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Posts Tagged ‘Oxford’

Anti-GMO Activist Recants

January 4th, 2013 01:53 admin View Comments

Biotech

Freddybear writes “Former anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas, who opposed genetically modified food in the 1990s, said recently, at the Oxford Farming Conference: ‘I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologize for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonizing an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment. As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely. So I guess you’ll be wondering — what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.’ To vilify GMOs is to be as anti-science as climate-change deniers, he says. To feed a growing world population (with an exploding middle class demanding more and better-quality food), we must take advantage of all the technology available to us, including GMOs. To insist on ‘natural’ agriculture and livestock is to doom people to starvation, and there’s no logical reason to prefer the old ways, either. Moreover, the reason why big companies dominate the industry is that anti-GMO activists and policymakers have made it too difficult for small startups to enter the field.”

Source: Anti-GMO Activist Recants

GIF Becomes Word of the Year 2012

November 19th, 2012 11:06 admin View Comments

Idle

mikejuk writes “GIF started out as a humble acronym 25 years ago, entered common parlance as the format used for web graphics and now achieves fame as a verb by becoming Oxford Dictionaries USA Word of the Year 2012. GIF as a noun has always been an all-capital letter noun. Becoming a verb has caused problems concerning the use of capital and lower case letters. The common form is to keep the noun in caps and add the verbal endings in lower case — as in GIFed,GIFing), However, an all lower-case spelling with the f duplicated (giffed, giffing) is also being used.”

Source: GIF Becomes Word of the Year 2012

GIF Becomes Word of the Year 2012

November 19th, 2012 11:06 admin View Comments

Idle

mikejuk writes “GIF started out as a humble acronym 25 years ago, entered common parlance as the format used for web graphics and now achieves fame as a verb by becoming Oxford Dictionaries USA Word of the Year 2012. GIF as a noun has always been an all-capital letter noun. Becoming a verb has caused problems concerning the use of capital and lower case letters. The common form is to keep the noun in caps and add the verbal endings in lower case — as in GIFed,GIFing), However, an all lower-case spelling with the f duplicated (giffed, giffing) is also being used.”

Source: GIF Becomes Word of the Year 2012

Spy Gadgets: A Visit With the Real-Life Q

October 12th, 2012 10:04 admin View Comments

Technology

AlistairCharlton writes in a neat article about night vision watches, video recording glasses, and other real-life spy gadgets. “Q (real name Jeremy Marks) has run SpyMaster for 20 years and has three branches in central London. The company sells a wide range of covert equipment, from recorders disguised as chewing gum wrappers and watches with night vision cameras, to body armour and home security. Far from meeting our Quartermaster deep in the bowels of MI5 or at an abandoned Underground station, we were invited into SpyMaster’s flagship store just off Oxford street; it’s a glass-fronted shop just like any other – no M, no whiskey cabinet (so far as we could see) and no ejector seats in sight. “

Source: Spy Gadgets: A Visit With the Real-Life Q

How To Line a Thermonuclear Reactor

August 18th, 2012 08:48 admin View Comments

Power

sciencehabit writes “One of the biggest question marks hanging over the ITER fusion reactor project — a giant international collaboration currently under construction in France — is over what material to use for coating its interior wall. After all, the reactor has to withstand temperatures of 100,000C and an intense particle bombardment. Researchers have now answered that question by refitting the current world’s largest fusion device, the Joint European Torus (JET) near Oxford, U.K., with a lining akin to the one planned for ITER. JET’s new ‘ITER-like wall,’ a combination of tungsten and beryllium, is eroding more slowly (PDF) and retaining less of the fuel than the lining used on earlier fusion reactors, the team reports.”

