Saturday, December 29, 2012

Learning mathematics

According to an item in Scientific American improving in mathematics has more to do with internal motivation than intelligence.
"People who were driven by their own interest improved their math skills the most. IQ or external factors such as parental pressure or grades didn't create a lasting boost"
"...effective studying techniques and motivation, not IQ, predicted who had most improved their math skills by 10th grade."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Our friendly local gecko

Here is a picture of one of our 'house geckos' caught on a window pane.

These geckos are common in houses here and eat many mosquitos and other bugs.

Sometimes one waits on the outside of our mosquito net at night for dinner to arrive. At other times one lurks under a couch and runs out to pounce on a mosquito sitting on my foot - I try not jump when it runs over my foot...

They lay small white eggs, may be 4 or 5, in some corner such as an open box or drawer. They seem to fit the description of the 'common house gecko'.

But now some bad news - UN says carbon cuts too slow

A UN report, reported by the BBC, says that we are making progress too slowly to prevent significant temperature rise:

"A report by the UN says global attempts to curb emissions of CO2 are falling well short of what is needed to stem dangerous climate change.
The UN's Environment Programme says greenhouse gases are 14% above where they need to be in 2020 for temperature rises this century to remain below 2C."
Urgent and decisive action could keep temperature rises this century below 2C but governments do not seem willing to do this... kick the can down the road some more...

Good news - world becoming more peaceful

An analysis of factors affecting war and present trends, reported by Wired, has led to a prediction that the world will be more peaceful by 2050:

"An upcoming paper by a political scientist will claim that in 40 years world conflict will plummet, with the greatest decrease occurring in the Middle East."

"Among other things, this will be attributed to war becoming financially pointless (or unfeasible), education increasing, infant mortality decreasing and the world's youth populations becoming smaller."

Monday, October 29, 2012

E-Governance Data Centre started

According to an article by GINA, apparently based on information provided by Project Coordinator Mr. Alexei Ramotar, worked has started on construction of this centre. The core of the data centre will be housed in 3 containers which house power, cooling and servers. This allows relocation in the event of flooding or other disaster. Using special containers is not unusual for a modern data centre.

The centre will be hooked up to the optical fibre cable coming from Brazil. Cables will also connect it to government offices.

Mention is also made of 55 sites around the country and of a 4G network. Presumably these will be the 4G cell towers. True 4G provides a faster mobile data service than is available nationally at present and often it replaces DSL for data service and is used on laptops. This service may tie in to the OLPF project and to internet access for schools but this is not mentioned in the article. There will be many bandwidth and security issues to resolve as the project unfolds but it holds much promise.

Of particular interest to me is mention of open source software: "... an electronic library will be created utilising open software."

Other links
Demerara waves article

Teaching reading in school

Since this is a topical issue here in Guyana this BBC article seems very relevant. It notes that phonics is effective but other techniques are needed too and one approach does not suit all children. Phonics has also become popular here in recent years.
" evidence demonstrates that phonics is the most effective way of teaching early reading"

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Online courses for education

There is significant interest locally in this mode of education. Recently there has been a surge of organisations offering free online courses in a number of academic areas especially IT and mathematics. The more interesting ones try to be interactive in various ways. Technology Review has done a valuable article comparing some of these courses and highlighting the pros and cons. It is early days for this kind of education and the results are mixed.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A curiosity on Mars

A recent major science event has been the successful arrival and spectacular landing on Mars of the NASA rover Curiosity. This rover will be busy on Mars for years to come and developments are eagerly anticipated. See BBC reports here and here.
While not designed to detect life directly I would expect it to find some positive indications of ancient or recent life or even just of suitable environmental conditions. It has recently been found that lichen can survive under Martian conditions and the same may be true of bacteria.

Saturday, June 30, 2012


Just for the record the ITCZ is now north of Guyana and has been since early in June. Sorry am late making this post due to some health issues... :(

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Research in Natural Sciences

Recently the University of Guyana held what has happily become a valuable annual event - Research Day 2012. A wide range of papers were listed for presentation including the following papers in the natural sciences:

Determination of nitrate anion in waste water from nine selected areas of coastal Guyana via a spectrophotometric method - Raymond Jagessar

Recharge estimation & groundwater modeling of the coastal plain in Guyana - Shanomae Eastman

Harmonics and power quality issues associated with compact fluorescent lamps - Jomo N Gill

Hopefully, with some encouragement, some of the papers will become available on-line later.

