Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Civilisation is advancing!

It seems that, despite the impression made by the media, the world is getting to be a better place. This very interesting report in Slate says:
"The only sound way to appraise the state of the world is to count. How many violent acts has the world seen compared with the number of opportunities? And is that number going up or down? As Bill Clinton likes to say, “Follow the trend lines, not the headlines.” We will see that the trend lines are more encouraging than a news junkie would guess."
After examining the statistics the report concludes:
"The world is not falling apart. The kinds of violence to which most people are vulnerable—homicide, rape, battering, child abuse—have been in steady decline in most of the world. Autocracy is giving way to democracy. Wars between states—by far the most destructive of all conflicts—are all but obsolete. The increase in the number and deadliness of civil wars since 2010 is circumscribed, puny in comparison with the decline that preceded it, and unlikely to escalate."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What about fusion energy?

So may be fusion can rescue us? I remember hearing about this in my teens (some 50 years ago). A solution always seems to be 20 years away. I expect this will eventually solve the energy problem but NOT in time to stop global warming. At NextBigFuture there is valuable review of the state of play of this important and promising but complicated and very expensive technology.

Can renewable energy help?

According to reports a major project by Google to find a cheaper-than-coal, competitive renewable energy solution failed:
"even if Google and others had led the way toward a wholesale adoption of renewable energy, that switch would not have resulted in significant reductions of carbon dioxide emissions. Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach."
They did not find a solution which would "be able to deliver a technology that could compete economically with coal". In other words there is no purely economic solution. According to the report:
 "Let’s face it, businesses won’t make sacrifices and pay more for clean energy based on altruism alone. Instead, we need solutions that appeal to their profit motives."
It seems that the time to learn some altruism is at hand. There is no easy, convenient solution available. Governments, indeed nations, need to face their responsibilities. Behaviours must change.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Science and religion

Having had a few discussions on this subject (from a Baha'i perspective) recently a review seems useful. Abdu'l-Bahá affirmed that:
"Religion and science are the two wings upon which man's intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone! Should a man try to fly with the wing of religion alone he would quickly fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism."

And here are some excellent links I found.
From the official international Baha'i site:
" The truths of prophetic religion are revealed truths, i.e., truths which God has shown to us without our having to discover them for ourselves. Bahá'ís consider that it is the same unique God who is both the Author of revelation and the Creator of the reality which science investigates, and hence there can be no contradiction between the two."
An article by W.Hatcher, from a blog dedicated to this subject and which is full of good material, says in part:
"The ultimate resolution of the religion-science opposition is thus based on a balance and complementarity between the two, involving a better understanding of the nature and universality of scientific method on the one hand and of the nature and content of that datum which is the phenomenon of revelation on the other. 'Abdu'l-Bahá has expressed admirably the nature of this balance:
'Religion and science are the two wings upon which man's intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone! Should a man try to fly with the wing of religion alone he would quickly fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism? When religion, shorn of its superstitions, traditions, and unintelligent dogmas, shows its conformity with science, then will there be a great unifying, cleansing force in the world which will sweep before it all wars, disagreements, discords and struggles and then will mankind be united in the power of the Love of God.'"

And here is an article in Huffington Post by S.Friberg in which he says:
"The view that science and religion agree has a distinguished heritage. It prevailed in Athens during the axial age, in Islam at its peak, and in Europe during the scientific revolution. Modern society is likely to soon embrace it again, in no small part because it is increasingly clear that secularism and science by themselves cannot answer the challenges of a global society."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Life found in Trinidad pitch lake

An interesting find in our neighbour across the sea (Trinidad). According to this report in the blog "The Meridiani Journal":
"A recent discovery by scientists may have implications for possible extraterrestrial life: Bacteria have been found thriving in a lake of oil in Trinidad, again showing how life can exist in even the most inhospitable conditions on Earth. The discovery brings to mind the similar environment on Saturn?s moon Titan, where lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons (methane/ethane) exist at the moon's poles."
When you go to Trinidad make the pitch lake one of the sights to see.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


I am currently completing a course (social psychology) online at Coursera and am favourably impressed with the way the course has been done. I believe not all courses they offer at Coursera are as good as this - more on this later. The video lectures were short (10-25 mins) and engaging with the lecturer speaking as in he was in a small informal group and punctuating the lecture with pictures, questions, video clips etc. There were downloadable readings. There were weekly assignments which were diverse, imaginative and not too academic. There were very active forums - possible because of thousands of students all doing the course together. There was also a series of customised Google Hangout sessions with other students in groups of 4 or 5.

The topic being psychology made possible a style which would be more difficult with the hard sciences but it seems to be near the cutting edge of online learning. Recommended.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Biodiversity in the Rupununi

An expedition to two localities in the Rupununi by World Wildlife Fund and Global Wildlife Conservation during late 2013 from did a comprehensive survey of biodiversity.  Their first report has now been released and consists of 97 pages.
"Preliminary results indicate 241 species of plants, 302 birds, 150 species of fish, 34 reptiles, 25 amphibians, 23 small mammals and over 300 species of insects were encountered during the two week expedition."
Also see this very readable write-up of this in Caribbean Beat. Plus there is this Guyana Times report from a local perspective.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Internet troubles - DNS settings

If you are using DSL and sometimes you just cannot get any websites though you are still connected then this advice may help you.