Source: How To Line a Thermonuclear Reactor

Genetically Engineering Babies a Moral Obligation, Says Ethicist

August 18th, 2012 08:23 admin View Comments

Medicine

Hugh Pickens writes “The Telegraph reports that Oxford Professor Julian Savulescu, an expert in practical ethics, says that creating so-called designer babies could be considered a ‘moral obligation’ as it makes them grow up into ‘ethically better children’ and that we should actively give parents the choice to screen out personality flaws in their children such as potential alcoholism, psychopathy and disposition to violence as it means they will then be less likely to harm themselves and others. ‘Surely trying to ensure that your children have the best, or a good enough, opportunity for a great life is responsible parenting?’ writes Savulescu, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics. ‘So where genetic selection aims to bring out a trait that clearly benefits an individual and society, we should allow parents the choice. To do otherwise is to consign those who come after us to the ball and chain of our squeamishness and irrationality.’ Savulescu says that we already routinely screen embryos and fetuses for conditions such as cystic fibrosis and Down’s syndrome and couples can test embryos for inherited bowel and breast cancer genes. ‘Whether we like it or not, the future of humanity is in our hands now. Rather than fearing genetics, we should embrace it. We can do better than chance.’”

Source: Genetically Engineering Babies a Moral Obligation, Says Ethicist

Silkworms Inspire Smart Materials

May 2nd, 2012 05:53 admin View Comments

Science

nachiketas writes “Oxford University researchers David Porter and Fujia Chen examine the structure of silkworm cocoons, which are extremely light and tough, with properties that could inspire advanced materials for use in protective helmets and light-weight armour. ‘Silkworm cocoons have evolved a remarkable range of optimal structures and properties to protect moth pupae from many different natural threats,’ Porter and Chen said in their paper. These structures are lightweight, strong and porous and therefore ‘ideal for the development of bio-inspired composite materials.’ Their research could lead to lightweight armour that dissipates rather than deflects the particular components of a blast that do the most damage to the human body — much like crumple zones in modern cars or sound-absorbing sonar tiles that make submarines harder to detect.”

Source: Silkworms Inspire Smart Materials

12 Deadly Grammatical Errors Startups Must Avoid

April 16th, 2012 04:00 admin View Comments
grammar-610.jpg

Can the difference between “it’s” and “its” actually affect the fortunes of a technology startup? You might be surprised. If you’re working with a startup, odds are you’re wearing a half-dozen hats and doing too much with too little. Often, this means that founders are writing their own website copy, press releases and blog posts. Too often, that results in grammatical errors that reflect poorly on the startup.

Developers may not care, but other folks do. When you’re composing copy, no matter if it’s for the company website or a tweet, slow down a little bit and take a look to be sure you’re not making any of these dozen deadly errors.

Everyone Makes Mistakes

Two things before we get started. First, this doesn’t apply to non-native English speakers. If English is your second, third or Nth language, it’s understandable that English grammar and spelling might be tricky – partly because the language is a bit of a jumbled mess, and partially because you’d be exposed to a lot of native English speakers getting it wrong. If you’re a non-native English speaker, please don’t worry too much about your English usage.

Secondly, this shouldn’t be taken as a claim that any writing is completely error-free. We all make mistakes, but there’s a difference between the occasional slipup and repeated errors. With input from several tech industry veterans, here is a list of errors seen frequently enough that it seemed worthwhile to point them out.

The Dirty Dozen

1. Its or It’s: Its is possessive, but it’s is a contraction of “it is.”

2. Then or than: Than is used in comparisons; then is often used for time. For some reason, the phrase “more then” keeps cropping up in online communications – and it’s more than a little annoying.

3. Loose or lose: Loose means that something isn’t tight, while lose means that something has been lost. Admittedly, there’s some room for confusion. Lose is a verb, loose is an adjective, but you can let loose of something and wind up losing it.

4. Unique: There’s no problem with using unique on its own. The problem is using modifiers with unique, as in “we have the most unique product in this category” or “this is a really unique website.” Since “unique” means something is singular, it can’t be “most” or “pretty” unique. If fact, you can’t qualify it at all.

