Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Some local IT news

Some quick items before year-end.

Wi-fi for schools
According to Demerara Waves:
"The eGovernment Unit  has begun rolling out Wi- Fi networks in schools, while Hinterland and remote areas are expected to benefit from internet access by the end of the first quarter of 2016..."
This will be a challenging project. The article indicates that there is currently a pilot project at one school. Access will be restricted using a whitelist.

Open source
This important issue got some coverage recently.
Hacking vs open source
Open source in public service

Samsung smart school pilot project
Samsung and Starr Computers along with the Ministry of Education worked to set this up. This system has been piloted in many countries but I could not quickly find an independent evaluation. Will be interesting to see what happens over the next year or so. May be I can follow this story.

The World Is Not Falling Apart

I posted an item on this topic one year ago and here another from the same source!
An article from Slate pointing out the upward trends.
"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."
Not that there are not downward trends but there are upward trends too!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Climate Resilience Strategy and Action Plan (CRSAP) - draft released

The Office of Climate Change has released the draft CRSAP for Guyana for public review until 18th December. This plan is important and is intended to guide action (and funding) for years to come. This document of nearly 300 pages is fairly technical and cannot be summarised easily so here is a part of the executive summary:
"Climate models project that temperatures will continue to increase and that sea levels and the height of storm surges will rise. Projections also indicate that average annual precipitation will decrease and that the proportion of heavy rainfall events will increase. These in turn are expected to exacerbate adverse social, economic and environmental impacts, and act additional stress factors on systems with vulnerabilities derived from non-climate drivers."
"Specifically, the CRSAP provides:
  • A roadmap for the next five years.
  • Project Concept Notes for four priority climate resilience programmes which can now be
  • developed into full proposals and submitted for funding.
  • A summary of the most significant climate risks and required resilience actions across 15
  • key sectors. These actions are proposed as the basis for the design of new interventions and
  • a pipeline of projects which can be presented for funding and implemented within five years
  • and beyond.
  • A set of capacity building actions that enhance Guyana’s capacity for national adaptation
  • planning and becoming climate resilient to be undertaken within the next five years.
  • A strategy to finance the CRSAP inclusive of the PCNs."

Friday, October 30, 2015

The role of technology in a climate solution

An interesting item in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists advocates large reductions in energy use:
"For civilization to continue sustainably, human beings must shift from fossil fuels to solar energy—despite the technical problems. And investments are needed in biotic and other low-energy innovations. But in the end, global energy consumption must be reduced by something on the order of 60 percent. This will require a number of profound non-technological changes. Energy equity must be established among the world's nations—people in wealthy countries should not, as they do today, use hundreds of times as much energy as people in the poorest countries."

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hydro-power for Guyana?

A panel discussion on the topic was recently held, sponsored by the EU and occasioned by the visit of a delegation in regarding preparations for the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, COP21.

Reports were seen at Demerara Waves and Guyana Times.

The experts on the panel differed regarding the urgency of using hydro-power but were agreed on the need to do so.

It seems to me that hydro-power is a resource we absolutely must make use of whether multiple small installations or several large ones. It should have been done decades ago - a start was made but not followed up. It takes years for any such project to be planned, funded and built. It is not rocket science and there is abundant expertise available. We need to get over our political infighting, work together and do some long-term planning.

In the short-term we need to continue expanding the use of other alternatives such as bio-fuel and solar.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Making use of MOOCs

It seems to me that the Caribbean needs to make more of a major new educational opportunity - MOOCs. MOOC stands for Massive Online Open Course. These courses are available free on the internet and cover a very wide range of subjects. A very interesting example of how new technology can give us new educational possibilities which are truly global. Most courses are designed for the average person and require little or no special knowledge. Some are university level but most are not.

Courses usually last 5-10 weeks with around 4-5 hours work online per week. Common elements include weekly videos, quizzes, forums and reading. Generally they are done by major universities and are of high quality.

So far I have done eight or more and noticed very little Caribbean participation. I have not seen another Guyanese participant just one or two from the Caribbean islands.

Teachers could to do some of these and then encourage students. There are in fact courses for teachers. There are also courses for business people, for students, for engineers, for software developers (many on IT) and for those in the medical field. Participants range from pre-teens (not many I admit) to retirees.

While courses are free you can usually get a certificate if you pay for it.

Personally I have found the experience very rewarding and worthwhile. Courses are popular with young people and with older people. If you have a busy life with little time for browsing then it may not be for you. But you may still find something very relevant to your work which will make it a priority.

Can we do our own MOOCs in the Caribbean? I am sure we will but first we need to make use of what is already there and learn from it. Creating a good MOOC is no small task even for the large universities of N America and Europe.

