Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Scientists Want Your MacBook for Earthquake Detection

I love this story. I’m almost afraid to print it today; you will think it is an April Fools’ Joke, but it is not.

My Dad, God rest his soul, was an amateur radio operator, with connections all over the globe. Amateur radio operators, monitoring the radiowaves, provided help and rescue to many a tragedy bound situation. I love the idea of Macs uniting in the same way, interconnecting, to help monitor and prevent earthquakes. You can read the entire article at WIRED.com

Everybody knows you can’t predict an earthquake. The only way would be to get inside a time machine, go into the future, and send back a message.

So seismologist Elizabeth Cochran of the University of California at Riverside will use thousands of computers to do just that.

Well, it’s not exactly a time machine. Cochran and Stanford seismologist Jesse Lawrence have made use of the sensors built into many new laptops that sense when the computer is being dropped, and turned them into earthquake monitors. They hope to sign up thousands of users to act like a grid of detectors that can sense an earthquake before it does too much damage.

Like many earthquake early warning systems around the world, when a quake strikes, this system will send a warning to people living in large cities. Because electronic communication systems (in this case, the internet) are much faster than seismic waves, the warning should arrive before the shaking, giving people 10 or 20 seconds to take shelter.

“We can measure the seismic waves and then get a warning out to people before the seismic waves get to them. That to me is physically possible,” Cochran says.

Cochran’s system makes use of the accelerometers — tiny motion sensors — built into many modern notebooks, including Apple’s MacBook and Lenovo’s ThinkPad, as well as the iPhone and Nintendo’s Wii. Accelerometers detect movement and translate it into digital signals. In notebooks, they function as safety devices: When the accelerometer detects that the notebook is in free fall, the computer moves the hard drive head to a safe position in order to minimize the risk of damage when it hits the ground. But the accelerometers are also accessible to software, so they can be used for games or other applications.

As it turns out, one field that already makes extensive use of accelerometers is seismology. Usually these sensors are buried underground, generating much of the data seismologists use to model earthquakes. So in 2006 when Cochran saw a program called SeisMac, a light went on. SeisMac uses the accelerometers in Mac computers to let people shake their computers and watch the motion translated on screen into a graph. Cochran wondered if the same technology could be used in earthquake sensing, and suggested the idea to colleagues at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, where she was working at the time.

“I sort of said, ‘Hey, what do guys think if we take this accelerometer and make a seismic network out of it?’ And of course Jesse was like, ‘That’s the coolest idea I have ever heard.'”

Thus was born Quake Catcher Network. The two scientists — joined by Carl Christensen, a programmer with experience in distributed computing — started in September 2007.

Distributed computing was made famous by extraterrestrial-scanning network SETI@home, and Cochran uses the same platform, called BOINC, to collect data from the laptops in her project’s network.

April 1, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Kuwait Green

There is a miracle in Kuwait. Suddenly, there are trees a bright, Easter-basket-grass green.

“What kind of miracle is that?” you might ask, you who live in other climates.

That bright spring-green is a miracle in a land where the true blue of the blue sky is often screened with haze, where the dominant color is a white beige sand, and, most important of all, where there has not been a truly significant rain the entire rainy season here.

The color is painfully beautiful, the eye seeks it out and feasts on its vibrancy in an otherwise dull landscape. The tree that is showing the vibrant green is a little willowy, graceful. The green is probably only for a day or two before it fades into a duller green – still welcome because it IS green.

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The second tree is my favorite tree in Kuwait, but I don’t have a single Kuwaiti friend who can tell me what it is. They tell me it is a very old tree, a tree that can live a long time on very little water, a tree often used to screen houses and provide both shade and privacy. I love the laciness on its leaves, the delicacy of its foliage. In contrast to the spring-green tree, the foliage is a more grey-blue-green, and it is a much taller tree. There is a delicacy about this tree, an elegant restraint and a timelessness that fascinates me. If I were Kuwaiti, if I had my own compound, I would grow this tree, I would grow many of them and watch their lacy branches sway in the slightest breeze.

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Can someone tell me the names for these trees?

(PS I had to look up it – it’s + Possessive to be sure I got it right, above. I didn’t get it right at first, but it is right now. If you have any confusion, don’t be alarmed – it confuses all of us. If you click on the blue type, there is a very simple way to remember when to use it and when to use it’s.)

April 1, 2008 Posted by | ExPat Life, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Random Musings, Technical Issue, Weather | , , | 8 Comments

Bullying and 19 Minutes; Jodi Picoult

When my blogging friend Chirp makes a recommendation, I have learned to order the book and read it. She reads books that make you think! The latest book is Jodi Picoult’s 19 Minutes, a book about a kid who is sensitive and kind and funny, and plays by the rules – he is good at sharing, and listening and all the things we try to teach our children to be good at.

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He gets bullied. From the time he starts school, he is bullied physically and mentally and emotionally. He does the right thing – he reports it. The schools do nothing, or so little that it only makes things worse for him. Pushed too far, one day snaps, he goes ballistic. He walks into the school and shoots 19 of his classmates.

One problem is access to weapons. Literally, physically teenagers have not yet developed the judgement areas of the brain. I am guessing in males it takes even longer, and I only guess that because of all the traffic fatalities and physical damage adolescent boys inflict upon themselves – and their victims. Maybe it is that fatal combination of poor judgement and testosterone that pushes them too far. Access to weapons – guns, knives, fast cars – makes them even more lethal.