5. In my personal opinion: If it’s your opinion, it’s personal. The qualifier “personal” is redundant. This one is so often used, though, that it can be hard to avoid.

6. You’re or your: Another possessive that causes confusion, “your” is possessive while “you’re” is a contraction of “you are.”

7. Literally: Don’t use literally when you really mean figuratively. Literally should be used to mean “in reality,” not as an intensifier.

8. Pique, peek or peak: This one crops up all too often when folks use peek or peak to mean pique. Someone might want a peek at your press release or product, if their interest has been piqued. Choose wisely for peak impact.

9. Flush out an idea: Generally, you want to flesh out an idea. Though it might be flushed if it’s particularly bad.

10. Affect or Effect: It’s not entirely surprising that these are mixed up often, given their similar spellings and meanings. Affect is a verb, and effect is a noun. You can affect something, which might have an effect.

11. Compliment and complement: A compliment is praise, while complement means that two (or more) things work well together. When two companies form a partnership, the product offerings may complement each other while the CEOs will probably compliment their partners and themselves on a wise deal.

To further confuse things, because English is a cruel and unforgiving language, there’s complimentary and complementary. Complimentary can mean that something is related to a compliment, or it can mean something given freely – as in “a complimentary” breakfast. Complementary is an adjective which is similar in meaning to complement.

12. Capitol and capital: You can raise capital in the state capital, but you should only use capitol to refer to buildings that house the legislatures.

Finally, a bonus entry for leetspeak or text-speak. If you’re sending a text message to your best friend to say you’re going to be late to the bar, then abbreviating “you” to “U” is perfectly acceptable. (Unless your friend is an English professor, perhaps.) It’s not acceptable in any kind of professional communication if you wish to be taken seriously. No, not even on Twitter.

Ain’t You Going to Mention Ain’t?

Has anyone ever told you that ain’t isn’t a word? Well, they’re wrong.

If you do the research, you’ll find that it’s not only a legitimate word – it has a long history. Ain’t is a contraction of “are not” (don’t ask me how) that dates back to 1778, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. If it pleases you to use ain’t, then the OED is on your side.

This list represents some errors that are common enough to be noteworthy. It avoids stylistic issues like more than versus over that have strong opposition in some style guides with no grammatical basis for the disapproval.

That said, let us know what errors you see most often. And which ones bug you the most.

Image under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license, courtesy of mikeymckay on Flickr.

Source: 12 Deadly Grammatical Errors Startups Must Avoid

What You Can Learn From Kaggle’s Top 10 Data Scientists

April 12th, 2012 04:30 admin View Comments

kaggle-150.jpgWhat do a Russian math professor, a Harvard neurobiologist, a French actuary and British finance quant all have in common? They all were recently identified as some of the top 10 Kaggle data scientists.

Each received the designation as part of their efforts in developing some of the best solutions to the website’s crowdsourcing analytics competitions. Learn why three of them participate in Kaggle, and how they became the alpha data geeks that they are:

  • Tim Salimans, a 26-year-old Ph.D. candidate in econometrics at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands,
  • David Slate, an older computer programmer from the Chicago area, and
  • Jason Tigg, a 43-year-old with a Ph.D. in elementary particle physics from Oxford who is based in London, where he works trading statistical arbitrage in finance.

Salimans, who runs and plays a number of competitive sports, finds that “It’s mostly the competitive element of Kaggle that motivates me. I just like to be challenged this way.” The online leaderboard is another way. “The direct feedback it provides is quite unique in the area of data analysis and gives you a lot of motivation.”

But it helps to have some fame, too. After he won his first competition (a chess rating challenge), he was contacted by Thore Graepel of Microsoft Research, and ended up interning with him. But Kaggle also shortcuts the traditional academic review process to publish his work: “Publishing an academic article is a very slow and tedious process that commonly takes over a year in my field, while the descriptions of my winning entries in the Kaggle competitions get read by a similar number of people and only take an hour to write.”

