Archive for category science & technology

Google Outages explained (?)

About a week ago (December 14th), YouTube and other Google services experienced an “outage”. I didn’t notice anything (I never do, says my long-suffering wife), but others did:

Well today (Dec. 19th) Google explained. Sort of.

Personally, I blame George Clooney.

Online teaching? A great opportunity.

Putting all your classes online suddenly is a big challenge and a great opportunity to do things differently, i.e. better.

Give doctors the freedom to exercise their profession without interference.” (Dr. Marc Wathelet, Belgian virologist.)

What kind of world do you want to live in? We now have a possibility to reset things: not go back to how things were, but go forward, but not in the same direction we were going before.

In this blog post:

Read the rest of this entry »

Meat-less meat?

In Neal Stephenson’s excellent novel “The Diamond Age” (read my Goodreads review of it here), nano-technology has advanced to allow almost free creation of the basics of life, such as food, created in  Matter Compilers.

Well, just as Harry Potter’s moving pictures are now standard on smartphones, so science is quickly catching up with Stephenson’s idea of food-making matter compilers, as discussed in this illustrated review of a book called Meat Planet.

Learning Notion

Hi! In this blog post I talk about some new discoveries I’ve made in the world of productivity apps: Notion, (a way to organize digital information, part of “Building a Second Brain“), Active Recall and Timeblocking.

  1. Notion as an alternative to Evernote,  (Here’s my Notion tutorial playlist on YT.)
  2. PARA (only in passing, no details in this blog post as I’m still figuring out what it is – here’ s my PARA YT playlist)
  3. Active Recall and the Cornell Note System as a more effective way to learn new material than highlighting (here’s my Active Recall YT playlist), and
  4. timeblocking – a truly awesome yet simple way to make sure that those things you’d like to do actually get done (all those “Important but not Urgent” items). Link to my yt playlist

After watching a video by a veteran Evernote user on why he was thinking of moving over to Notion, I decided to check it out.

Particularly useful and helpful I found were the videos by Keep Productive (Francesco D’Alessio), Rebecca Ford and Marie Poulin (tho Marie is a power user and sometimes goes a little fast and sophisticated).

The key thing about Notion is, as Marie, Rebecca and Everyday Apple say, that it allows important info to re-surface and come to your attention more easily and effectively than Evernote. Evernote, of course, has its reminders, but in Notion you can created a calendar and put all your to-dos in there, and then created a daily calendar that filters only the tasks you have for that day. This is a huge advantage and though the learning curve for Notion is a little steep, the tutorial videos I found are very helpful.

“Unlike other apps that force me to silo different parts of my planning and task management system between different apps, Notion allows me to keep all of the parts of my system.”  (Rebecca Ford, “Task Management in Notion“, 23 Oct 2018)

Notion basically uses blocks, like the new WordPress interface (the artist formerly known as Gutenberg), but in a much more powerful way than you can in WordPress.

Keep Productive and Marie Poulin also offer Notion mastery courses which I plan to sign up for later this year.

Marie, Keep Productive, Rebecca Ford, GroovyWinks’ Maria Aldrey and super-productive Cambridge (UK) doctor Ali Abdaal have all mentioned another organizing principle which I am currently learning about: PARA (part of a larger concept called Second Brain). Marie Poulin and Maria Aldrey have both done videos on this. It’s different from GTD which I’m a little familiar with, so I’m finding it a little hard to get my head around these concepts, particularly Areas (is that like GTD’s “areas of responsibility”? And,“A resource is “a topic or theme of ongoing interest.” Say… wha???)

Dr. Abdaal also did a video on a study and review method he has used very successfully called Active Recall (video 1 and video 2). Shu Omi also did a neat and brief video on this.

Shu Omi’s video on timeblocking also helped me get over a major stumbling block: saving videos and websites and articles to watch or read later then never getting to that “later”. The simple solution: schedule a time or date to do just that. Well, duh!

So, today, I went through my “Read-Review” notes (because I’m dividing them into “ToReview” and “ToRead”), then I realized what’s going to happen: I’m going to re-tag these and then… probably never read them because I don’t have a way for those to pop up again right under my nose so I can’t miss them. They’ll be out of sight, out of mind. When am I going to review them? As I was already in Evernote, I decided, as well as re-tagging these, to use Evernote’s reminder function to fix a date and time to actually do these. I fixed a day for –

  • doing my weekly review (which will now include reading articles and notes on this topic)
  • working on my business (which will include reading my Evernotes related to business, marketing, etc)
  • working on a new website I’m building, which will include reading my Evernotes tagged with marketing or website
  • learning Notion, which mainly means watching Notion tutorial videos and reproducing that in my Notion sandbox
  • learning more about Active Recall which I’m using to study assignment design.
  • learning more about other memory techniques such as the mind palace (yup! I recently watched again BBC’s Sherlock.)

