Sunday, February 27, 2011

Artificial Intelligence is all around us- just not in a form we imagined back in the 80's and 90's

A great article from Wired magazine - it talks about the  pervasiveness of systems that emerged from the research done on AI in the last few decades but look deceptively like any other computer programs. The Turing Test as the determinant of machine intelligence is no longer in fashion. Instead, today's AI manifests itself more in form of drawing intelligent conclusions from massive data sets. 

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The year of Ox gives way to the year of Tiger

This is a ceremony in Osaka marking the change of Zodiacs. 2009 - the year of Ox - gives way to 2010 - the year of Tiger. The tiger cub is quite naughty and irrepressible here - perhaps a sign of things to come in 2010 ;-)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Chernobyl Revisited - Ghost Town

Chernobyl Revisited - Ghost Town

One of the most amazing and awe inspiring travelogue I've read in a long long time. This is a first person account of a motorcyclist named Elena in Ukraine. She lives near Kiev - about 130 kms from Chernobyl. She takes us through an illustrated ride into the heart of the biggest nuclear disaster the world has seen - apart from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in WWII.

Elena doesn't describe herself much - she maintains the website without any commercial activity - no ads, no sponsorships, no request for donations. I guess this quote from here story describes her best, "The roads are blocked for cars, but not for motorcycles. Good girls go to heaven. Bad ones go to hell. And girls on fast bikes go anywhere they want. "

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Infrastructure Spending Will Not Revive the Economy -

Back in the 30s when Infrastructure spending got us out of the Great Depression, it was the infrastructure of the future - highways, dams, etc. Today, the equivalent would be spending on the 21st century infrastructure - technology, communication, healthcare, education. I agree with Andy on all the areas. I might add additional areas like - increased spending on radically new cures for diseases like cancer, diabetes and a variety of genetic disorders, making our schools the best in the world bar none, spending on new energy technology - solar, wind, gas and also safer nuclear power.

Infrastructure Spending Will Not Revive the Economy -

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bacteria turn tiny gears

If only we can harness the power of bacteria to do all our manual work - pure salvation and nirvana! Read the full article from Wired here.

"The power of swimming bacteria can be harnessed to turn tiny gears, opening the possibility of building hybrid biological machines at the microscopic scale."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Airlines lighten their loads in quest to save fuel

Things are getting scary with this move towards clean and cost cutting measures in the aviation industry. Now, I am not against either cost cutting or cleaner environment, but when you start taking operational decisions based on these factors and not on the key parameter for running an airline - that is passenger safety, then you are headed towards a disaster. And Japan is a country which has had its share of aviation disasters - so you'd expect them to be more cognizant of the pitfalls.

Instead of compromising on passenger safety and comfort, airlines would do far better by focusing on improvements in areas that contribute both to reduced energy consumption and increased passenger comfort. Here are the top ones that come to mind:

1. Reduce the amount of time airplanes spend on the tarmac - both waiting for the takeoff and taxiing after landing.

2. Improve air traffic control - reduce the amount of time airplanes spend circling over airports waiting for their turn to land.

3. Renew their fleets - get rid of the old 70's and 80's planes they are still flying - these have older fixtures that are heavier, they are less fuel efficient, higher maintenance costs and are quite uncomfortable and depressing for the passengers.

4. Gain real fuel economies by technological improvements - like Southwest did with modified wingtips - gaining almost 5% in fuel efficiency:

Here's the article from that details some of the more trivial stuff which to me seems to increase the hassle and discomfort of flying while achieving little in terms of improved fuel efficiency or cleaner environment:

Airlines lighten their loads in quest to save fuel




In a quest to reduce passenger weight to save fuel and cut carbon dioxide emissions, one Japanese airline made an unorthodox request: It asked passengers to use the toilet before flying.

Concern about global warming has prompted the nation's carriers to devise a range of novel ways to slash the amount of fuel they use.

In August, Japan Airlines Corp. introduced a comprehensive operation to reduce the weight of staff luggage and in-flight items.

The carrier began using plastic bottles rather than glass for in-flight wine. The plastic variety is about one-seventh as heavy as the glass version, which weighs roughly 140 grams each.

