It’s Not The Economy, Stupid!

June 23, 2011

“Humans have a tendency to fall prey to the illusion that their economy is at the very center of the universe, forgetting that the biosphere is what ultimately sustains all systems, both man-made and natural. In this sense, ‘environmental issues’ are not about saving the planet — it will always survive and evolve with new combinations of atoms — but about the prosperous development of our own species.”

Carl Folke (Science Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University)

A timely thought.

As an aside, here’s an interesting historical perspective (up to 2008):

Picture credit here.

The Cyber Security Challenge 2011

June 22, 2011

“The Cyber Security Challenge is a series of national online games and competitions that will test the cyber security abilities of individuals and teams from every walk of life. It is designed to excite and inspire anyone considering a career in the cyber security industry.

The Challenge will identify talented individuals capable of becoming part of the UK’s cyber security profession now and in the future.”

Competitions seem to be getting quite popular for raising awareness and encouraging innovation eg see here.

Learning From A Litany Of Resistances

June 17, 2011

From a recent post of David Seah:

The point is that it takes many more hours of time to produce an experience than the actual time it takes to enjoy it. The better that experience is, the more time it probably took to make it. Sure, sometimes serendipity and synchronicity drops something amazing in our laps, but waiting for that to happen is not a strategy.

Why Success Always Starts With Failure

June 15, 2011

Click to play. The theme is ‘problem solving in a complex world’ and he, Tim Harford, ends up emphasising the key role of trial and error.

Background info here.

This is a perennial topic of interest – the origins and implications of success and failure – especially if, what and how you can learn from it.

Some particular aspects are discussed here (complex or complicated), here (lessons learned) and here (luck).

Quantitative Methods And The Social Sciences

June 13, 2011

From Professor Rick Rylance in The Independent:

We need a new generation of social scientists who have the skills to work in any domain they choose, and the innovations in undergraduate teaching will push through into postgraduate training and thus open up new horizons.

Quantitive methods make possible large-scale social studies such as Understanding Society, which published its first findings earlier this year. Funded by the ESRC, and run by the Institute for Social and Economic Research( ISER), it offers an unprecedented insight into 40,000 UK households as they respond to regional, national and international change. It follows individuals overtime, regularly collecting data about participants.

It will provide a unique and enduring portrait of 21stcentury British society for generations to come. Understanding Society is just one area of groundbreaking research currently taking place in UK universities.

Here’s the link to Understanding Society:

Understanding Society is a world leading study of the socio-economic circumstances and attitudes of 100,000 individuals in 40,000 British households.

It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and run by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER). The study allows for deeper analysis of a wide range of sections of the population as they respond to regional, national and international change. Understanding Society will greatly enhance our insight into the pathways that influence peoples longer term occupational trajectories; their health and well-being, their financial circumstances and personal relationships.

Understanding Society also breaks new ground with its interdisciplinary focus. The study will capture biomedical data on 20,000 participants and place this alongside rich social histories, helping us weigh the extent to which people’s environment influences their health.

It’s a focus of Big Ideas For The Future, a new report from RCUK and Universities UK that will be released as part of Universities Week (13 to 19 June).

The report focuses on a variety of research because if we are to tackle future challenges, we need to be able to apply a broad mix of the physical, natural, biological, medical and social sciences, as well as engineering and the arts and humanities.

The research being worked on in UK universities, as showcased by Big Ideas For The Future, will have a profound impact on our lives and the growth, prosperity and wellbeing of the UK, and quantitive methods-trained social scientists will have an exciting part to play in it.

As an aside, the interesting issue of developing interdisciplinary mindsets (as compared to approaches) for research projects is discussed here.

Picture credit here.

Feynman And His Mulitfaceted Communication Skills

June 9, 2011

I wrote a while ago on a project (codenamed Tuva) carried out at Microsoft Research to reproduce the famous Messenger Lectures on ‘The Character of Physical Law’ by Richard Feynman. The resulting online presentation looks pretty slick and fast (on my new iMac) and makes use of and highlights their Silverlight technology.

Recently they’ve added some very enlightening commentary material by Robert Jaffe (Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) that places the lectures (given in 1964) in an up-to-date context.

There’s also an interesting interview with Jaffe explaining the background to his contribution. Two extracts that interested me were:

It’s clear that he was thinking about how to explain physics to younger people, people with less background knowledge—or even to the general public. He was trying very hard to make himself understood, and he was using all his powers of exposition, his ability to make contact with people, his showmanship, his stagecraft, his timing … Dick had all the characteristics of a great improviser, a stand-up comedian, a performer. It really comes out in these lectures. That makes it possible for people who otherwise would not pay attention to physics to go along with him for the ride.

It’s not that his explanations are all that original—or even that penetrating. Some of his insights are extraordinary, but others are just good, solid pedagogy. It’s Dick’s incredible personal ability as a communicator that makes these lectures special.


For me, the best part (of working on the project) was the chance to observe a master teacher in microscopic detail as he plied his trade.

I’ve listened to Feynman’s lectures casually, but to listen to them with the intention of annotating them forced me to pay attention to his use of theater, of tone, of voice and accent, of his physical presence, of jokes, of interacting with his audience. I found that fascinating. Feynman had an uncanny ability to make individual contact with the people he’d lecture to, to make you feel like you and he have a secret deal that’s not really shared with anybody else, that even though there may be a room full of people, you and he are going to go on some voyage of discovery, that you and he together are cleverer than anybody else, and the joke is on them.

I found watching Dick’s performance to be inspiring. Anybody who wants to learn how to teach physics should watch these Feynman lectures.

Something You Cannot Possibly Do

June 7, 2011

“The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for the rest of your life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do.” – Henry Moore