a professor assign take-home test problems anymore?

friday bsg blogging

Friday, March 7th, 2008

Battlestar Galactica in 8 minutes.

blame Liam for hooking me on BSG.

sensing hand sanitizing

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

A researcher affiliated with the Toronto Rehabilitation Centre has devised a system to remind health care workers to sanitize their hands before they greet the next patient.

The hand hygiene device consists of three parts: a sensor positioned at the back of the healthcare worker’s neck and infrared lights above the patient’s bed that detect the sensor. A great innovation in own regard is an alcohol gel dispenser that attaches directly to the healthcare worker’s waistband.

A health-care worker wears the sensor and a beep is triggered when the person approaches a patient’s bed, reminding them to use the sanitizing gel. If the health-care worker has already done so, the beep will not sound.

The system also records the time of entry and exit from each patient area and the number of times hands are disinfected. This data can be downloaded into a computer so individual staff members can check their overall hand hygiene and compare it anonymously against their peers.

Love the anonymous part. Of course, it isn’t anonymous. The current interface may be designed to suppress the worker’s id but it doesn’t have to. However, it might be advantageous to know who isn’t complying with the hand sanitizing. And the lead researcher, Geoff Fernie, makes a good point that it’s simply hard to wash your hands 150 times(!) a day. (How health care workers combat chapped skin, is beyond me.)

RFIDs for the home

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the surveillance possibilities for radio frequency identity tags. Now a company has created RFIDs for home use. Never lose your remotes or keys or glasses again! Unless, of course, you lose the remote locator for the RFIDs!

The system has two modes:

Locate – lets you find any tagged item up to a range of 600 feet (180 metres) using directional, audio, visual and vibration technology, guiding you to within 1 inch (2.5cms) of your lost item.

Alert – prevents things from getting lost in the first place: when a tagged item moves out of your pre-set “safety zone”, Loc8tor informs you immediately, what’s missing and directs you to where it’s gone.

The company is marketing the alert mode for businesses as a way to monitor goods that employees may “remove” from a business site. I originally thought that companies might begin marking all sorts of low-priced items like office supplies, which tend to “walk” off the premises at the beginning of the school year. However, at approximately $30CN per tag, only the more valuable items will be tagged.

bike couriers as sensors

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

Bike couriers as human sensors to track air pollution:

Cellphones used by bicycle couriers are monitoring air pollution in Cambridge, UK, and beaming the data back to a research lab.

The technique is made possible by small wireless pollution sensors and custom software that allows the phones to report levels of air pollutants wherever they happen to be around town.

The information can be mapped so that it can be viewed by the general public (and other bike messengers, who are on the front line of this exposure).

What is interesting is the multiplicity of possible applications for these mobile sensors (e.g., the use for noise sensing). I look forward to their discussion of interpolation techniques to maximizes this non-randomized data input.