Monday, May 31, 2010

Animal Breeding in the Digital World

Last week I gave a presentation to my colleagues about the possibilities of finding and sharing information on the contemporary internet. Since this was a part of our weekly department seminar I called it "Animal Breeding in the Digital World". But frankly, it was more about the internet stuff than animal breeding. (Note: the "Digital World" supposed to point to our Information age as well as a metaphor for the Internet.)

I had two reasons to do this kind of presentation instead of the conventional one. I gave at least 4 presentations in the last 3 years on survival analysis so it was some kind of refreshment for me. The other reason one is more complex. Let's just say that I was influenced by people like Michael Wesch (you might have seen his video The Machine is Us/ing Us or his presentation A Portal to Media Literacy) and a fellow from the other side of the World named Leigh Blackall, whose happens to be a blogger too. ... or I happened to be a blogger because of him :)

In the presentation I showed sties like the Internet Archive, Google Wave or Delicious (my bookmarks). Actually my main point was the suggestion for them to set up a Delicious account and use a feed reader to increase their efficiency on the Net.

I am wondering how much I succeeded. Certainly not on the full scale... But I hope to make a similar presentation in the future going into more details about a few key points. This might have a greater impact on the people, so I could convince them to form an active Delicious network (for starters).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The teacher matters

I have some time now to browse the net. Just remembered one of my delicious bookmarks of a guy at Stanford university giving a lecture on a "sort of introductory course on programming". This particular video interesting not only because of the content (I am also a "sort of " programmer), but also because of the lecturer.  

He is just hilarious!  See yourself!
Here are other course materials if you are interested.

I usually don't look at the comments on Youtube, but in this case it is also worthwile. Majority of the people are praising the lecturer, some of them even express the wish to go to Stanford. An other quote from a commenter:  
" I wish my teachers was like him :(
 i'm in highschool and my teachers are
like serious 80% of the time and angry 20% of the time." 

So here is my point:
The personality and the mood of the teacher matters at least as much as the wise things s/he want to tell. I am not saying that every student has to laugh through all classes, but a well placed joke or an occasional smile could help a lot.

Sidenote: If you are interested in programming you might want to check out the game Light-Bot 2.0. It teaches programming basics in a fun way. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Picking ideas

Quite some time now I am interested in issues dealing with developing countries. I heard some people saying that reserachers are interested in these geographical areas because there is where the money goes. It might be true that some people are driven more by the vision of high salary rather than the willingness to help. We are different and the normal distribution applies also in here...

As I never crossed the borders of good-old-Europe, I don't have any personal experience about life in developing countries. The interesting thing in this field is that there are very few answers to many questions raised . I have my own: How can a man improve the life of many?

This week I was on a discussion event organized by Centre for Development Research. It was about waste management - not really my topic. But the title was very interesting Picking ideas, which I "borrowed" also for this blog post.

For me the most valuable outcome from this lecture and discussion event were the general remarks of the presenter about the connection of University research and the real need of people in developing countries. He emphasized his message several times. While he was not denying the importance of big projects and "hi scale" ideas (mostly for the industry, as he said) but at the same time called for research solutions driven by real demand. He argued that writing scientific papers is irrelevant for people in developing countries.

In a presentation full of questions a final one came:
How people learn?

There were some hints during the presentation:
- researchers have to reach people on very local level
- there is a difference between project demand, government demand and real demand
- that the researchers should go to a pro-poor leadership rather than poor people to specify the demand

I also remembered a paper (Jean Gradé et al: Building institutions for endogenous development) I read several years ago which was saying: "The success [of the project] may be due partly to the fact that it has been an endogenous movement (from within) rather than exogenous (initiated or led from outside)."

My answer for the question how people learn would be:
People learn from those whom they trust.
Maybe just a partial answer, but this is my best one at the moment. Anybody has a better one?

My original questions still remains however.
How can a man improve the life of many?
I still don't know...

Personally I agree with some points the presenter made about the necessity to know the environment in developing countries from personal experience, not just from the office desk, if you want to do a research or any other kind of project there. What I don't fully agree with is the non-importance of "hi end" research for people in less developed countries.

I have that luck to work in a very international group with people from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. Although we work on different topics, I have some insight what they are doing. I am pretty sure that research findings laid down in papers are relevant for us (Europeans) as well as for our colleagues from all over the World. Maybe this is because we are working in animal breeding and given the importance of this field in the developing world. A few of my colleagues are doing community based breeding programs, but at the same time highly  interested in genomic selection (i.e. selecting animals according to DNA information), which is the hottest topic nowadays in animal breeding.

These I left out from the main text in order not to disturb its flow.

 The term "developing country"
As one of our EM ABG students said, the term "developing country" is flawed. All countries are developing in a sense that they want to be better and better with each year. This has a point! After a short search I found out that the definition of a "developing country" is not a straightforward one, and that it is decided mostly according to income per person, or some similar measurement unit.

I was living in a developing country
 I just noticed that my home country (Slovakia) is considered to be developed just from 2009, probably because of the introduction of Euro. Other neighboring countries like Poland and Hungary are still in the emerging group. Strange... (Source via Wikipedia)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wave of change

I thought I could say a few words about Google Wave. This is one of the newest large scale project from Google that in my opinion will change/improve the way of communiccation as we know it today.  
(Note on "newest": In fact Google Wave was announced in May 2009 and the preview was launched in the second half of 2009, but as they say: Everything is new for an infant...)

In short:
Google Wave is an online platform for communication and collaboration in real time. At the first glance it looks like a hybrid between email and chat, but it is much more.

The real strength of the Wave is in the various gadgets that could be installed with one click, which greatly help you to reshape the Wave according to your needs. Need to organize a meeting or do a quick poll among your friends where to meet for a beer? Brainstorm session at your working place? Organize your thoughts via a Mind map? No problem! With Google Wave you get everything in one package!

It is interesting to see how this platform evolves before our eyes. Some time ago we started a brainstorming session (picture above), how Google Wave could be used in education. Now anybody can start a brainstorming wave using a neat template already explaining the basic rules. (btw. This wave is now public, so if you have some ideas, feel free to share them. You will need a Google Wave account for this.)

There are many more features that I can't and even don't want to cover in this post. You could check them out personally on the two Youtude videos embeded below, or going to the Getting started... help page where you will be filled with the basics. They also have an official blog to announce new features. But as always a simple Internet search will tell you what you want to know.

To be honest there are also some difficulties using the Google Wave.
You need a Google account to sign in - this is not a big surprise to be honest.

As it is a relatively new project the number of people with access is limited. You can't get a group of people online immediately. There are a limited number of invitations, but these does not arrive immediately after sending. As the developers say: "We have a lot of stamps to lick." Personal maximum was 1 week, minimum only 10 minutes. You can also request invitation by yourself. This is how I got mine after several days of waiting. This issue will likely purge after some time as it gone now for Gmail.

There are also some technical issues, like occasional crashes and inability to use any kind of web browser.

But if you sum it up, the "pro"s of using it exceed the "contra"s by far.

See you on the Wave! Ahoy!

Update: As of 18th May 2010 Google Wave is available for everyone. Hurray! :)
Update 2: The length of the post shows how enthusiastic I was about this topic at the time. Unfortunately Google shut down the project triggering a massive "Google Wave is dead" - wave on the Net. But the good news is that the Apache picked up the idea. So let's hope for the best.