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January 02 2014

Science Podcast - Monstrous stone monuments of old and a rundown of stories from our daily news site (3 Jan 2014)

Britain's prehistoric stone monuments; stories from our daily news site.

December 31 2013

Malagasy Genius Seeking Happiness off the Grid

Arthur Ramiandrisoa at 11 via Dinosoria CC-License-BY

Arthur at 11 via Dinosoria CC-License-BY

Arthur Ramiandrisoa has been under the spotlight his life. That comes with the territory when you hold the record as the youngest french high school graduate ever [fr] at the tender age of 11. The precocious boy whose father is from Madagascar and mother from France obtained his Masters in Mathematics at 15 from the University of Paris VI. Books were written about him, and TV and radio channels wanted to know the teaching method that got him so successful early on. He seemed destined for great achievements when he decided that what he wanted more than anything is a normal life, away from all the public attention he garnered early on, as E. Pineau explains [fr]: 

Présenté comme le “champion des surdoués français”, l'étiquette se révélera trop encombrante. Depuis son doctorat, obtenu à 19 ans, Arthur Ramiandrisoa n'a qu'un souhait : se faire oublier. Contactés à plusieurs reprises, ses proches n'ont pas donné suite à nos sollicitations. Se contentant de nous indiquer qu’“Arthur a gardé un très mauvais souvenir de plusieurs reportages” et “souhaitconserver l'anonymat dans lequel il vit actuellement”

Billed as the French “champion of the gifted children“, this label will prove too cumbersome in the end. Since he obtained his PhD at 19, Arthur Ramiandrisoa has only one wish: to be forgotten. Contacted several times, his family did not respond to any requests for interviews. They say that “Arthur has bad memories from several reports about him” and “wishes to remain anonymous from now on.

A Ramiandrisoa, now an IT architect, was also a pioneer of XML modeling for urban planning.

December 25 2013

Four short links: 25 December 2013

  1. Inside Netflix’s HR (HBR) — Which idea in the culture deck was the hardest sell with employees? “Adequate performance gets a generous severance package.” It’s a pretty blunt statement of our hunger for excellence. They talk about how those conversations play out in practice.
  2. Top Science Longreads for 2013 (Ed Yong) — for your Christmas reading.
  3. CocoaSPDY — open source library for SPDY (fast HTTP replacement, supported in Chrome) for iOS and OS X.
  4. The Internet of Things Will Replace the Web — invisible buttons loaded with anticipatory actions keyed from mined sensor data. And we’ll complain it’s slow and doesn’t know that I don’t like The Beatles before my coffee and who wrote this crap anyway?

December 23 2013

Four short links: 23 December 2013

  1. DelFly Explorer — 20 grams, 9 minutes of autonomous flight, via barometer and new stereo vision system. (via Wayne Radinsky)
  2. Banning Autonomous Killing Machines (Tech Republic) — While no autonomous weapons have been built yet, it’s not a theoretical concern, either. Late last year, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) released its policy around how autonomous weapons should be used if they were to be deployed in the battlefield. The policy limits how they should operate, but definitely doesn’t ban them. (via Slashdot)
  3. Scientific Data Lost at Alarming Rate — says scientific paper PUBLISHED BEHIND A PAYWALL.
  4. Security of Browser Extension Password Managers (PDF) — This research shows that the examined password managers made design decisions that greatly increase the chance of users unknowingly exposing their passwords through application-level flaws. Many of the flaws relate to the browser-integrated password managers that don’t follow the same-origin policy that is crucial to browser security. In the case of password managers, this means that passwords could be filled into unintended credential forms, making password theft easier.

December 19 2013

Science Podcast - Science's breakthrough of the year, runners-up and the top content from our daily news site (20 Dec 2013)

Notable highlights from the year in science; Science's breakthrough of the year and runners up.

December 18 2013

Made in Togo: A 3D Printer Built from Recycled E-Waste

Afaté GNIKOU is an IT engineer in Togo who wanted to tackle two important goals:

  1. create the first 3D printer from Togo, 
  2. reduce the alarming number of E-waste dumped into his country. 

