Monthly Archives: July 2012

If an image is worth a thousand words, imagine a thousand images…

It happens every so often that you might need to explain a complex concept or present a vast amount of data in a short amount of time. Why not, if applicable (and possible), present it as an animation or a movie!

In a previous post I have made a link to a spectacular presentation of Prof Rosling showing the worldwide evolution of household income as function of time. Loads of data, presented in a dynamic (animated) fashion. It works!

It is also quite possible that the data for any reason are too abstract or makes it difficult to grasp the significance until you “see” them. A good example of this has recently appeared on YouTube showing the break-up of the Greenland glacier over time. Again highly effective.

Over the past two years, a few of my students have used movies or movie-like animations to explain in less than 20-30 seconds very abstract and complex concepts at various conferences. While at first I saw this has a curiosity, it became clear very quickly that for their particular purposes, the use of such techniques have simplified greatly their scientific or technical presentations (usually 8 to 10 minutes time slots), decrease significantly the time needed for a detailed explanation and increased audience comprehension.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, do not underestimate the power of thousands of images… used correctly 😉

Thinner, lighter and faster

Just received my new workhorse, a brand new MacBook Pro Retina display. 2.7 Ghz Quad-core i7, 16 Gb ram and a large 750 Gb SSD drive 😉

So far, not only the display is quite amazing but the speed of the thing. Booting take less than 11 seconds thanks to the new generation of SSD drive used in this MacBook Pro. Get off the sleep mode is almost instantaneous. The screen remain visible even as you approach 180 degrees. The difference in weight with my 2010 MBP is obvious and this notebook is clearly thinner. I will get a few weeks of usage and report on the lack of DVD/CD drive (which I have not been using very often on my old MBP).

Google, Apple and you: intellectual properties

This got to be the most twisted line of thought in all of this smartphone patent war I have seen up to now in order to get to use some else inventions for free:

Google Says Some Apple Inventions Are So Great They Ought to Be Shared – John Paczkowski – News – AllThingsD.

Who gets to define what is “great” or when something is too “popular”? This is not like a 100m race with precise time measurements. History teaches us that once you set one of these “soft” standard, the standard tends to be lowered with time until it becomes meaningless.

OK, enough of Google and Apple. Every one, researchers and graduate students alike have the potential to come by a worthwhile invention. Protecting it is supposed to provide incentive to the inventors to benefit from their work and the time spawn is usually limited (contrary to the copyright which can now, in certain countries, last for decades even for works that heavily borrow from the public domain – another debate).

Invention protection through patents can be a good approach in certain situations e.g. you’ve developed something new, useful, that can be actually implemented or made, has a market large enough to potentially make money, … I also strongly believe that graduate students should get expose to intellectual property themes early during their graduate studies.

What do you think?

Evolving technology

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Arthur C. Clarke

I certainly love technology. They are enablers for thing we thought impossible to perform in a reasonable amount of time just a decade ago. My children laugh at me when I tell them of my first 20 Mb drive, which was the size of a big, thick pizza box. The comparative for them are the 32 or 64 Gb thumb drive! Similarly, today cellphones are more powerful than supercomputer of the 1980’s.

The growing complexity of technology is remarkable and many technologies “evolve” at a rapid, accelerating pace. Kevin Kelly’s book What Technology Wants constitutes a highly recommended read. The increasing complexity is illustrated for numerous technologies as function of years. Furthermore, there is an interesting discussion about the human-technology interaction and how difficult it is to anticipate the numerous failure modes (what can actually go wrong) when dealing with complex systems and trying to include fail safe measures.


I would also like to point out this TED talk entitled how technology evolves.

Is the 21st century class room a virtual one?

I recently came across this excellent TED talk by Peter Norvig entilted “the 100,000-student classroom”. The popularity of online education should probably not be a big surprise. Instant knowledge, facts through online encyclopedia and so on was certainly a first step. The power of internet clearly bring with it the idea of learning when ready concept. In manufacturing, they would call it “just in time” production. A great example of this can be found in the growing popularity of the Khan Academy (see for example Let’s use video to reinvent education).

This brings numerous questions. Namely:

Will the virtual classroom be limited to tutoring in order to supplement traditional teaching or as a replacement option?

Is there still place for one on one teaching / learning?

If I look at the graduate courses I teach, they tends to be slightly different from one year to the other because of student / teacher interaction. The virtual classroom removes real-time interaction!

Maybe it will force teachers to redefine teaching as to provide a plus-value in order to get students in a dedicated room at a fix time every week for 15-17 weeks in a row (a semester)…

What do you think?

(Note added: While scanning my usual blog lists today, I found that Organizing Creativity also as a post on the virtual classroom)

Wikipedia and scientific research

Your a physicist and sitting at a conference for which the speaker is a talking about a specialize biology topic. This person is going on and on using words that are clearly no part of a standard dictionary and mostly ending by “ase”. Suddenly two new words: “flippase” and “floppase” (no kidding!). This is where the combination iPhone and Wikipedia is useful. 30 seconds later your up to speed and following again…Sometimes you’ve got to love technology. Wikipedia is great for a first look at a subject. It provides basic definition, secondary links and most of the time numerous references.

But, because there is one, Wikipedia does not replace a proper literature search. Google and Wikipedia are taking a lot of place among the high school students, my children included. Internet is replacing the standard, printed encyclopedia. The point is, sometimes ago I was a judge at a high school scientific competition and we first had to review the written documents related to projects we will have presentations on in the following step. To my complete surprise, the majority of those documents had references only to Wikipedia entries!

At that point, I did not know if this is a wide spread habit since I was reviewing only a limited sample of all the projects involved. Talking with a few colleagues, it seems that I was not the only one noticing. While some kids are doing these kinds of projects for the first time, the diversity of sources should be part of the standard teaching in science classes. One certainly cannot fault Wikipedia, who provide further references…if you scroll down to the end. Furthermore, high school libraries have more than enough materials to cover most basic topics for that level.

Wikipedia should not be the only source of scientific literatures for high school kids. It is in large part the responsibility of the teachers to bring this message home. Not all parents have a scientific background.

The CERN LHC in 34 pictures

In the wake of this week Higgs discovery announcement, here is an amazing sets of 34 photographs of the LHC and the detector apparatus at CERN from The Atlantic: In Focus – The Fantastic Machine That Found the Higgs Boson – The Atlantic.

Simply fantastic!

Higgs boson observed…

As a physicist, it is difficult not to get excited. CERN has issued a Press Release in which it states that both experiments (ATLAS and CMS) has observed a signal consistent with a new boson in the 126 GeV mass range – right where the Higgs boson is expected. The strength of the signal is at the 5 sigma level (only 1 chance out of 1 744 278 to be consistent with only random fluctuation), which is considered a true positive for particle discovery 😉

Digital Office part IV: Inboxes and various tips

In the previous posts, we went over the hardware requirements and selection, software and finally mobile software. It is now time to address the sources of digital documents, the true inputs of the digital workflow.

Not so long ago, there was a single inbox for all incoming “stuff” that requires your attention. Stuff is here define as anything that needs for you to decide what to do with it, including throwing in the garbage. In the analog world, that single inbox was the good old paper tray: correspondence, various documents, business cards, memos, telephone notes… everything ended-up there for further processing.

Read the rest of this entry

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