The airline also shortened the handles of spoons and forks, and started using lighter plates. It has even cut its in-flight magazines for international flights--by about 60 grams per copy.

In July, JAL flight attendants began a campaign to reduce the weight of their carry-on bags by 2.5 kilograms. Over the three-month period to September, they collectively lightened their load by 7 tons.

Marina Okada, a 28-year-old JAL flight attendant, said she had refilled her cosmetics "from the original bottle to smaller ones, or even brought along sample products."

She has also swapped a 2-liter plastic water bottle for a 500 milliliter version, and now carries paperbacks instead of large women's fashion magazines.

Instead of providing a fixed number of newspapers for every flight, JAL now adjusts the amount to match the volume of seats reserved.

It has stopped serving some unpopular alcoholic beverages, and, whereas it used to fill water storage tanks to capacity, it now fills them only to a level that staff estimate to be necessary.

All Nippon Airways Co., meanwhile, has combined a manual explaining how to operate the in-flight entertainment system with the in-flight magazine to save weight.

Arguably its most unusual idea--carried out in October--was to ask passengers on 38 domestic flights to use the bathroom before boarding.

The airline estimates that if 20 percent of roughly 400,000 passengers use the bathroom before boarding over a one-month period, the amount of carbon dioxide emissions from the plane would be reduced by 4.7 tons, or equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed over the course of a year by 330 Japanese cedar trees.

Landing procedures have also come under scrutiny.

Normally, planes level off while making their final approach to allow for sufficient distance between the planes scheduled to land before and after them. Extra fuel is needed to increase engine thrust during this process.

When the conditions are right, some planes have taken to reducing the amount of level flight as much as possible and moving diagonally into a direct landing approach.

An effective way of reducing carbon dioxide emissions is to switch to aircraft that offer better fuel economy.

In October, JAL tried an experiment to determine how much carbon dioxide emissions could be cut without changing the aircraft, but only by reducing the amount of fuel used.

The company dubbed the demonstration flight from Honolulu to Kansai International Airport the "ultimate eco-flight," and said it included every conceivable measure to reduce the burden on the environment.

The standard volume of fuel required for such a flight, including reserve fuel, is about 98,000 liters.

However, about 5,400 liters was conserved on the eco-flight, or about 5.5 percent of the standard fuel volume.

The saving is equivalent to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of about 13,000 kilograms.

An official at the Scheduled Airlines Association of Japan said that "Japanese companies have undertaken a considerable range of very specific measures, including converting to new aircraft, to save on fuel. There will have to be major technological innovation in order to reduce emissions much further."

The official added that "the global airline industry should be doing more to cut carbon dioxide emissions, especially those nations that continue to use aircraft with poor fuel economy."

A central issue for the global airline industry is whether to restrict carbon dioxide emissions on international flights.

The Kyoto Protocol on global warming that took effect in 2005 covers emissions from domestic flights for advanced nations.

But it does not set targets for international flights on the grounds those flights cross national borders.

According to the International Energy Agency, carbon dioxide emissions from international flights increased by 60 percent in 2007 over 1990 levels.

While those emissions only represent about 1 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, there are concerns they could rise dramatically on the back of growing airline passenger demand in newly emerging economies in Asia, such as China.

In October, the International Civil Aviation Organization compiled a declaration calling for an annual improvement of 2 percent in fuel efficiency for the entire global airline industry.(IHT/Asahi: December 17,2009)

Friday, December 18, 2009


It's the same kind of story
That seems to come down from long ago
Two friends having coffee together
When something flies by their window
It might be out on that lawn
Which is wide, at least half of a playing field
Because there's no explaining what your imagination
Can make you see and feel

Seems like a dream
(They) got me hypnotized

Now it's not a meaningless question
To ask if they've been and gone
I remember a talk about North
Carolina and a strange, strange pond
You see the sides were like glass
In the thick of a forest without a road
And if any man's hand ever made that land
Then I think it would've showed

Seems like a dream
(They) got me hypnotized

They say there's a place down in Mexico
Where a man can fly over mountains and hills
And he don't need an airplane or some kind of engine
And he never will
Now you know it's a meaningless question
To ask if those stories are right
'Cause what matters most is the feeling
You get when you're hypnotized

Seems like a dream
(They) got me hypnotized