Here is a presentation of the 3D printer project, called W.AFATE :

The W.Afate 3D Printer made in Togo via ulule.com

The W.Afate 3D Printer made in Togo via ulule.com

A. Gnikou is a member of the Woe lab, a maker collaborative space based in Lomé, capital city of Togo. Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou, founder of Woe Lab, explains Afate's thought process for the project [fr]:

L’imprimante W.AFATE est inspirée de la Prusa Mendel [..] Afate ayant cerné le problème que posait la disponibilité d’un kit dans la concrétisation de ce projet, a initié la démarche de fabrication d’une machine autonomisante, facile à reproduire, 100% à base de recyclage et autres matériaux disponibles.

The W.AFATE printer is inspired by the Prusa Mendel [..] Afate identified a clear problem : the absence of a basic toolkit to achieve his project so he opted to create a machine that is 100% based on recycled materials and easy to replicate.

E-Waste is growing issue in Togo and the nearby countries. The following infography illustrates the increased proportion of E-Waste in the region :

E waste in africa -infography by Woe Lab with their permission

E waste in africa – Infography by Woe Lab with their permission

Reposted bylofi lofi

December 12 2013

Science Podcast - Fear-enhanced odor detection, the latest from the Curiosity mission, and more (13 Dec 2013)

Fear-enhanced odor detection with John McGann; the latest from Curiosity’s hunt for traces of ancient life on Mars with Richard Kerr; and more.

December 06 2013

Four short links: 6 December 2013

  1. Society of Mind — Marvin Minsky’s book now Creative-Commons licensed.
  2. Collaboration, Stars, and the Changing Organization of Science: Evidence from Evolutionary BiologyThe concentration of research output is declining at the department level but increasing at the individual level. [...] We speculate that this may be due to changing patterns of collaboration, perhaps caused by the rising burden of knowledge and the falling cost of communication, both of which increase the returns to collaboration. Indeed, we report evidence that the propensity to collaborate is rising over time. (via Sciblogs)
  3. As Engineers, We Must Consider the Ethical Implications of our Work (The Guardian) — applies to coders and designers as well.
  4. Eyewire — a game to crowdsource the mapping of 3D structure of neurons.

December 05 2013

Five Little-known Energy Resources in Africa

Electricity supply problems are once again news in several African countries with recurring power outages in Benin, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire and Madagascar, to name just a few of those most recently affected.

In Benin, a private Nigerian company supplies much of the country’s electricity.

A report on the Kongossa blog [fr] describes the current situation in Cameroon.:

Malgré des investissements réalisés ces dernières années par la firme américano-camerounaise AES-SONEL chargée de la production, du transport, de la distribution et de la commercialisation de l’énergie électrique, le problème est loin d’être résolu.[..] Si à Douala et Yaoundé, les coupures d’électricité durent en moyenne quatre à six heures, dans d’autres localités des pays, notamment dans les zones rurales, des témoignages concordants rapportent que les coupures d’électricité peuvent durer jusqu’à trois jours d’affilé

Despite investments made these past years by the American-Cameroonian firm AES-SONEL in charge of production, transportation, distribution and sale of electrical energy, the problem is far from being resolved. [...] Power cuts in Douala and Yaoundé last on average four to six hours while in other areas of the country, notably in rural zones, eyewitnesses consistently report that power cuts can last up to three days in a row.

In Côte d’Ivoire, outages are so frequent that they are listed on the Facebook page of an imaginary supervillain, Delestron [a play on words with the French term for outage], created by Ivoirian internet users.

Finally, in Madagascar, many communities are furious with the national electricity company Jirama, accused of frequent failures to meet requirements. For example, in the community of Ambohibao Iavoloha [fr]:

Par exemple, la coupure totale sans avertissement qui a eu lieu entre le 06 et 11 novembre dernier. A partir du 11 au 15 novembre, les habitants ont été confrontés au délestage et l’électricité ne revient que le lendemain vers 2h du matin. Tel est le cas de l’électricité mais la faible pression de l’eau de la Jirama fait aussi grogner les habitants.

