Why we lie…..

Sunday, May 27, 2012 at 08:39:56

Dan Ariely has a really good Saturday Essay in the Wall Street Journal on Why We lie. This pulls together (in layman’s terms) a lot of his research on the topic (and it’s well worth watching him speak on the topic at TED) and, in summary, most people lie/cheat a little bit. There are very very few of us that are at the extremities (compulsive liers/cheats or those morally at the extreme). Yet that little bit of lying can have profound effects on us all - just think of the 300M people in the US cheating an extra $100 out of the IRS. He suggests some ways that we can manipulate this in the favour of morality that are wonderfully simple - sign a form at the beginning (of a test, tax return, insurance quote) to state that what you say is true or repeat a moral code (frat code, ten commandments etc) before you start an activity. Has big implications for schools amongst others. Essential reading/viewing.

SpaceX - successful launch

Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 10:32:40

After the disappointing postponement of Saturday’s scheduled slot, SpaceX successfully launched their Dragon freight capsule on board the Falcon rocket. Watch the launch at the BBC. The importance of this cannot be underestimated…. it’s the first commercial resupply of an orbiting platform and part of NASAs strategy to offload near-Earth missions to lower-cost suppliers. As North Korea amply demonstrated, getting a satellite in to space is no easy feat and whilst SpaceX has been developing its capability for sometime, this is a significant leap forward. So, its got its cargo in to space and over the next few days it will perform a test manoeuvre to see if its systems are satisfactory for docking and then go for the real thing. A real historic moment.


Monday, May 14, 2012 at 09:03:54

It’s now new, however for those not in the know Inkscape is the grand-daddy of open-source vector graphics software. There is a strong and continuous development cycle and whilst it is still going to be sometime before a full version 1 release is available, it is an impressively featured and powerful piece of software. As ever, its downloadable as cross-platform and available on Windows as a portable version. It has a extension architecture that supports an ever expanding set of functions.

There is no better advert for a product like this than the images it can produce….. take a look at the Inkscape Tutorials Blog and Open Clip Art library (although not all are created with Inkscape on the latter). I’ve used Inkscape on-and-off for a while (including for DTP jobs where I find it more intuitive and powerful than Scribus, although maybe I need to spend some more time with the latter!) but thought I’d follow one of the tutorials to produce something, so I plumped for the coffee cup with the results below…. OK, it’s hardly going to win anything, but the results are impressive for a relatively straightforward tutorial (besides the crappy handle…. just never quite seem to be able to crack bezier curves). Worth a gentle introduction and keeping tabs on the manual me thinks.

Conference: Objective Geomorphological Representation Models

Friday, May 11, 2012 at 18:51:52

The IAG/AIG WG on Apllied Geomorphological Mapping (http://www.appgema.net/), together with the Italian Association of Physical Geography and Geomorphology (AIGEO), the University of Salerno, with the support of National Park Cilento and Vallo di Diano, and Geoparks are organizing an International Workshop on “Objective Geomorphological Representation Models: Breaking through a New Geomorphological Mapping Frontier” on 15-19 October 2012, in the Salerno University Campus, Italy. This comes as a natural follow up on the recently published book ‘Geomorphological Mapping methods and applications’ edited by the AppGeMa IAG WG.

Four renowned Key Note Lectures, oral and poster session will be hold, and a field excursion to discuss the geomorphological mapping of a landslide on the coast of the Tyrrhenian sea (Cilento and Vallo di Diano Geopark).

More information and the registration form are available on the IAG website http://www.geomorph.org/main.html

Deadlines Summary:
Registration August 31, 2012 
Abstract submission June 30, 2012 
Abstract acceptance July 31, 2012 

Looking forward to seeing you in Salerno!

NDVI Differencing

Friday, May 11, 2012 at 13:42:46

During my remote sensing class in the fall term I cover some introductory level image processing techniques that can be used in quite profound ways. If we have a multi-spectral image with each layer imaging the Earth at different wavelengths, how can we manipulate that? Well, one very common technique is a ratio (divide one wavelength by another), giving you the proportion of variation of one layer relative to another. Where this is powerful is when you have two diagnostic wavelengths unique to your surface of interest (e.g. green and red), with very large differences in reflectance. This allows you identify very subtle variations in your target wavelengths. For vegetation, green and NIR are ideal wavelengths and the Ratio Vegetation Index does this. However its not comparable to other RVI measurements (and can vary to infinity), so its common to normalise (i.e. look at the range rather than absolute values) this calculation, a measurement called the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index. This gives you the amount of “greenness” and is calculated operationally as a product for many satellites. Its powerful for monitoring vegetation and is used extensively for things like crop-management and deforestation.

