Monday, June 28, 2010

Technology Phobia in Football: Is it Human Tendency to Avoid Technology

As in the past refereeing decisions have marred key matches in the ongoing 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

FIFA says it will not embrace technology until it is proven to be extremely efficient and 100% reliable. Now obviously human referees (without help of technology) have proven to be much less efficient and reliable than this high standard being set for technology.

To Err is Human

Football has always seen a lot of refereeing errors: Handballs result in goals, offside goals are given, and balls crossing the line aren't given. These errors change the outcome. Such controversy can easily be avoided by using technology.

Technology in Other Sports

Other games have embraced technology. In cricket the third umpire has access to action replays based on which controversial catches, run-outs, stumpings and boundaries are decided. In tennis Hawkeye is used to make line calls. Ice hockey and field hockey also use action replays to decide controversial goals. Several other sports like basketball and American football have embraced technology to reduce error.

Fear of Technology

Just as in football, do we try to avoid technology as far as possible? Is there an inherent fear of technology?

We expect 100% reliability from technology but for the same task we are fine if a human performs far less reliably? We are willing to live with a poor system that is totally under our control than adopt a better system that involves the use of technology.

This seems to stem from the human desire to be on top of things. We like to be in control. Technology is used as a last resort. Technology is only brought in when the perceived threat to human superiority is totally removed.

This fear of technology is often misplaced. In the case of football it is clear that technology will improve decision making. The idea that technology will reduce the authority of the human referee is misplaced. If anything it will result in players having more confidence in the referee.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How the Internet Affects Our Lives: An Urban American's Perspective

As someone who spends a significant time of my day on the Internet—at least nine hours, five or six days a week — I often reflect on how this time affects my life in ways not quite obvious. These reflections also lead to more questions about the effects of technology in general on our traditional ways of thinking. While I do not have all the answers, there are certainly a few things I've noticed about these effects. Some are “good” and some are, perhaps, more sinister. Still, I cannot help being a staid proponent of technology in all of its manifestations, especially as an urban American whose life veritably depends on connectivity. Here are a few basic pros, in which the Internet enriches our lives, and, of course, the cons, which hopefully will serve more as warnings than as wholesale criticism.


Widespread, easy access to information
This is the most obvious advantage of the Internet, but I firmly believe that it cannot be emphasized enough. Access to information has leveled the playing field for so many throughout the world, especially since a solid Internet connection is getting cheaper and cheaper to access. The biggest disease throughout the world is ignorance. The Internet actively combats it.

Another pro of the Internet that has influenced our lives on a global scale is specifically in the running of business, governments, and other organizations. While this effect isn't necessarily manifested on a personal level, we can see very clearly how all businesses and governments are “going mobile.” And this does have an effect on how we operate, since everyone works, or at least aspires to.


Information overload
One thing I've noticed while surfing the Internet is the mind-boggling speed at which information, from various sources, is delivered and processed through our minds. While quick, easy access is a blessing, the other side of the coin — information overload — is a very serious danger.

Decreased social skills
I've heard from many that people who spend much time on computers (i.e. software developers, computer scientists, etc.) lack social skills. While I don't think this is necessarily true because it's a generalization that seeks to marginalize a specific group of people, the Internet does present the danger of personal isolation. We, of course, already know this, but I don't think most are aware of how grave this danger is. Spending time on the Internet, especially when communicating with strangers, exacerbates loneliness, although it does seem to alleviate it at first. As a wired generation, we cannot forget the importance of in-person human relationships.

Death of the expert
The Internet is a vast compendium of millions of voices, all dying to be heard. While one could argue that the astronomically increased numbers in the blogosphere advocates a democracy, there exists a fine line between a democratic system and mob rule, so to speak. Now, academic credentials are no longer as relevant, since no one has to rest on laurels or other distinctions in order to be granted authority. To me, this is a very negative consequence of the Internet. However, we can avoid this trap by doing thorough research, which takes a lot of time, before believing anything that the online platform presents as fact.