Popular and well-designed. Good forums. Very wide range of courses. Quality of courses generally very good but depends on the institution providing the content. Takes a while to find your way around.
A few random examples:
Introduction to Finance
Smart Growth for Private Businesses
Women in Leadership
Introduction to Acoustics 
Social Psychology
The Evolving Universe

Very good courses, perhaps slightly more slanted towards academic subjects.
A few random examples:
English Grammar and Style
Introduction to Computer Science
Human Anatomy
Psychology of Criminal Justice

Also very good. More Europe and UK institutions represented. Different forums style. Fairly simple to get started, less complex.
A few random examples:
The Science of Nuclear Energy
Cooperation in the Contemporary World
Preparing for University
The Science of Medicines
Religion and Conflict
Exploring Our Oceans

Thursday, July 30, 2015

El Nino due this year

El Nino is a periodic phenomena brought about by large scale changes in sea surface temperature in the eastern Pacific. This leads to world-wide changes in weather. According to this item in Scientific American the expected El Nino later this year is likely to be strong may be like that of 1997:
"So where does that leave us in terms of looking ahead to what El Niño might bring this winter? We have an event that is looking more and more robust (when comparing June 2015 to June 1997, the broad ocean temperature patterns are very similar) and forecasting models are in pretty good agreement that that event will strengthen as we head towards winter and El Niño’s typical peak. But exactly when it will peak and what its final strength will be is still uncertain."
Guyana was badly hit by drought produced by El Nino in 1997. Here is a quote from a UN report from that time:
"Guyana is subject to a period of unprecedented drought caused by the El Nino phenomenon that has been found responsible for as much as 90 per cent of the deficiency in rainfall in September and October 1997 and for the complete failure of a rainy season in mid-November 1997 to mid-January 1998."
No doubt preparations are being made and we have learnt from past lessons.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

On climate change

Two interesting items in Scientific American of relevance to us in Guyana, both on climate change issues.
Firstly an article on intense rainfall which we seem to be getting more of lately:
"The heaviest rain bursts within a storm happen when it’s warmest, according to new research that suggests rising temperatures could exacerbate flooding as intense downpours are concentrated into smaller windows."
Secondly an item on plant growth. It had been expected that climate change would have boosted plant growth and agriculture worldwide however things may not be as simple as that:
"Drought and limited sunlight will undermine any gain from a warmer atmosphere. By 2100, Mora says, “there could be an 11 percent reduction in the plant growing season worldwide.”"

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Intense rainfall in Demerara

07:00 hrs Intense rainfall has been experienced in the Georgetown area and ECD since the early hours of this morning. Some areas will be having significant flooding.
Later - Rain fell for some 5 hours before slowing. Heaviest rain we have seen in this area since early last year.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Climate change in Guyana - impact & what to do

Mankind faces several crises at the present time, one of these is climate change. This is of particular urgency to us in Guyana as we will see below. We will briefly look at what impact it is having here and what we can do about it. More on climate change generally can be found here from UNEP, NASA, World Bank, and many comprehensive articles on Wikipedia as we do not have the time to discuss it here and few people here would doubt what is happening. See also previous posts on this blog going back to 2009

How climate change is affecting Guyana
Sea level rise.
Those of us living near the coast have seen increasing problem with sea defences being over-topped by waves (see photo from article here). Measurements show that the sea level globally has risen by 20cm since 1870. Recently the rise has been about 3.3cm per decade. As many of us live below or close to sea level and most of our best farm land is on the coast we have great cause to be concerned.
Weather changes
While we cannot be sure what changes to blame on climate change we all remember the floods of 2005, increased flooding after very intense rain and occasional droughts in the Rupununi. Such events are predicted to increase as a result of climate change.

So what can we do?
Adaptation – this meaning changing how we do things to make the best of the new climate. We will have to do this but this is beyond the scope of this post.
 Mitigation – this means taking action to reduce the problem which means for example reducing our emissions of carbon dioxide. In this post we will say a few words about mitigation.

Mitigating the impact on Guyana
Basically this means doing our part in reducing the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Removing carbon dioxide by maintaining our rainforests.
Reducing our emissions of carbon dioxide by greatly reducing our use of fossil fuels (oil, gas etc.). Increasing efficiency at all levels – at the power stations, during transmission, in the business and the home.
Using only fuel-efficient vehicles, more effective public transportation.
Moving away from fossil-fuel power generation to alternatives such as hydropower, wind and solar.

Example: I have seen offices with air conditioners running and windows open at the same time. There is a real need for education.

Progress so far – we all would have heard of the troubled hydropower project and the progress made with solar power in the interior. There are also wind power projects and biofuel projects but I am uncertain of their current status especially with the recent change of government.
At national level there has been a lot done over the past few years especially regarding forests.See:
EPA (Guyana)

And ... a Facebook group is planned to be started in a few days called 'Guyana Climate Change Group'. Watch this blog.

Note: This post is partly to fulfill the requirements of the World Bank MOOC “Turn Down the Heat” referred to in the previous post.

Monday, April 27, 2015

World Bank climate change MOOC

This is called 'Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided' and is being hosted by Coursera. It is being well-presented by a selection of experts in the usual Coursera format.  It is not a difficult course especially if you are familiar with the topic. Plenty of discussion. Recommended.

I am still hoping to see more Caribbean participants - only a small handful so far.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Real time aurora

Many times there have been videos of aurora but often it is not clear how real they are - they may be speeded up or colour-enhanced. However, to quote from Universe Today, "here we get a look at the aurora as it looks in real time" and it is quite spectacular. Worth watching.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Too much tech for children?

According to an opinion piece in the New York Times:
"More technology in the classroom has long been a policy-making panacea. But mounting evidence shows that showering students, especially those from struggling families, with networked devices will not shrink the class divide in education. If anything, it will widen it."
Is this too negative - may be. Be we really have to look at the research and not just accept the very effective and motivating promotional hype coming from big tech companies whose main priority is simply to sell their services and hardware.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Gecko breakfast

A gecko came for breakfast the other day - in fact it often comes if I leave my cereal bowl at the end of the table. Clearly they are able to learn from experience.

Looks like the same variety as mentioned previously.

If you look closely you can see its pink tongue (see second picture below).