Each of the above now has a time slot and a day allocated to them, and that will pop up in both an Evernote reminder, and a calendar item in my Notion Master To-Do list.

I also watched Timeboxing: Elon Musk’s Time Management Method. Shu Omi said timeblocking is also used by Cal Newport, author of Deep Work. Here’s a blog post Cal Newport did on it: Deep Habits: the importance of planning every minute of your workday.

“Atomic Habits” author James Clear makes a similar point about the importance of intention (which timeblocking facilitates) in this clip.

Cal Newport’s new book is called Digital Minimalism.

On Newport’s blog, I found this article about learning and how these days, the hard work of developing good study habits seems to have gone by the wayside.

To Olser, it was clear that training a new generation of thinkers required teaching students how to actually put their mind to productive use, which is hard, and requires “bull-dog tenacity” before it becomes a “good habit.”

We don’t teach this any more.

Modern educational institutions care a lot about content: what theories we teach, what ideas students are exposed to, what skills they come away knowing. But we rarely address the more general question of how one transforms their mind into a tool well-honed for elite-level cognitive work.

He repeats this in this interview here: Don’t follow your passion (Do this instead.) |Cal Newport | Top 10 Rules. And at the end of that same video, rule #10, is timeblocking.

Dr Ali Abdaal in his video on Active Recall and particularly the part where he talks about why it works, why it’s effective, says it is the hard work, the difficulty of the task (trying to remember the answers to your own questions) that makes it valuable and helps the information to stick.

As it happens, Notion has an active recall template: Cornell Notes System. Active recall is very similar to a system of note-taking developed by a Cornell University professor in the 1940s.

There are 3 parts to the active-recall/Cornell Notes system:

  1. Read or watch or listen to the original, taking notes as you go. E.g. I’m now learning about how to design effective assignment sheets to teach academic writing to college students. As I read, I make the following notes:
    1. Your assignment sheet should:
      1. Link the writing task with specific learning goals
      2. Describe rhetorical aspects of the task, i.e., audience, purpose, genre
      3. Make explicit any constraints such as word count minimums and maximums
      4. Specify formatting requirements
  2. Create your own recall questions. E.g., for the above notes, my recall question is “What 4 things should an effective assignment sheet do?”
  3. Recalling, which involves looking at the questions only and trying to recall the original notes or answers.
    1. In his video “My favourite note-taking app for students – Notion”, Ali shows how to use Notion’s toggle-list function to hide your notes or answers to your recall questions. 
    2. It also involves, if you’re really trying to master a body of knowledge, repeating the recall step again after some interval of time. Here’s how Ali Abdaal used this technique to revise for his medical exams at Cambridge University.

This blog post briefly introduced the following productivity apps or ideas: Notion, PARA (a way to organize digital information, part of “Building a Second Brain“), Active Recall and Timeblocking. Thanks for reading!

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Tech group helping Fukushima farmers fight radiation

Haven’t written about Fukushima for a very long time. People there are still living in “temporary” housing, the nuclear power plant is still being dismantled, the sunken radioactive cores have still not been salvaged, much land is still irradiated and closed to the public (and that includes the original inhabitants).

Here’s a short video by a tech group promoting their solution to one of the problems. I can’t comment on its efficacy, but I liked being updated about what’s happening there. It’s in Japanese with English subtitles. METER seems to be a US company. Some commenters are sceptical, but I see no contradiction in using technology to help clean up a technological disaster. Technology itself, like money, is neither good nor bad. It depends on how it is used: intelligently, with respect for the dignity and freedom of human beings? Or stupidly, in ignorance and without respect or understanding of what people really are? This video seems to me to document the former use.


A new theory of cloud formation

Who’s got the time these days to watch an hour-long video? Certainly not you! This one traces the attempts by a Danish scientist to discover exactly what is the relationship between clouds and cosmic rays and the magnetic activity of the sun. He searches first for theoretical evidence, then later for experimental evidence. There’s an interesting scene where Svensmark gives his presentation and is told by one in the audience that his experiment is a waste of time and not worth conducting!

