Ever wonder – What Major World Cities Look Like at Night, Minus the Light Pollution

In a stunning montage of pictures, Smithsonian Magazine published an article on just about that topic. How does it look at night? Has pollution really taken away the charm of beautiful nights?

Thierry Cohen, took up the challenge some three years ago when he started on a world wide tour to take pictures of major cities minus all the light & air pollution. Cohen fears, as he recently told the New York Times, that the hazy view has spawned a breed of urbanite, sheltered by his and her manmade environs, that “forgets and no longer understands nature.”

Well, here take a look:

 

San-Francisco-Thierry-Cohen

San Francisco 37° 48′ 30″ N 2010-10-9 Lst 20:58. © Thierry Cohen 

 

Tokyo 35° 41′ 36″ N 2011-11-16 Lst 23:16. © Thierry Cohen.

Tokyo 35° 41′ 36″ N 2011-11-16 Lst 23:16. © Thierry Cohen.

 

São Paulo 23° 33′ 22″ S 2011-06-05 Lst 11:44. © Thierry Cohen.

São Paulo 23° 33′ 22″ S 2011-06-05 Lst 11:44. © Thierry Cohen.

 

Paris 48° 50′ 55″ N 2012-08-13 Lst 22:15. © Thierry Cohen.

Paris 48° 50′ 55″ N 2012-08-13 Lst 22:15. © Thierry Cohen.

 

Los Angeles 34° 03′ 20″ N 2010-10-09 Lst 21:50. © Thierry Cohen.

Los Angeles 34° 03′ 20″ N 2010-10-09 Lst 21:50. © Thierry Cohen.

 

Hong Kong 22° 16′ 38″ N 2012-03-22 Lst 14:00. © Thierry Cohen

Hong Kong 22° 16′ 38″ N 2012-03-22 Lst 14:00. © Thierry Cohen

 

 

Advertisements

Research suggests, Facebook chats are more memorable than books !!

images (1)

Online social networking is highly popular and allows its members to post their thoughts as micro-blogs. This opportunity is exploited by people on Facebook alone, over 30 million times an hour. One does think that such trivial ephemera, would vanish quickly from everyone’s memory. However, they may comprise the sort of information that our memories are tuned to recognize, if that which we readily generate, we also readily store. Recent research published in the journal Memory & Cognition by cognitive psychologist Laura Mickes of the University of California, San Diego, and her colleagues, suggests that Facebook posts are one-and-a-half times as memorable as book sentences.

How they did it?

The authors initially were not researching on Facebook chats per se, but were looking into the effects of emotions on memory, and they happened to be using Facebook posts to invoke various feelings. What they surprisingly found was that the status updates seemed to be memorable all on their own.  They gathered Facebook posts from the accounts of undergraduate research assistants and also randomly selected sentences from recently published books.  They then stripped the posts and book excerpts of their context, and then asked a few college undergraduate students  to study and memorize the selected phrases from either Facebook or books, assigning equal number of students to each group. Then they sat the volunteers in front of a computer screen and, one at a time, displayed either a sentence the volunteer had studied or a sentence that was new to the volunteer. The team asked the subjects if they had seen each before, and how sure they were about it.

What does it prove?

All of this points out to the fact that Facebook, Twitter and other such social messaging platforms have brought the fluidity of personal conversations into written text. And we all know how easily we remember social conversations better.

All of this however, does not mean that you can cram for exams by posting chitchats on Facebook, Twitter etc!!

Green Nuclear Plants? You must be kidding !!

With a world besieged by global warming and the global population set to hit nine billion by 2050, sustainable energy production has become a major issue for all developing countries. In this, comes the new fangled technology dubbed as “Green Nuclear Energy”. 

In a series of TED talks, Kirk Sorensen a  former NASA aerospace engineer and former chief nuclear technologist at Teledyne Brown Engineering has been propagating the idea of “Green Nuclear Energy”.