For example, the complete loss of power which happened without warning from November 6th to the 11th. From November 11th to the 15th, inhabitants had to put up with controlled outages and electricity was only available around 2am the following day. That is the situation regarding electricity, but the low water pressure from Jirama also gives inhabitants something to grumble about.

Rural populations in sub-Saharan Africa are the worst off since only 8.4 percent have access to electricity. However, in light of the growth projected [for Africa], the needs of the continent are certainly going to increase. In 2007, annual energy consumption from primary sources was only 15.4 British thermal units (Btu) per person. By comparison, global energy consumption per person per year was 70.8 Btu while that of Americans was 337.1 Btu (almost 22 times that of the mean in Africa).

However, the African continent is not lacking in natural resources which could meet the energy requirements. Any problems are exacerbated by the global intensification of the race towards energy independence. Many countries are turning to the natural resources of the African continent to supply their energy.

PIDA Africa Electricity Transportation Map

Programs for production and transportation of electricity in Africa by 2040. Map by PIDA, used with their authorisation.

Here are five of the lesser known energy sources  on the African continent:

Heavy Oil of Madagascar

Although Madagascar oil remains relatively unknown internationally-speaking, it has been the object of much speculation. Despite the political crisis, interest in the oil of Madagascar [from overseas] has never lessened. Madagascar news website author Antsa explained [fr] Japan’s interest:

Une délégation japonaise a rencontré les responsables du ministère des Hydrocarbures, à la recherche d'information sur la situation actuelle du secteur des ressources pétrolières, ainsi que des lois et règlementations en vigueur. «Malgré la crise politique, les investisseurs sont restés et d'autres viennent encore pour l'exploration de pétrole. Même s'ils ne sont que dans la phase d'exploration, des avantages sont déjà acquis, à l'exemple de la création d'écoles, d'hôpitaux, l’amélioration et le renforcement de capacité, etc. De plus, le gouvernement ne paie rien, malgré le partage de production», a informé le DG des Hydrocarbures. Notons que trois compagnies pétrolières japonaises ICEP, Jog Meg et Mitsibushi, s'intéressent actuellement à Madagascar.

A Japanese delegation met with representatives from the Ministry of Hydrocarbons to find information on the current situation within the petroleum resources sector, as well as on the laws and rules in force. “Despite the political crisis, investors have stayed while others continue to come for the oil exploration. Even if they are only in the exploration phase, some advantages have already been seen, for example, schools and hospitals have been built or expanded, etc. What is more, the government pays nothing, despite sharing production”, stated the Hydrocarbons Manager. Three Japanese petroleum companies – ICEP, Jog Meg and Mitsibushi – are currently interested in Madagascar.

This growing interest from petroleum businesses could however bring risks. Holly Rakotondralambo, Madagascar partner of Friends of the Earth, explained [fr]:

Alors que les prix du pétrole et des métaux sont de plus en plus élevés en raison d’une demande mondiale croissante, les grandes entreprises et les investisseurs se ruent sur Madagascar. Dans un contexte politique très fragile, ce phénomène risque d'exacerber des conflits avec les populations et de dégrader, encore davantage, des écosystèmes très riches déjà en sursis.

Although oil and metal prices are higher because of growing global demand, big business and investors are rushing to Madagascar. In an extremely fragile political context, this phenomenon threatens to worsen conflicts with the people as well as further despoiling rich ecosystems already living on borrowed time.
natural ressources of Madagascar and the corporations vying for them. Graph posted by  Front Patriotique Malagasy on Facebook, with his permission

 
Natural resources of Madagascar and the companies competing to exploit them. Map published by the OMNIS agency on Facebook, used with permission

 

Tar Sands of the Republic of Congo

Tar sand deposits are an important source of synthetic crude oil. However, they are difficult to exploit and controversial because of their environmental impact. Italian company ENI is the first oil company to exploit the African tar sands. In the Congo, ENI collects tar sands 70km from Pointe-Noire, Congo-Brazzaville, in the Tchikatanga and Tchikatanga-Makola regions. Exploitation of these bitumen-rich sands can be risky, as explained here by the blog Vivement la désintox [fr] [I can’t wait for the detox]:

Exploiter les sables bitumineux est la façon la plus sale, la plus chère et la plus énergivore de produire du pétrole. Extraire 1 baril de pétrole bitumineux nécessite 5 barils d'eau et émet jusqu’à 5 fois plus de gaz à effet de serre que le pétrole conventionnel. L’extraction des sables bitumineux est également synonyme de déforestation et de pollution des eaux. En effet, afin de séparer le pétrole du sable, les compagnies injectent des solvants qui polluent massivement les sols et les rivières.

Exploiting tar sands is the dirtiest, most expensive, most energy-demanding way to produce oil. Extracting one barrel of tar oil takes five barrels of water and releases up to five times more greenhouse gases than normal oil. Extraction of tar sands is also synonymous with deforestation and water pollution. In order to separate the oil from the sand, the companies inject solvents which pollute massively the soil and rivers.

The Windmills of Cape Verde

The Cape Verde islands are the site of the largest windmill farm in Africa. The electricity production equipment on four of the islands could lead to the greatest supply of electricity from wind energy in the world (in proportion to the size of the country), as explained in the following video:

Juan Cole explained the country’s wind energy gamble:

The lack of electricity and its high price have been serious obstacles to economic development and job creation, and thus major reasons for mass emigration of the population. Whereas European wind power often depends on substantial subsidies, the project in Cape Verde is based on strong winds. Electricity generated from wind power is distinctly cheaper than the power sources used hitherto in the islands.

The Potential of Solar Energy in Benin

With energy consumption growing rapidly in Benin, (and estimated to grow by 11% in future years by the state Electrical Energy Company), lack of investment in the sector coupled with losses during distribution and transportation (of around 18-30%) are the main reasons of the current necessity for controlled outages. Leomick Sinsin, a blogger from Benin, described the potential advantages of investing in photovoltaic energy [fr] in his country:

Avec un rayonnement variant de 3 à 6 kWh par m² selon la position géographique, le principal atout d’une installation solaire en Afrique est sa capacité à fournir suffisamment de puissance pour répondre aux besoins quotidiens. D’autre part, l’avantage d’un système solaire est la décentralisation du système de production. Quand l’on connait la vétusté des infrastructures existantes, nul ne saurait contredire le bien fondé d’un système où le site de production juxtaposerait le point de consommation. Le bon exemple est la maison isolée avec des modules surplombant la toiture. [..] Le dernier argument et pas des moindres est le travail d’efficacité énergétique qu’ impose une installation solaire. Un système solaire est une énergie intermittente qui dépend de plusieurs paramètres comme la météo, la qualité de l’installation etc. De ce fait, la consommation implique un recours vers des appareils sobres et peu énergivores. Nous réduisons ainsi le niveau de consommation tout en préservant le même niveau d’utilité.

With power varying from 3 to 6 kWh/m2 depending on geographical position, the main advantage of solar installations in Africa is their capacity to provide enough power to answer daily needs. Another advantage of solar power systems is decentralisation of production. Knowing the antiquity of the existing infrastructure, no-one could be against starting a system where the production site is beside the point of use. A good example is a remote house with panels on the roof. [...] Last but not least, the work towards energy efficiency that a solar installation imposes. Solar power gives intermittent energy which depends on several parameters such as the weather, quality of the installation, etc. As a result, its usage implies a move towards energy-saving equipment. In this way the level of consumption can be reduced while keeping the same degree of usability.

Geothermic energy from the Rift Valley

Recently, several energy companies have stressed the importance of geothermic energy as both a response to the energy needs for countries within the Horn of Africa [Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia] and the Rift Valley as well as an integral part of the program for “green growth”. SciDev.Net reported that Djibouti could become a major player [fr] in geothermic energy:

Le potentiel d'énergie géothermique de la région du Lac Assal de ce pays, qui se trouve dans la vallée du Rift, est à l'étude [..] La production d'énergie sur le lac Assal pourrait commencer en 2018 pour un coût de US$ 240 millions, générant 40 à 60 mégawatts. La BAD recommande que les partenariats entre les secteurs public et privé développent ces projets d'énergie en raison de leurs coûts élevés.