Another top 10 winner is David Slate. He has been a computer programmer for nearly 50 years after getting degrees in physics. He has been doing predictive analytics for several decades and is retired now. His team at Northwestern University won the World Computer Chess Championship from 1977 to 1980. He developed a credit-card fraud detection system that is still in commercial use. Most of his contests have been jointly entered with Peter Frey under the team name “Old Dogs With New Tricks.”
kaggle process.jpg
“Every contest is fun and has interesting data. I like to apply my skills to solve some real problems and especially in the medical area.” Slate is in his 60s, which he touts as an advantage. “We can bring an impressive amount of geezer power to bear on the problem,” he told me. “We have also developed our own software tools for predictive analytics, too.”

It also helps to be persistent because “there is a lot of trial and error, and the contests require a fair amount of time to spend on them.” Slate mentions that he often tweaks his algorithms daily, trying new tactics. It certainly helps not having a day job to distract him from his contests!

Kaggle has been around for two years now and has had more than 33,000 participants from around the world. Competitions may have cash prizes attached to them, or can be used by college students as part of an in-class homework assignment. We have written about them before doing some very innovative things. Naming their top 10 scientists just seems so appropriate, given how they instantly track the leading entries to all of their contests.

Back when I was in my graduate statistics classes, I had no idea that the world of data science could be the wonderful and exciting place that it is now. In that era, we were slaves to problem sets, basically an upgrade to fifth-grade arithmetic homework assignments where you got a problem and had to show your work toward the solution. Can you say boring? It is no wonder that even Barbie thinks math is too tough.

shutterstock_61771345.jpgBut thanks to Kaggle in Class, students around the world have the opportunity to make math more fun, or at least more socially engaging. Salimans told me that he “first used Kaggle in Class last year, and I have never seen the students so enthusiastic about a class assignment. A lot of them worked on it for two weeks straight up to the deadline, while I had had trouble motivating them for some of the earlier assignments. An in-class competition is also great at getting the students to develop some real practical understanding of the different methods, in a way that most computer assignments fail to do.”

Jason Tigg, meahwhile, started doing assembly language programming as a teen, building a program to play Othello. He has done well on several Kaggle contests, including Photo Quality Prediction competition and the Claim Prediction Challenge.

“My two biggest motivations are fun and learning,” he said. “I feel lucky to be living through this chapter in history where machine intelligence is ramping up so rapidly. I feel a buzz around the area, which I imagine was how physics felt around the turn of the last century. People are trying out new ideas, and no one knows for sure where we will all end up.” He has entered a variety of competitions, with the goal of increasing his knowledge about new machine-learning techniques. That said, he looks at the leaderboard because it is “extremely useful for judging how much you are missing, and how much you need to learn.”

Tigg also busted the myth about how much computing power you need to solve the contest’s problems, “Do not worry about needing huge amounts of compute power, it is possible to do well in these competitions with very cheap setups.”

So good work to everyone who has entered Kaggle and other data science contests. Hopefully you can find inspiration from these three who have risen to the top!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Source: What You Can Learn From Kaggle’s Top 10 Data Scientists

What You Can Learn From Kaggle’s Top 10 Data Scientists

April 12th, 2012 04:30 admin View Comments

kaggle-150.jpgWhat do a Russian math professor, a Harvard neurobiologist, a French actuary and British finance quant all have in common? They all were recently identified as some of the top 10 Kaggle data scientists.

Each received the designation as part of their efforts in developing some of the best solutions to the website’s crowdsourcing analytics competitions. Learn why three of them participate in Kaggle, and how they became the alpha data geeks that they are:

  • Tim Salimans, a 26-year-old Ph.D. candidate in econometrics at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands,
  • David Slate, an older computer programmer from the Chicago area, and
  • Jason Tigg, a 43-year-old with a Ph.D. in elementary particle physics from Oxford who is based in London, where he works trading statistical arbitrage in finance.