This idea rests upon using thorium based on liquid fluoride thorium reactor.

The liquid fluoride thorium reactor is a thermal breeder reactor that uses the thorium fuel cycle in a fluoride-based molten (liquid) salt fuel to achieve high operating temperatures at atmospheric pressure.

The pro-thorium lobby, led by Kirk Sorensen claim that a single tonne of thorium burned in a liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR)  can produce one gigawatt of energy. A traditional pressurized water reactor (PWR) would need to burn 250 tonnes of uranium to produce the same amount of energy. Further claims also include them producing less waste, having no weapons grade by-products, and are meltdown proof.

So, if all these claims are true then why aren’t all countries throughout the world using them ?

The answer is multi-fold and let me tell all the potential disadvantages about it which the TED talks won’t be telling you.

  1. None have been built- Yes, though the idea exists from several decades, but has never been brought to fruition.  Only a few LFTRs have actually been built; those experimental reactors had been constructed more than 40 years ago. So, this technology has is difficult to critically assess.
  2. Startup fuel– Unlike the uranium based reactors, mined thorium does not have a fission isotope.  Thorium reactors breed fissile uranium-233 from thorium, but require a considerable amount of U-233 for the initial start up. Currently there is very little of this material available. This raises the problem of how to start up the reactors in a reasonable time frame. The two alternative options for LFTR startup are enriched uranium and plutonium from reactors or decommissioned bombs. For enriched uranium startup, a quite high enrichment is needed. Decommissioned uranium bombs have a high enough enrichment, and would simultaneously dispose of weapons grade uranium, but not enough is available to start up a large number of LFTRs.
  3. Waste management –  There is still a need to manage the waste, which is still very radioactive, even though it is hazardous for a shorter period.
  4. De-commissioning costs – The costs for decommissioning a French reactor based on LFTR was  $ 130 million. As more reactors have not been constructed or experimented, it is highly unlikely the costs will decrease anytime in future.
  5. Other toxicity concerns – Other concerns include beryllium toxicity, risk of potential proliferation of radioactive salts, neutron poisoning, corrosion concerns due to tellurium buildup, radiation damage to nickel alloys used in  constructing the primary fuel salt loop.

So what now?

Various developing countries, especially India with world’s largest thorium deposit is pushing to get these LFTRs up and running. Development of thorium based reactors is merely a way of deflecting attention and criticism from the dangers of the uranium fuel cycle and excusing the pumping of more money into the nuclear industry.In a post-Fukushima world,the nuclear industry is searching for its own version of radioactive holy grail- safe reactors producing more energy for less and cheaper fuel.

With billions of dollars already spent on nuclear research, reactor construction and decommissioning costs, dwarfing commitments to renewable energy research, the thorium dream is considered by many to be a dangerous diversion.

In the end, despite the hype and pitfalls it represents i ask all of you out there, do you think it is better to spend billions of dollars to commission, research and install these new nuclear power plants or is it high enough time to invest seriously on renewable energy ?

With these thoughts, i leave you folks to read more on this:

  1.  Thorium Fuel – No Panacea for Nuclear Power, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, 2009.
  2. Is thorium the answer to our energy crisis?, Independent, 2006
  3. Liquid Fluoride Thorium Power: Pros and Cons, Triple Pundit, 2012.
  4. Benefits of Thorium Are ‘Overstated’, UK Report Finds, Clean Technica, 2012

Journals: for the Scientists, of the Scientists and now “BY” the Scientists !!

Professor Tim Gowers

A recent announcement by Field’s medal winner and mathematician of the University of Cambridge, Tim Gowers (pictured above) has created a quite a wave in the publishing industry. In a series of posts in his blog, he outlined a plan to launch a series of free open-access journals that will host their peer-reviewed articles on the pre-print server arXiv.

This new initiative is called, the Episciences Project and the main aim of project is to show that researchers can organise the peer-review process and publish research articles at fraction of a cost without involving any commercial publishers.