The problem is often that your browser cannot reach the GTT-provided name server (DNS) which is required to translate the website name into the internet (IP) address needed to reach it. The permanent solution is to provide a public name server address to your computer to meet the need.

A commonly used public name server address is that of Google: or
To add this name server address to your computer please see one of these tutorials below. Note - this needs some experience so ask for help if you are unsure. You can cause more trouble if you make mistakes.

How to change DNS Servers in Windows 7
How to change DNS settings in Windows 7 | 8

You can diagnose the problem more accurately by pasting the following address into your browser where I use the IP address directly not the name so DNS is not used:
If you get a webmail login site (this is just a random site to use as a test) then you do have an internet connection but the DNS may not be working so try the above solution. If you get nothing then you have some other problem or GTT does.

Another, temporary, solution is to close down your PC and modem, restart and hope for the best...

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

About lecturing

Firstly it seems that taking notes longhand helps us remember the subject while typing on a laptop is no help in that respect. So get out those pens...

From an article in The Atlantic:
"...this might be the key to their findings: Take notes by hand, and you have to process information as well as write it down. That initial selectivity leads to long-term comprehension."

Secondly getting the active participation of students is more effective than long lectures. No surprise really, the trick is how... the article does give some clues. One more thing - putting the lecture on a computer does not improve learning. From the article in Science :
"A new study finds that undergraduate students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use more stimulating, so-called active learning methods."

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report 2014

It is way past time to get serious. Governments need to act together in the interest of mankind. According to a BBC news item:
"The world needs a Plan B on climate change because politicians are failing to reduce carbon emissions, according to a UN report.
It warns governments if they overshoot their short-term carbon targets they will have to cut CO2 even faster in the second half of the century to keep climate change manageable"

And the Washington Post reports:
"At a meeting in Berlin, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Sunday released a report that found that nations still have a chance to fulfill the goal but must aggressively turn away from relying largely on fossil fuels such as coal for energy and replace them with cleaner energy sources such as solar and wind power. To reach their target of 3.6 degrees (2 degrees Celsius) over preindustrial levels, nations must work together to lower emissions 'by 40 to 70 percent' of what they were in 2010, the report said."

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Using tablets in school - pros and cons

There has been a move to use tablet computers in schools. Having been a tablet (android) user for the past year or so, for 5 plus hours a day,  I have given some serious thought as to the pros and cons of tablets. After some research I have yet to find a good evaluation of the tablet in schools. Anyway here are some thoughts on the subject. Note that this post applies also to the more capable smartphones.

Lower cost
Free or cheap apps
Wifi built-in
Good for browsing, multimedia
Good for reading ebooks and other content
Useful sensors (much potential here, see here)
Android OS also widely used in smart phones

Limited battery life and charging issues
Keyboard (pop up) inadequate for serious text entry
Copying and pasting not easy
Graphics creation limited
Designed for personal use by one user, not multiuser
Apps and environment not designed for group/corporate use
Repairs more difficult than for PC
Security issues

Some of the problems are due to hardware limitations such as battery life, pointing inaccuracies and limited processing power and will mostly resolve. Others are software issues and fixable. For example there could be special accounts at Google for android systems that are used by multiple users and belong to a school or business. May be these could use facial recognition or fingerprint to switch users and wipe user data. Apps could store work online in individual accounts.
The difficulty of composing text for reports or assignments is not easy to solve without resort to full size keyboards (e.g. using bluetooth). I do not think using voice to text is ready yet or appropriate for class use.

There is no doubt tablets/smartphones will be used in schools, it is a case of making the best use of them but I do not intend to get into that complex subject here. I would just add that the rate of technological change is high which makes it difficult for teachers to keep up and for institutions to get a return from the funds spent. Change has to be planned for.

Many of the articles and evaluations found on the net are already out-of-date. No doubt this post will be out-of-date soon too...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Global Forest Watch & our forests

Technology is catching up with deforestation. According to this BBC story, Global Forest Watch makes this possible through their website:
"A new global monitoring system has been launched that promises "near real time" information on deforestation around the world.
Global Forest Watch (GFW) is backed by Google and over 40 business and campaigning groups.
It uses information from hundreds of millions of satellite images as well as data from people on the ground.
Businesses have welcomed the new database as it could help them prove that their products are sustainable."
A quick look at the website shows Guyana with only scattered instances of deforestation - along the Demerara River for example. A variety of information can be had but the website responds somewhat slowly.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Weather forecasting in Guyana

Weather forecasting in Europe and North America has become routine and quite accurate over periods of a few days so why cannot our local forecasts be as good?
There are many factors involved here but the main difficulty is that, due to the tropical climate, weather comes about by different processes which are hard to forecast by computer simulation.
Singapore has a similar climate and similar problems though they have a much larger and better funded meteorological service. An explanation on the website of their National Environment Agency in answer to the question 'Why is it challenging to forecast the weather in Singapore?' says, in part:

'In the tropics, the weather systems are largely driven by prevailing winds whereby small changes in the wind speed and direction can result in significant changes in weather. The problem is compounded because winds near the equator are generally quite light and variable, and thus more difficult to predict.'

The item goes on to offer a more detailed explanation which I do not repeat here. But briefly we do not get frequent 'fronts' which bring much of the weather 'up north' but have instead many small local storms mainly generated by convection.
However, science is progressing and improvements in our forecasts can be expected once we have the human and technological resources. In recent times our meteorological service has been very short of the resources it needs to produce the best forecasts possible at present.