Before I wrote this review, however, I had to do a lot of thinking. This book is about bullying, and even as adults we come across bullies. Our household helpers are terrified of the police – those who are here to protect us. The police use their position to try to bully phone numbers out of pretty Kuwaiti girls, and to exact sexual favors from the Asian domestics. Not all police are bullies, but if a person has that tendency, the position allows him/her to use that power wrongly.

And bullying doesn’t stop with graduation from high school. We are seeing the same kinds of behavior at universities – Virginia Tech – and in the workplace – “going postal” and GMAC just to name two. People who are bullied sometimes turn, they go out in a blaze of glory.

I’ve been bullied. People who are raised to have good manners are often victims of those who are willing to overstep the boundaries. We make excuses for them – we say they are oblivious. I am beginning to think that many a bully is NOT oblivious, but has learned to push to get his or her own way.

With men, the bullying is more physical, and it’s all about jockying for position – number one in the pecking order, the next promotion, the boss’s golf partner, etc. If you think women are gossips – you oughta hear the men! When I hear men “bantering” it’s all about who’s got the “biggest.” Or maybe, the devil whispers in my ear, it’s about who can make you THINK his is the biggest.

With women, in my experience, most of the bullies are physically bigger. They are women who – literally – throw their weight around. They are women who will interrupt anyone and override their suggestion with a loud voice. They are women who have temper tantrums, and hurt feelings, who go from person to person forming alliances that dissolve with the next disagreement. That’s the sad truth – a bully wants his or her own way – all the time. Once you go against them, you have to watch your back.

Picoult has done her homework. Bullies are often likeable enough people! A bully carries his/own burden, however – and that is a desperate need for popularity. You can see this in animal behavior; once a creature has achieved dominance, it takes enormous energy to maintain that position, so much energy that the rest of your life shrinks as your focus must be on maintaining dominance.

The UK, Canada, and the US all have websites about bullying, trying to put a stop to it in the schools. What do they define as bullying?

People calling you names
Making things up to get you into trouble
Hitting, pinching, biting, pushing and shoving
Taking things away from you
Damaging your belongings
Stealing your money
Taking your friends away from you
Posting insulting messages on the internet or by IM (cyberbullying)
Spreading rumours
Threats and intimidation
Making silent or abusive phone calls
Sending you offensive phone texts
Bullies can also frighten you so that you don’t want to go to school, so that you pretend to be ill to avoid them

What can people with manners do against a bully?

In general, the first thing to do is tell an adult – it doesn’t have to be your parents. Additonal suggestions suggest creating your own support network – create a wide network of friends. Join interest groups, in our out of school.

When our son was bullied in school, he worked hard and earned a black belt in karate, and then went on to earn further degrees, and to teach karate – while still in high school. Just knowing that he had a lethal skill made him walk differently, made the bullies afraid to target him. He went to a magnet school, where there was a high degree of chaos, and he sought out and made friends with the biggest people he could find. He used his head. He made it through. Of all his accomplishments, one of the things that made us most proud of him was his ability to stick it out and to prevail.

I worked in a high school. My office was a safe haven for many kids, kids who found high school dynamics pure hell. Most of them were emotionally years ahead of the crowds roaming the hallways, the cruel kids, for whom high school will probably be the highlight of their lives.

“You’re going to love being an adult,” I would tell them. “Hang in there. For them, this may be as good as it gets, but your life is going to get better and better.”

Geeks don’t always get a lot of respect. The two guys that graduated high school at the bottom of the class with my son already had a flourishing computer networking business going. If you haven’t noticed, most of the people who are making it big financially are people who have learned how to use their heads.

I have learned something else. You can beat a bully at his or her own game. Bullies usually rely on instilling fear in others, but rarely do they do their homework.

Choose your battles. Bullying hurts everyone. If you see someone being bullied and you can do something about it then and there, stand up for the person being bullied. All you have to do is say “that’s not funny, just stop.” Many times bullies are so shocked at being challenged, they will stop! If your judgement tells you it would be unsafe to say anything, quickly tell an adult, a supervisor, a manager, what you have seen.

If a bully is trying to push through something you believe is wrong, you can quietly discuss things one on one with others, and make a plan. You can call for a vote! You can quietly stand up to a bully. You can tell a bully “it’s my turn to talk” and they have to shut up! (When you do this, you have to be very careful to listen when the bully is speaking so that everyone knows it really IS your turn to talk.) You can use a little gentle humor – bullies usually only like humor when it is aimed at someone else. They haven’t a clue what to do when it is aimed at them!

If it is annoying, but not something worth fighting over, let the bully get his or her own way. They usually end up shooting themselves in the foot, self-destructing. The adult bully ends up driving people away, and then wondering why he/she has no friends?

Living your own life well is your best revenge!

Thank you, Chirp, for another book that really made me think!

April 1, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Communication, Community, Counter-terrorism, Cross Cultural, Education, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Relationships, Social Issues | , , | 27 Comments

April Fool’s Sunrise

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No, there is no trick. It is only an April Fool’s sunrise because of the date – April 1st – and because it was never clear whether the sun would really appear or not, with the thick clouds. I’ll take clouds over that haze of pollution any day. Or it may be that the clouds are obscuring the haze of pollution, which seems to be a daily occurence, so I won’t rule it out. I can’t SEE it, however, so I have no evidence of it being there, and I will be a great big April fool and tell myself if I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

At 0700 the temperature is 75°F / 24°C and there are thick fluffy clouds that – I wish – look like they could turn into rain clouds.

April 1, 2008 Posted by | ExPat Life, Health Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, sunrise series, Weather | 3 Comments

   

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