The issue about open access v/s paid access, came at loggerheads last year when thousands of researchers in different fields signed an online petition to boycott Elsevier. Elsevier is an  Amsterdam-based academic publishing giant with an annual turnover of around $ 6 billion. The boycott was to protest against the company practices which the thousands of researchers say hinder the dissemination of research.

Tim Gowers one who spearheaded the last years protest has finally come up with a concrete plan to start-up this new initiative. According to Nature, the plan became a reality only last June when he was contacted by the Centre for Direct Scientific Communication (CCSD), which  develops open-access repositories such as the multidisciplinary archive HAL, which mirrors the arXiv site.

The publishing plan (From Nature) is something like this –

“For the Episciences Project, the CCSD plans to create a publishing platform that will support online peer-reviewed journals. Each journal, or ‘epijournal’, would have its own editor and editorial board, and authors could submit their arXiv-posted papers to their journal of choice. The journal would then organize peer review, perhaps using workflow software provided by the CCSD. Peer-reviewed papers would be posted on arXiv alongside their un-reviewed versions.”

This plan however, would only work if other mathematicians decide to contribute to this project and maintain buy-ins of the printed versions of the journals. In light of the recent death of Aaron Swartz, this new plan can serve as a perfect homage to him and to his struggles to make Internet a free place.

More on this:

  1. Open-access deal for particle physics, Nature, 2012.
  2. Elsevier boycott gathers pace, Nature, 2012.
  3. Access all areas, Nature, 2012.
  4. Academic publishing doesn’t add up, Guardian, 2012.

The undisputed legacy of Aaron Swartz

Tech_World_Saddened_by_Death-182764e4bea1cd0b67e54d107ea9969e

Aaron Swartz – Genius, Child Prodigy, Hacker, Activist died last Saturday and caused a media furore throughout the world. Every big media outlet posted their eulogies, postscripts about him. So, who was he and what was his legacy?

HIS GENIUS…

Aaron Swartz first came into limelight when at the age of 14 he helped develop the Real Simple Syndication (RSS) 1.0 specification. The RSS specification is a family of web feed formats which are used to publish works which are frequently updated—such as blogs, news headlines—in a standardized format. The Open Library, which has a lofty aim of publishing every book on earth online was also his work. As was Infogami, which later on merged with Reddit and made him financially independent and free himself to pursue various causes.

HIS ACTIVISM…

Ever since winning the  ArsDigita Prize, a competition for young people who created “useful, educational, and collaborative” non-commercial Web sites he had been associated with Open Source /Open Code movement. After the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), was unleashed by the US government, he formed the group Demand Progress which was responsible for halting the juggernaut in its tracks. But, his activism and interests were not limited to open Source but ranged from health care to public policy.

HIS PERSECUTION…

In September, 2008, he used an automated program to free up nearly twenty million pages of federal court records from a government-run database. Though this act of his was on a legal borderline, but FBI decided to make a database about him. This however, was not the last such incident for some years later he used his MIT internet access to download  few million scholarly articles from JSTOR. Things became really serious after this, as he was charged by the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts with computer fraud and other charges that carried a potential sentence of 35 years in jail and $1 million in fines. JSTOR later on, decided to drop the case, but US Attorney  Carmen M. Ortiz decided to go ahead with the trial, which was expected to begin sometime later this year.

The manner in which he was charged with and the fact that despite JSTOR dropping the case, he was still facing a court date has surfaced stories about his persecution. Swartz’s family in a statement blamed his suicide in part to the unending atmosphere of intimidation and judicial overreach.  

HIS LEGACY…

Aaron Swartz’s legacy would always be the Open Source/Open Web/Open Code movement he was a part of. Whatever legal disputes may have surrounded him or the clinical depression he suffered in his final days, his legend as the Champion of Open Web would grow for years to come.

Hats off, Aaron !!