The potential of geothermic energy in the Lake Assal region of this country in the Rift Valley is being studied [...] Energy production around Lake Assal could start in 2018 for a cost of 240 million US Dollars, generating 40 to 60 megawatts. The BAD recommend that public and private sector partnerships develop these energy projects due to their high cost.

G. Pourtier added that Ethiopia is also starting to explore thermal energy [fr]:

Située à 200 km au sud d'Addis-Abeba, la capitale éthiopienne, la nouvelle centrale produira d'abord 20 MW à partir de 2015, puis 500 MW en 2018 et enfin 1 GW quelques années plus tard [..]. La surface acquise par Reykjavik Geothermal en Éthiopie couvre 6500 km2, dont 200 km2 ont déjà été identifiés et où la température s'élève à 350°C.

Located 200 km south of Addis Abbaba, the Ethiopian capital, the new power station will start producing 20 MW from 2015, then 500 MW in 2018 and finally 1 GW several years later [...] The area acquired by Reykjavik Geothermal covers 6500 km2, of which 200 km2 have already been identified as having temperatures reaching 350°C.

Science Podcast - Noisy gene expression, the Tohoku-oki fault, and snake venom as a healer (6 Dec 2013)

Discussing the origin of transcriptional noise with Alvaro Sanchez; examining results from a drilling expedition at the Tohoku-oki fault; and looking at the potential benefits of snake venom with Kai Kupferschmidt.

December 04 2013

Four short links: 4 December 2013

  1. Skyjack — drone that takes over other drones. Welcome to the Malware of Things.
  2. Bootstrap Worlda curricular module for students ages 12-16, which teaches algebraic and geometric concepts through computer programming. (via Esther Wojicki)
  3. Harvestopen source BSD-licensed toolkit for building web applications for integrating, discovering, and reporting data. Designed for biomedical data first. (via Mozilla Science Lab)
  4. Project ILIAD — crowdsourced antibiotic discovery.

November 29 2013

Four short links: 29 November 2013

  1. Huaqiang Bei Map for Makers — excellent resource for visitors to an iconic huge electronics market in Shenzhen. (via Bunnie Huang)
  2. A 16th Century Dutchman Can Tell us Everything We Need to Know about GMO PatentsThere’s nothing wrong with this division of labor, except that it means that fewer people are tinkering. We’ve centralized the responsibility for agricultural innovation among a few engineers, even fewer investors, and just a handful of corporations. (and check out the historical story—it’s GREAT)
  3. Polymath Projects — massively multiplayer mathematical proving ground. Let the “how many mathematicians does it take” jokes commence. (via Slashdot)
  4. Stats on Dying TV — like a Mary Meeker preso, accumulation of evidence that TV screens and cable subscriptions are dying and mobile-consumed media are taking its place.

November 28 2013

Science Podcast - 2013 science books for kids, newlywed happiness, and authorship for sale in China (29 Nov 2013)

Talking kids' science books with Maria Sosa; predicting happiness in marriage with James McNulty; investigating questionable scholarly publishing practices in China with Mara Hvistendahl.

November 27 2013

Four short links: 27 November 2013

  1. CT Scanning and 3D Printing for Paleo (Scientific American) — using CT scanners to identify bones still in rock, then using 3D printers to recreate them. (via BoingBoing)
  2. Growing the Use of Drones in Agriculture (Forbes) — According to Sue Rosenstock, 3D Robotics spokesperson, a third of their customers consist of hobbyists, another third of enterprise users, and a third use their drones as consumer tools. “Over time, we expect that to change as we make more enterprise-focused products, such as mapping applications,” she explains. (via Chris Anderson)
  3. Serving 1M Load-Balanced Requests/Second (Google Cloud Platform blog) — 7m from empty project to serving 1M requests/second. I remember when 1 request/second was considered insanely busy. (via Forbes)
  4. Boil Up — behind the scenes for the design and coding of a real-time simulation for a museum’s science exhibit. (via Courtney Johnston)