This guest post is contributed by Mariana Ashley, who writes on the topics of online colleges. She welcomes your comments at her email Id:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Story of the Race for Finding Water on the Moon

On November 14, 2008, at 20:06 hours IST, the Moon Impact Probe (MIP) was separated from the Chandrayaan. It was Nehru’s one hundred and nineteen birth anniversary so it was fitting that the MIP carried the Indian flag with it. About 25 minutes later the MIP successfully impacted the moon’s surface at a predetermined site on the southern lunar pole.

MIP also carried CHACE (CHandra’s Altitudinal Composition Explorer) on board. CHACE was a sensitive instrument built to find elements present on the moon. Fifteen minutes before the MIP separation began CHACE was switched on. CHACE was built for these 25 minutes. As the MIP hurtled towards the moon surface CHACE was mapping the elements present on the moon. The scientists at ISRO were getting this data live. Within minutes, that night, they knew they had found water on the moon.

NASA Payloads - M3 and miniSAR

But MIP was not the only instrument on board the Chandrayaan that was looking for water. Apart from the MIP from ISRO, Chandrayaan also carried the M3 (Moon Minerology Mapper) and miniSAR both from NASA. Unlike CHACE, these two instruments continued to be on the Chandrayaan for its lifetime and continued beaming data and images till the end on August 29, 2009. Chandrayaan was launched on October 22, 2008, and was placed at a height of 100 km from the moon surface. So M3 and miniSAR looked at the moon from this 100 km distance.

The first images from M3 became available on November 22, 2008; soon it started sending more images of the moon. The advantage of M3 was that it had more than the 25 minutes that CHACE got to look at the moon. But CHACE had the advantage of getting a very close look at the moon. Till the very end till it impacted the moon CHACE was sending data.

Leading the M3 team was Dr. Carle M Pieters, from Brown University, USA, a distinguished scientist with many years of experience. She completed her PhD from MIT, USA, in 1977. She had overall responsibility for the success of the M3 instruments and the Science Team’s activities.

The first images from miniSAR became available on November 17, 2008. Leading the miniSAR team was Dr. Paul D. Spudis, from Lunar and Planetary Institute, USA, a well known scientist with many years of experience.

Both Dr. Pieters and Dr. Spudis had been part of several moon and space missions by NASA in the past. At the time of the Chandrayaan flight in 2008-2009, both Dr. Pieters and Dr. Spudis were well known experts whose views about water on the moon were respected by the scientific community. They had several papers to their credit in which they had speculated on the presence of water on the moon. As early as 1996, Dr. Spudis’ paper was published in Science, where he and his team had argued about the presence of ice on the moon. But in all these earlier works the evidence had been indirect.

ISRO's Dare to Dream Team

ISRO on the other hand did not have any star scientists. This was their first mission to the moon. Dr. Syed Maqbool Ahmed was chosen to head this team. Unlike the NASA scientists this team had zero experience in space borne instrumentation. Dr. Ahmed had obtained a PhD from Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad and was an associate professor at the Institute for Plasma Research, Gandhinagar. Dr. Ahmed moved from Ahmedabad to Trivandrum in 2006 and stayed for the duration that CHACE was being built.

Starting in 2006, Dr. Ahmed and his team worked for 2 years. First they had to create the lunar ambience in their lab. They created a vacuum to simulate the moon in their lab. Then they built CHACE, the most sensitive instrument to leave Earth’s gravity. In Dr. Ahmed’s own words they were designers, engineers, plumbers, electricians and payload scientists who "dared to dream."

The Race to Announce Water on the Moon

Soon after Chandrayaan was in the moon orbit, by early 2009 all the three teams had collected evidence of water on the moon. The race had begun. Who would be the first to announce it to the world? It was not like any of the teams had seen the water with their eyes. So before they could announce it, their finding had to be verified by other scientists.

It took the CHACE team a month to analyze the data and present their findings in the form of evidence to prove the presence of water on the moon. The CHACE team submitted their paper to Science in December 2008. Science is among the most respected journals in the world. Even one paper here is considered a lifetime achievement by most scientists. Their paper was rejected by the reviewers of Science and returned to them in March 2009. In April 2009 they submitted their paper to Nature, another respected journal. Nature also rejected their paper and returned it to them in July 2009.