Salimans, who runs and plays a number of competitive sports, finds that “It’s mostly the competitive element of Kaggle that motivates me. I just like to be challenged this way.” The online leaderboard is another way. “The direct feedback it provides is quite unique in the area of data analysis and gives you a lot of motivation.”

But it helps to have some fame, too. After he won his first competition (a chess rating challenge), he was contacted by Thore Graepel of Microsoft Research, and ended up interning with him. But Kaggle also shortcuts the traditional academic review process to publish his work: “Publishing an academic article is a very slow and tedious process that commonly takes over a year in my field, while the descriptions of my winning entries in the Kaggle competitions get read by a similar number of people and only take an hour to write.”

Another top 10 winner is David Slate. He has been a computer programmer for nearly 50 years after getting degrees in physics. He has been doing predictive analytics for several decades and is retired now. His team at Northwestern University won the World Computer Chess Championship from 1977 to 1980. He developed a credit-card fraud detection system that is still in commercial use. Most of his contests have been jointly entered with Peter Frey under the team name “Old Dogs With New Tricks.”
kaggle process.jpg
“Every contest is fun and has interesting data. I like to apply my skills to solve some real problems and especially in the medical area.” Slate is in his 60s, which he touts as an advantage. “We can bring an impressive amount of geezer power to bear on the problem,” he told me. “We have also developed our own software tools for predictive analytics, too.”

It also helps to be persistent because “there is a lot of trial and error, and the contests require a fair amount of time to spend on them.” Slate mentions that he often tweaks his algorithms daily, trying new tactics. It certainly helps not having a day job to distract him from his contests!

Kaggle has been around for two years now and has had more than 33,000 participants from around the world. Competitions may have cash prizes attached to them, or can be used by college students as part of an in-class homework assignment. We have written about them before doing some very innovative things. Naming their top 10 scientists just seems so appropriate, given how they instantly track the leading entries to all of their contests.

Back when I was in my graduate statistics classes, I had no idea that the world of data science could be the wonderful and exciting place that it is now. In that era, we were slaves to problem sets, basically an upgrade to fifth-grade arithmetic homework assignments where you got a problem and had to show your work toward the solution. Can you say boring? It is no wonder that even Barbie thinks math is too tough.

shutterstock_61771345.jpgBut thanks to Kaggle in Class, students around the world have the opportunity to make math more fun, or at least more socially engaging. Salimans told me that he “first used Kaggle in Class last year, and I have never seen the students so enthusiastic about a class assignment. A lot of them worked on it for two weeks straight up to the deadline, while I had had trouble motivating them for some of the earlier assignments. An in-class competition is also great at getting the students to develop some real practical understanding of the different methods, in a way that most computer assignments fail to do.”

Jason Tigg, meahwhile, started doing assembly language programming as a teen, building a program to play Othello. He has done well on several Kaggle contests, including Photo Quality Prediction competition and the Claim Prediction Challenge.

“My two biggest motivations are fun and learning,” he said. “I feel lucky to be living through this chapter in history where machine intelligence is ramping up so rapidly. I feel a buzz around the area, which I imagine was how physics felt around the turn of the last century. People are trying out new ideas, and no one knows for sure where we will all end up.” He has entered a variety of competitions, with the goal of increasing his knowledge about new machine-learning techniques. That said, he looks at the leaderboard because it is “extremely useful for judging how much you are missing, and how much you need to learn.”

Tigg also busted the myth about how much computing power you need to solve the contest’s problems, “Do not worry about needing huge amounts of compute power, it is possible to do well in these competitions with very cheap setups.”

So good work to everyone who has entered Kaggle and other data science contests. Hopefully you can find inspiration from these three who have risen to the top!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Source: What You Can Learn From Kaggle’s Top 10 Data Scientists

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