Doing some searching for more such research done in Guyana did not turn up much but what was found is listed below. If more is found later another post will be made. Most of what research has been done over the years is not on-line.

Lenandlar Singh - personal website

University of Guyana Library - this is a recent and welcome development but in time this should contain substantial material

Centre for the Study of Biological Diversity - publications, a few on research in Guyana

The University of the West Indies - Barbados. Some faculties have relevant material.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Future Scenarios for Guyana

A thought-provoking 2-day workshop was held recently (May 8 and 9) as a part of the EC-funded COBRA project. Some 30 participants spent the two days developing scenarios for Guyana in 2030 taking into account such factors (drivers) as climate change, mining and economic development. Those present included staff from a variety of government agencies, Iwokrama and indigenous communities. Many of the groups considered policies and instutional framework as important determining factors in future development while climate was assumed to be inevitable. More about this will appear in due course on the COBRA website.

A bit about COBRA:

"Community Owned Best practice for sustainable Resource Adaptive management in the Guiana Shield, South America (COBRA)"

"The COBRA Project brings together key South American and European Civil Society Organisations that have extensive experience in enabling and disseminating grassroots solutions to complex problems in the Guiana Shield region... "

"Our mission is to find ways to integrate community solutions within policies addressing escalating social, economic and environmental crises, through accessible information and communication technologies."

Monday, April 02, 2012

Teaching Computer Science in Schools

This topic is the subject of debate in England at present. There is a move away from focusing mainly on office skills (word processing, spreadsheets etc) and towards more on programming skills. The British Computer Society (BCS) has sent a package to schools outlining their proposal. While our programme is based on the CXC syllabus this package still contains much of interest to teachers and, may be, to CXC. Among those partnering with BCS in this are Google and Microsoft.
From the proposal:
"Although existing curricula for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) are broad and allow scope for teachers to inspire pupils and help them develop interests in Computing, many pupils are not inspired by what they are taught and gain nothing beyond basic digital literacy skills such as how to use a word-processor or a database."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Broadband and GDP

A study conducted by Ericsson, Arthur D. Little and Chalmers University of Technology in OECD countries concluded that "increased broadband speed contributes significantly to economic growth". According to a report:

"A new report... quantifies the isolated impact of broadband speed, showing that doubling the broadband speed for an economy increases GDP by 0.3%."

"This growth stems from a combination of direct, indirect and induced effects. Direct and indirect effects provide a short to medium term stimulus to the economy. The induced effect, which includes the creation of new services and businesses, is the most sustainable dimension and could represent as much as one third of the mentioned GDP growth."

"These results have been derived using rigorous scientific methods where the direction of causality, data quality and significance levels have been appropriately tested..."

It is good to note that this is not just a correlation but that causality was considered too.

Also a similar report last year found "that for every 10 percentage point increase in broadband penetration GDP increases by 1 percent."

It would seem likely that recent economic growth in Guyana may be due, in some part, to recent progress in broadband penetration due to the roll-out of DSL by GTT, limited increases in broadband speed and probably rapid increases in cell phone penetration.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Voting over the internet?

Quoting from an article on Slashdot which is based on a report by University of Michigan Professor J. Alex Halderman, RCA panelist:

"Halderman acknowledges that voting in person, especially by electronic means, is far from foolproof, but he joins Jefferson in saying that online voting is categorically worse, and suggests that everyone who takes an interest in security or the mechanics of democratic elections raise the issues of privacy and security. His conclusion and advice for election officials in the U.S.: Voting online is a bad idea, and it simply can't be fixed in the foreseeable future. All the security problems of e-voting machines at polling stations apply directly to internet voting, too, which means that anyone on Earth can attack an online election. "

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Climate change in the Amazon basin

Scientific American has an interesting review of a report in Nature describing climate changes in the Amazon area resulting from human activity. Clearly there could be similar effects here in Guyana, if the deforested areas here get large enough, and the climate changes in the central Amazon could also indirectly affect the weather in southern Guyana which is on the edge of the Amazon basin.
From the article:
"The dry season is growing longer in areas where humans have been clearing the trees... Multiyear and more frequent severe droughts, like those in 2005 and 2010, are killing trees that humans don't cut down as well as increasing the risks of more common fires (both man-made and otherwise)."
"The trees are also growing fast — faster than expected for a "mature" rainforest..."
"On the whole, cutting down trees so that the Amazon covers only roughly 80 percent of the land it once did seems to have tipped the rainforest from being a sink for global CO2 emissions to a net source, although this calculation remains highly uncertain, the scientists noted."