Meanwhile Dr. Pieters’ team submitted their work to Science. Their paper was accepted in September, 2009 and appeared in Science on October 24, 2009. Based on this paper, on September 24, 2009, NASA and ISRO announced that water had been found on the moon. ISRO chief, Dr. Madhavan Nair, could only allude to the CHACE discovery. But since its findings were rejected by both Science and Nature he could not claim the credit on behalf of ISRO for finding water on the moon. So all he said was that MIP had ALSO found water while descending to the moon on November 14. But to the world the discovery was made by the NASA team lead by Dr. Pieters.

The CHACE team resubmitted their paper in November 2009 to Space and Planetary Sciences. This paper was accepted on March 8, 2010. But even prior to this Dr. Spudis’ team’s paper about ice on moon had been accepted in Geophysical Research Letters on February 22, 2010. Dr. Spudis' team had submitted their paper to this journal on December 22, 2009. They submitted a revised version on February 10, 2010.

The Indian team had come third in the race to find water on the moon.

"The Little Prince" by de Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry starts with a Turkish astronomer discovering a new asteroid in early 1900, but when he announces it to the world, he is laughed away. Then, some years later, when he and other Turkish people started wearing western style clothes, he announced his discovery again, and this time it was welcomed and applauded. Does Dr. Ahmed’s team need a new set of clothes before Chandrayaan-2?

Read: The Chandrayaan-I and Water on the Moon Series

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

ISRO Finds Direct Evidence of Water on Moon

On November 14, 2008, at 20:06 hours IST, the Moon Impact Probe (MIP) was separated from the Chandrayaan. It was Nehru’s one hundred and nineteen birth anniversary so it was fitting that the MIP carried the Indian flag with it. About 25 minutes later the MIP successfully impacted the moon’s surface at a predetermined site on the southern lunar pole.

MIP also carried CHACE (CHandra’s Altitudinal Composition Explorer) on board. CHACE was a sensitive instrument built to find elements present on the moon. Fifteen minutes before the MIP separation began CHACE was switched on. CHACE was built for these 25 minutes. As the MIP hurtled towards the moon surface CHACE was mapping the elements present on the moon. The scientists at ISRO were getting this data live. Within minutes, that night, they knew they had found water on the moon. In the following paper that will soon appear in Planetary and Space Science, the authors have reported their scientific findings:

‘Direct’ evidence for water (H2O) in the sunlit lunar ambience from CHACE on MIP of Chandrayaan I
R. Sridharan, S.M. Ahmed, Tirtha Pratim Das, P. Sreelatha, P. Pradeepkumar, Neha Naik and Gogulapati Supriya

Space Physics Laboratory, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Trivandram, 695022, India.

This is a wonderful achievement. This is the first evidence of water to come out of ISRO's own instruments on board the Chandrayaan.

Read: The Chandrayaan-I and Water on the Moon Series

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Ice on Moon: But Again It Is Not an ISRO Instrument

Mini-SAR is a small, low mass synthetic aperture radar that flew on the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 mission to the Moon has found thick deposits of water ice on the moon's north and south poles. Mini-SAR was designed to map the permanently dark areas of the lunar poles and characterize the nature of the deposits there. In the following paper that will soon appear in Geophysical Research Letters, the authors have reported their scientific findings:

Initial results for the north pole of the Moon from Mini-SAR, Chandrayaan-1 mission
P. D. Spudis1, D. B. J. Bussey2, B. Butler3, L. Carter4, M. Chakraborty5, J. Gillis-Davis6, J. Goswami 7, E. Heggy8, R. Kirk9, C. Neish2, S. Nozette1, W. Patterson 2, M. Robinson10, R. K. Raney2, T. Thompson8, B. J. Thompson2, E. Ustinov8

1 Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston TX, USA.
2 Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel MD, USA
3 NRAO, Siccorro NM, USA.
4 NASM, Washington DC, USA
5 Indian Space Research Organization, Ahmedabad, India.
6 Univ. Hawaii, Honolulu HI, USA.
7 Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, India
8 JPL, Pasadena CA, USA.
9 USGS, Flagstaff AZ, USA.
10 ASU, Tempe AZ, USA

This is a wonderful achievement. Two Indian Scientists, M. Chakraborty and J. Goswami, ISRO, Ahmedabad and PRL, Ahmedabad are listed as authors in this seminal paper.

But what happened to ISRO's own instruments? Mini-SAR was NASA's instrument riding on the Chandrayaan. In the earlier announcement in Science about water being found on moon, again the findings were based on NASA's instrument M3.

We have not heard anything of value being found from data collected by ISRO's own instruments. Was ISRO's role in Chandrayaan that of a carrier? I believe ISRO would have collected valuable data using its own instruments but has not been processing it. The moon mission was carried out with public money. Shouldn't the data be released to the wider Indian scientific community so that insights based on that data can be derived faster?

Read: The Chandrayaan-I and Water on the Moon Series

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Carbon Cap VS India's Development

Did you know India's per capita carbon emission is 1.6 tonnes per annum. Compare this to the world average of 3.6 tonnes per annum per person and the US emission average of 20.4 tonnes per annum per person and you see how the emissions are skewed.

The map below shows the per capita emission for different countries:

India has for long been arguing that decisions on capping world (and India's) emission levels should be taken from the per capita perspective. The caps will determine how much carbon India can emit in the future. Remember as India develops, emissions are likely to go up. So in other words carbon caps are a cap on development.

Developed countries are saying dont look at the per capita emissions. They are asking us to look at the map below which is based on total emissions by each country. Here as you can see India has a sizable emission.

The map below shows the total emission by country. The size of the country has been scaled based on its emission:

Developed countries want emission caps to be decided based on this map. But by this measure India's emissions cannot go up by much more in future.

The Indian government which was strongly pitching the per capita line till very recently seems to be bending and accepting total emission as a basis for caps.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Carbon Footprint: Think Smart

Several airline booking sites tell you how much carbon dioxide your flight will emit. They even offer to plant trees to offset the carbon dioxide you will emit in your travel for a small fee. For example, a Delhi-Bangalore flight emits 194.5 Kgs of carbon dioxide, and a grown tree on average absorbs 20.3 Kgs of carbon in a year. Ofcourse many other everyday things we do emit carbon dioxide - we use electric appliances, drive cars, eat inorganically grown food, etc.

There are several carbon footprint calculators online including this one which is specifically made for people living in India. It seems the global average carbon footprint is 3.9 tonnes/annum and the Indian average is 1.6 tonnes/annum. And mine is 5 tonnes/annum. Ofcourse that is not counting the 4 trees I have planted in my lifetime so far :)

Anyway, is it really possible to reduce the average carbon footprint at an individual level? To see that I tried to see what is contributing to my 5 tonnes/annum output. I drive to office, I travel by air/train a few times a year. And it turns out driving to office and air/train trips are the major contributors to my carbon footprint. Without these two I am just below the national average at 1.59 tonnes/annum. Looks like I do most things other Indians do and additionally drive to work and travel by air/train more frequently.

As our economy grows, can we really cut down on travel? It seems natural to expect that there will be even more travel by more individuals. India has set a goal of 20 to 25 per cent reduction in carbon intensity by 2020, compared to the 2005 levels. In 2005 I am guessing the national average would have been close to 1.3 tonnes/annum per Indian. So India is committing to around 1 ton/annum/Indian.

In itself this is not a bad goal to have. But to get there are we up to the challenge of devising new technologies that allow us to grow but still have a smaller carbon footprint? Our schools and colleges are still hung up on teaching about old technologies and methods not catering to this green economy. A computer science course in IIT has no green computing methods in it. Graduates of our key institutions still come out having no knowledge about how to create the new technologies that will allow India to advance while still keeping our carbon commitments. We have many new IITs but all of them teach the same old courses in Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering.

In the 90s we could get on the IT bandwagon because we produced computer science students and other technically qualified graduates in large numbers who could go out there and solve the problems in the IT area. But today we seem stuck on the model of creating more of these for a tomorrow that may require other skills.