On their own, many of these techniques offer significant insights about the environment. However in combination, they allow you to perform complex tasks and create greater understanding. Another common process is to subtract two images at different time periods allowing you see the change that has occurred; very effective for temporal analysis. And, of course, when combined with the NDVI you get to see change in vegetation through time.

What kicked this blog entry off was a really good NASA Image of the Day which shows the dramatic effect of drought and decreasing vegetation in Spain. For robustness the NDVI average over a 16-day period this spring is taken and then subtracted from the overall average. Using the data the USDA have been able to estimate the yield and therefore the shortfall in harvest against need and so the approximate requirement for import. For me, it is this simple work that shows the importance of operational remote sensing at an international, national, regional and even individual level. It affects everyone.

Geoscience Data Journal

Thursday, May 10, 2012 at 22:27:42

Paolo also pinged me a link to the Geoscience Data Journal, published by Wiley under open access. Data publication is close to my heart (and Journal of Maps) and something I have blogged about before here, here and here. With so much digital data we are in a generation that may end up losing lots of it. This is not something that has gone unnoticed by libraries, governments or research councils, as well as societies. As a result there are various subject-based or more broad brush clearing houses for maintained data and outputs from limited-life projects. At the tail end of “limited-life” you have funded and unfunded research. Wiley clearly think GDJ is worth a punt in that it is targeting the whole geoscience community with the USP that as an author you garner a peer-reviewed publication and that your data becomes citable and widely available. This is something we have supported at JoM and published about our citation strategies more recently. In short we enable citation of authors, secondary authors, map authors and data authors.

Data citation in other disciplines (e.g. physics)is more common due to the nature of reproducible research and the need to re-test initial findings. So this is nothing but a good move and with the journal open to submissions it will be interesting to see what the first few issues look like. Papers are intended to be short (1200-6000 words) and have the dataset deposited with an “approved” repository (“one that can mint a DOI, is commonly used by the scientific community it supports and has a formal data management policy”). It’s this latter point that is the killer…. there are only 2 UK based repositories. These things do need to grow organically, but given the Ed board has an international membership one would have hoped for slightly wider coverage to encourage submission. Anyway, you have to start somewhere (and JoM is a nice example of that) and they have the support of a publisher, repositories and a top-class Ed board. Watch that space….

Imaggeo geosci image library

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 08:46:06

A nice catch from Paolo (thanks!) at EGU last month was the launch of Imaggeo which is an open access geoscience image library. All the images are interesting and range from stunning through to poor quality (but none-the-less interesting). Some historical some modern and, increasingly, something for everyone. If you are giving that lecture and suddenly realise you need that image of a pingo (actually, for the time being you’ll have to go to Wikipedia because they don’t have that image). However the library is new (everything licensed under Creative Commons which is nice to see) and growing…. it’d be nice if they put the total number of the front page, but if you go to the Sections page you’ll get an idea of how many (about 1300 at the moment).

Battery charging best practice

Friday, May 4, 2012 at 09:58:32

A good pick-up from the Guardian on battery charging with this summary salutory advice:

What does all this mean in practical terms? Unless you have specific instructions from the manufacturer to the contrary, you probably can leave a device plugged in if it is truly off. Otherwise, you probably should not leave it plugged in for much more than an hour after the "fully charged" indicator comes on. This gives you the greatest chance of giving your battery the longest life possible. This may not matter for a device that you are going to replace every year or two anyway - such as a cell phone - but for devices that you intend to keep for several years, such as a laptop or tablet, you may want to be more conservative in your recharging practices.

Repeat to remember…..

Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 07:14:32

….it’s a well worn mantra. Repeat something over-and-over to remember it (or, shout longer and louder and people will believe you!). In fact its one of of the “Brain Rules” and spaced repetition is a well known phenomena. Donald Clark covered Kandel recently which provides a nice biological context for long-term memorisation (something experimentally shown by Ebbinghaus over a century ago).

Yet as Donald notes, spaced repetition is largely ignored in training and education, although it is more endemic in primary schools where numeracy and literacy are core skills that are practised over and over. I would argue that this draws on historical norms, that repeated practise has always been done. There isn’t really an appreciation of spaced repetition which could be used more powerfully. Anyway, a nice quote from Donald on Kandel:

Learning, for Kandel, is the ability to acquire new ideas from experience and retain them as memories (a simple fact often overlooked).

So now we have a differentiation between learning (as in the acquisition of new knowledge/skills) and education (preparation for life). It is perhaps arguable as to whether learning is simply knowledge acquisition…. knowledge is cheap (aka wikipedia), but the skills to use knowledge aren’t and that’s where successful people and business make a mark. However I would strongly argue that a “scaffold” of core/essential knowledge is vital to hang further learning off. A well-worn example is the memorisation of times-tables to make further mathematical understanding easier. So, spaced repetition is a powerful technique in learning that is largely unused and essential to build in to a curriculum.

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