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A sustainable future?

A BBC news item on a recently released UN report entitled "Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing " from the UN High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability reviews the report in some detail. Summarising it comments:

"Growing inequality, environmental decline and "teetering" economies mean the world must change the way it does business, a UN report concludes."

There are many recommendations (56), many of which are straight forward. Here are a few that stood out to the writer and looked relevant to us:

  • "Governments should accelerate the implementation of commitments to advance gender equality and women’s rights, including through the repeal of discriminatory laws and removal of formal barriers, the reform of institutions and the development and adoption of innovative measures to address informal and cultural practices that act as barriers.
  • Government and non-governmental entities should promote the concept of sustainable development and sustainable consumption, and these should be integrated into curricula of primary and secondary education.
  • Governments should work with appropriate stakeholders to provide citizens, especially those in remote areas, with access to technologies, including universal telecommunications and broadband networks, by 2025.
  • Measures should be taken to strengthen the interface between policymaking and science in order to facilitate informed political decision-making on sustainable development issues. Representatives of the scientific community could be included as members or advisers in relevant national or local bodies dealing with sustainable development issues."

And another noteworthy report, reported in a Wired news item, is the report "Towards a Circular Economy" by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

According to the news item:
"As the report states: "The essence of the circular economy lies in designing goods to facilitate disassembly and re-use, and structuring business models so manufacturers can reap rewards from collecting and refurbishing, remanufacturing, or redistributing products they make.""

Makes sooo much sense.

Monday, January 30, 2012

ITCZ - late January

We are currently having long periods of moderate rain. It seems the ITCZ is still lying across Guyana. Possibly this may be related to the present La Nina situation - I am no expert on this.
Reminder: there is a short summary on our climate on the Hydromet site.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Browsing safely ... and some advice on Facebook

Many of us do not realise that there are basically two ways that browsers can talk to web sites (or rather web servers). The normal mode uses is called HTTP and the much safer encrypted mode is HTTPS. Normally logins (Gmail, Yahoo etc) and financial transactions (online banking), for example, are done in HTTPS to protect passwords and financial info etc.

Why does this matter? Unencrypted data can be intercepted enroute or when sharing a wireless network with others such as a public hotspot. Or when using an office or home wifi network which is not even password protected. In other words, in these circumstances and if you are using HTTP, someone could watch what you do and steal your password or bank card information. This could also happen via a computer in your network which had been compromised by a computer virus.

How do we know if the site is secure and using HTTPS? The web site address usually starts http://xyz.... but if it is secure it starts https://xyz....

The major mail websites all use secure HTTPS logins. Gmail goes further and uses HTTPS for the whole session including reading email etc.

Facebook does not use HTTPS even for logins and your password is more at risk especially at big public hotspots at airports etc. However to make browsing on Facebook secure there is an option to turn on HTTPS - go to Account Setting, then Security, then edit Secure Browsing.

Why do sites not use HTTPS more? Because it is more work for the server (which means a lot more servers for a big operation) and takes money and time to set up. Is it 100% safe? No but you are fairly well protected.

How can you be even better protected? Use Linux instead of Windows. But that is another story...

Sunday, January 08, 2012

ITCZ January 2012

After remaining north of Guyana for November and most of December the ITCZ appears to have moved rapidly south in late December and is now south of Georgetown.
On the image (courtesy of my best guess of its position is marked by red dots.
This month we have had many quite dry days but also days with short heavy showers or short periods of rain. The south of Guyana seems to be getting more rain than the north.
Note: I continue to make occasional comments on this topic since no-one else seems to be doing so - not that I claim any particular expertise. I guess my interest originates from working at the Met Office in the UK for a couple of years as a programmer.