November 26 2013

Four short links: 26 November 2013

  1. The Death and Life of Great Internet Cities“The sense that you were given some space on the Internet, and allowed to do anything you wanted to in that space, it’s completely gone from these new social sites,” said Scott. “Like prisoners, or livestock, or anybody locked in institution, I am sure the residents of these new places don’t even notice the walls anymore.”
  2. What You’re Not Supposed To Do With Google Glass (Esquire) — Maybe I can put these interruptions to good use. I once read that in ancient Rome, when a general came home victorious, they’d throw him a triumphal parade. But there was always a slave who walked behind the general, whispering in his ear to keep him humble. “You are mortal,” the slave would say. I’ve always wanted a modern nonslave version of this — a way to remind myself to keep perspective. And Glass seemed the first gadget that would allow me to do that. In the morning, I schedule a series of messages to e-mail myself throughout the day. “You are mortal.” “You are going to die someday.” “Stop being a selfish bastard and think about others.” (via BoingBoing)
  3. Neural Networks and Deep Learning — Chapter 1 up and free, and there’s an IndieGogo campaign to fund the rest.
  4. What We Know and Don’t KnowThat highly controlled approach creates the misconception that fossils come out of the ground with labels attached. Or worse, that discovery comes from cloaked geniuses instead of open discussion. We’re hoping to combat these misconceptions by pursuing an open approach. This is today’s evolutionary science, not the science of fifty years ago We’re here sharing science. [...] Science isn’t the answers, science is the process. Open science in paleoanthropology.

November 24 2013

Scientists from Around the World Gather in Brazil

World Science Forum

World Science Forum

The World Science Forum (WSF) gathers hundreds of scientists from all around the world this week in Brazil, to discuss their role in the 21st century and to emphasize the importance of scientific advice in political and economical decisions.

Brazil has hosted several events to discuss poverty eradication and sustainable development from the perspective of different social groups, occasionally antagonistic, such as Rio +20, the People's Summit and the World Social Forum. Due to the fact that nature does not recognize national borders, scientists see both issues from a global perspective. Therefore, they are using their knowledge so that science is able to integrate the construction of equitable societies, which ensure the quality of life of the populations without depleting the natural resources needed for future generations.

The sixth edition of the WSF takes place from November 24 to November 27 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is the first time the forum is not organized in Hungary. This year the Brazilian Academy of Science partnered with the biggest international scientific organizations. The event will be broadcast via Internet in English, the official language of the event, and will be covered in social networks via hashtag #WSFBRAZIL.

Reposted bytowser towser

November 22 2013

TERRA 824: Life on Ice

Escape into spectacular Hyalite Canyon and discover the uniquely human activity of ice climbing. LIFE ON ICE is an adventure to remember; an adventure of impossible jumps through space and time; an adventure that blends art, science, and sport in a way that's never been seen before. Official Selection Big Bear Lake International Film Festival. Official Selection & Honourable Mention Wild Talk Africa International Film Festival. Produced by Refah Seyed Mahmoud.

November 21 2013

Science Podcast - Replacing the Y chromosome, the future of U.S. missile defense, the brightest gamma-ray burst, and more (22 Nov 2013)

The minimum requirements for a Y chromosome with Monika Ward; Eliot Marshall checks in on U.S.'s missile interception program 30 years later; Sylvia Zhu breaks down observations from the brightest gamma-ray burst.

November 14 2013

Science Podcast - Canine origins, asexual bacterial adaptation, perovskite-based solar cells, and more (15 Nov 2013)

The origin of dog domestication in Europe with Robert Wayne; Richard Lenski tracks the adaptation of bacteria over 50,000 generations; Robert Services describes the prospects of a new contender in solar technology.

November 11 2013

Four short links: 12 Nov 2013

  1. Quantitative Reliability of Programs That Execute on Unreliable Hardware (MIT) — As MIT’s press release put it: Rely simply steps through the intermediate representation, folding the probability that each instruction will yield the right answer into an estimation of the overall variability of the program’s output. (via Pete Warden)
  2. AirBNB’s Javascript Style Guide (Github) — A mostly reasonable approach to JavaScript.
  3. Category Theory for Scientists (MIT Courseware) — Scooby snacks for rationalists.
  4. Textblob — Python open source text processing library with sentiment analysis, PoS tagging, term extraction, and more.
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