Monthly archives of “February 2013

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Big data in sports

I came across a really cool youtube video from the amazing numberphile series that detailed how companies are already analyzing sports and farming huge amounts of data from sport events like football matches. In fact, these guys are basically farming…

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Mobile Phones at Gas Stations : They’re Safe

Cell Phone usage at Petrol StationSometimes good intentions lead to bad things, particularly when they’re not grounded on rational science. Just like how some still believe that Wi-Fi poses a health hazard and even more common myth of how Mobile phones cause gas station fires.

Now that’s a myth that’s been around a loooong time.

No matter whether you call them handphones or cellphones or mobile phones–they’re not allowed in most petrol stations (or Gas Stations) simply because people still believe that somehow these phones can ignite petrol fumes. This is related to the myth that Wi-Fi poses health hazards because Mobile Phones, just like WiFi transmitters use microwaves–and people are irrationally afraid of microwaves.

Microwaves have been getting a lot of bad publicity for the last 2 decades, ever since we discovered we could heat food up with them everyone has freaks out everytime they’re mentioned–everyone except the engineers.

Engineers love Microwaves–they’re the waves that transmit everything from WiFi to WiMax to 3G to HSPDA to LTE, from Astro to Maxis to Digi to Celcom, and we’re constantly bathing in microwaves because everyone uses them–but for some reason it’s not OK to use a Mobile Phone at a Gas Station.

The next time you’re a petrol station, look on the roof, there’s a GIANT ass satellite on it, just bathing in microwaves. That’s a VSAT satellite that most Malaysian petrol stations still use for connectivity.

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Are your broadband meters accurate?

Broadband meter capsWhen Maxis, or Telekom or Digi claim that you’ve used all your bandwidth quota–can you really trust them? A good article from consumerist reported that even American telcos are facing difficulty counting the bytes their users use.

For the most part this is OK if your ISP provides you unlimited quota, in which case it doesn’t matter how much you use. However, if your ISP is either charging you per byte (like Yes 4G prepaid) or capping your speeds once you exceed a certain threshold, then they’d better be sure that they’re accurately counting the number of bytes you’re using before they starting capping speeds. So if you’ve got a bandwidth quota or a data cap, it’s in your interest to ensure your ISP is measuring your usage accurately, otherwise you could potentially be billed for data you never used.

It’s also interesting to note, that in some cases what the ISP measures as your data usage, is not what you will measure at home. A GigaOm article detailed out Chicago Area Resident, Ken Stox tried to simulate his ISPs metering his own meter at home. Stox installed a Linux application called Tomato, which basically is a Linux program installed on his router that allowed him to write programs to track his usage.

Knox reported on Slashdot that:

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PSY Penang: Are you ready for BN audio analysis

Are you ready for PSY? or are you ready for some PYSICS? Well, that’s too nerdy even for me.

The reality is that if you want to know whether penang-ites said a big ‘NO’ or ‘YES’ when Najib asked them if they were ready for BN? The answer doesn’t lie with political blogs or with the politicians. The answer lies in Physics.

Sound waves, just like all other waves can easily be visualized in terms of their waveforms, and by comparing the waveforms from the audio of 5 youtube videos which have people responding either YES or NO you can easily try to figure out which was forged or which was genuine.

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Are Free Public WiFi initiatives safe? Or do they pose a Health Risk?

Techdirt recently reported on how Canadian Schools are Banning WiFi based on bad science, and I was appalled by the complete lack of science we have operating in the minds of these clueless parents. No doubt they’re well-intentioned but their complete and utter disregard of the scientific evidence in favour of fearful knee-jerk reactions are actually causing more harm than good for the very children they intend to protect.

Of course it doesn’t take much research to find out that WiFi isn’t dangerous, and there’s no evidence to show that it is dangerous. In fact, most studies suggest WiFi radiation is so weak, that a year of WiFi radiation equals to 20 minutes on a cell phone. The most important thing of course is not to fall into the trap of thinking we’re ‘better safe than sorry’ because we already are safe with WiFi and we have enough evidence to suggest what WiFi poses to health risk.

[email protected] : The Health risk of Public WiFi

I’m also reminded of [email protected] project, that took so long to launch due to pressures from public groups and NGOs similar to the Canadians parents. This includes flak from Anil Netto (a journalist I respect) , who wrote a couple of post about how the public were not consulted about the [email protected] and how the European Parliament has begun to be wary of Wifi.  All of this of course didn’t bode well for the Penang Government, because they had to organize a town hall on the matter, fortunately the science prevailed and Jeff Ooi (whom Lim Guan Eng branded as ‘tech-savvy’) announced that the project was back on track shortly after the town hall.