Link if the video won’t play:

Robert J. Geller: Back to the future: Restarting Japan’s nuclear power plants- Nikkei Asian Review

Robert J. Geller is professor of geophysics in the Graduate School of Science of the University of Tokyo.

In the Nikkei Asian Review, he makes 5 interesting suggestions for the future of nuclear power in Japan.

via Robert J. Geller: Back to the future: Restarting Japan’s nuclear power plants- Nikkei Asian Review.

Here’s a brief summary of his points。I agree with all except #4: I want to see more evidence that nationalizing TEPCO will improve the company’s “safety culture”.

  1. First, in the three years since the Fukushima Daiichi accident we still haven’t fully learned what went wrong or how to avoid the recurrence of similar problems. Tohoku Electric Power allowed full access to an international team of engineers who conducted a walkdown (a detailed inspection) of its Onagawa plant and agreed in advance to allow publication of the conclusions, whether positive or negative (in fact they were positive). In contrast, Tokyo Electric Power, known as Tepco, hasn’t provided outside experts with enough access to its plants.
  2. [T]here’s no such thing as a “maximum earthquake” or “maximum tsunami” — that’s just not how the Earth works. Each plant must be built to withstand specified levels of earthquakes and tsunamis, which we call the “design basis.” As the design basis is increased, the probability of an earthquake (or tsunami) in excess of it decreases (and the costs to the plant operator, and ultimately to the consumer, increase) but no matter how large we set the design basis there will always be some non-zero probability of an event in excess of it. The ultimate decision on what risks are acceptable and what risks are not is inherently political and should not be tasked to regulators.
  3. Japan’s regulators are placing too much emphasis on the issue of so-called “active faults” near nuclear power plants, while at the same time they are not paying nearly sufficient attention to the tsunami issue, especially on the Sea of Japan coast.
  4. it seems highly desirable for the government to fully nationalize Tepco and bring in new management, as was done successfully with JAL several years ago. After breaking up the company into a sustainable part and a Fukushima clean-up part, the former could eventually be reprivatized.
  5. if the government does decide to approve the restart of one or more nuclear power plants, this should and must be done with the understanding that there is some non-zero risk of an accident. It should prepare now for emergency countermeasures, including evacuations, information release, and compensation for those affected. It should also announce these preparations now.

via Robert J. Geller: Back to the future: Restarting Japan’s nuclear power plants- Nikkei Asian Review.


Spoof video – your phone, the latest surveillance technology

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2012/02/25 06:29 – Osaka Gas, SunEdison Jump On Megasolar Bandwagon

OSAKA Nikkei–Osaka Gas Co. 9532 and U.S. firm SunEdison plan to get involved in the construction of large solar power plants in Japan, highlighting the strong interest in this growing field as the country promotes renewable energy with various policy incentives.

Companies are investing on the view that the market is set to expand in line with the July launch of a program that will require utilities to buy all the power generated from renewable energy at set prices.

SunEdison is a subsidiary of major silicon wafer manufacturer MEMC. It has a track record of building more than 390 solar power plants worldwide, including in the U.S. and Europe.

Canadian Solar Inc. will build and operate megasolar plants in Japan. The Canadian company hopes to construct four or five facilities this year, each with an output of 500kw to 2,000kw. It will sell some of the power generated. This would be the first time that a major solar cell manufacturer from overseas generates electricity in Japan.

(The Nikkei Feb. 25 morning edition)

via 2012/02/25 06:29 – Osaka Gas, SunEdison Jump On Megasolar Bandwagon.

2012/02/24 00:01 – Panasonic Introduces Residential Solar Power Package

OSAKA Nikkei–Panasonic Corp. 6752 on Thursday unveiled a solar power management and storage system for homes with the capacity to meet essential electricity needs for roughly two days.

The package includes a 4.65kwh lithium ion storage battery and a power station that regulates the solar cells and battery. The battery is priced at 1.21 million yen, with the power station going for 672,000 yen. The company, which will begin accepting orders on March 21, is targeting sales of 1,500 sets in fiscal 2012.

The system enables excess power generated during the day to be used at night. In the event of a power outage, it would be capable of supplying electricity for the bare minimum essentials, such as lights and the refrigerator, for around two days.

(The Nikkei Feb. 24 morning edition)

via 2012/02/24 00:01 – Panasonic Introduces Residential Solar Power Package.

See more at Panasonic’s Eco ideas House exhibition in Tokyo, and Panasonic’s Fuel Cell cogeneration system.