Unfortunately, the consumer association of Penang wrote a long open-letter to Lim Guan Eng, chastising him for not engaging them enough. It was clear from the letter than the Consumer Association, while having the right intentions in mind–were clearly misled in terms of the science. It was even clearer that all they wanted was for them to be engaged, but from my end I can’t see how a consumer association who has looked at the scientific data (and lack thereof) not conclude that the benefits of WiFi almost astronomically dwarf the ‘perceived’ health risk– quite frankly there are no health risk. More to the point, I would not even begin a conversation with them, till they point to some scientific proof of how WiFi is a health risk. At present there is no such data.

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LGBT Movies Ban in Malaysia

Rais Yatim LGBT movie Ban, Lesbians Gays Transexuals and Bisexuals

This is a bit of old and stale news, but in April of 2012, the Information Ministry released a ‘directive’ to ban all movies or films that featured gay characters. In their defence, the Ministry did later clarify that their facebook post wasn’t a directive, but a topic for debate. Of course, there can’t be much defending when the post itself starts with “Berkuatkuasa serta merta, stesen radio dan televisyen diminta menghentikan..” which effectively translates to “With immediate effect, all radio and television stations are requested to stop..”.

However, this little directive provoked my thoughts, because I’ve always been intrigued by the ‘weeding’ effect of censorship. The ‘weeding’ effect is a simple analogy I came up with while I was –you guessed it– weeding my garden. You see I’ve got a small garden in my home, and every now and then I put a pair of pink rubber gloves and go weeding around by hand, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. Now for those of you who’ve weeded anything before you know those nasty little weeds tend to grow in between the grass, and it’s really difficult to pick them up without plucking a fair bit of non-weeds with them. In fact, if you’ve got a lawn like mine–it’s almost impossible to get rid of the weeds without getting rid of the lawn grass as well. You most definitely want to avoid plucking out that expensive lawn grass you laid down.

The same goes with censorship, every time you try to censor something like the word ‘Breast’, you may inadvertently censor out something entirely innocent and useful–like Breast Milk, or Breast cancer, or Breast feeding. So while I really doubt the keyword Breast would lead to anything other than porn for the first 10,000 entries on Google, censoring the word Breast is really an ineffective solution because it could censor out a lot of really useful and relevant information.

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Undersea Cables in Malaysia : The Need for infrastructure

Undersea Cable Map of MalaysiaA good friend and regular reader (or so I hope) of this blog sent me this link last week. It’s a really nifty chart of all the undersea cables in the world. Now, for those who don’t know what undersea cables are, they’re basically the huge data cables that carry around the data we use for the internet. While modern satellites orbit overhead, the unfortunate truth is that satellites aren’t able to carry even a fraction of the bandwidth that undersea cables do, and chances are if you’re reading this now–at least some of this data has gone through an undersea cable before ending up on your screen.

If you look at the moment from an abstract level however, you begin to notice that these cables tend to ‘cluster’ around certain areas. We can see clear clusters in America, but more specifically in states like California, Florida, New Jersey and Oregon. Other places we see clusters are in Brazil, particularly Sao Paolo, and then we huge clusters in the UK (and zooming in you’ll see there’s huge connectivity to Ireland), Portugal and a large amount of cables going through the Suez Canal. In Asia, we see huge metropolis of these things in Japan, Korea, Shanghai and Taiwan, and finally much closer to home we see a huge clustering happening next door–in Singapore and a tiny bit of clustering happening in Sydney, Australia.

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Should Science Teachers be Paid more

Lawrence Krauss is a smart guy, he’s a professor of physics, he’s written a whole plethora of books on science and has an award list from the scientific community that’s longer than my sunday grocery list (and trust me that list is looong).

He’s also famous for one of my favorite books, the science of Star Trek, in where he explains things like warp speed an teleportation. So in general Lawrence is a pretty big voice in the physics community and when he says something people usually listen–they may not agree, but at least they listen.

I recently watched a 2 hour video of him conversing with Richard Dawkins about ‘Something from Nothing’, and I was really intrigued, but what really caught my attention was a 5 minute piece he did for Big Think about why Science Teachers should be paid more than Humanities teachers. It’s quite interesting to think about, the general premise being that: