Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Crisis Tech

"Necessity is the mother of invention. When the need for something becomes imperative, you are forced to find ways of getting or achieving it."

In the aftermath of immensely destructive typhoon Yolanda, some suggestions, inventions, propositions have surfaced, all to mitigate, aid or prepare for future impending natural disasters.

UP students recycle chargers and batteries for Yolanda survivors
Volunteer physics undergraduates from the University of the Philippines (UP) are turning old chargers and batteries into disposable energy sources that can be used by Super Typhoon Yolanda’s survivors.
The recycled devices can charge a cellphone and give the user enough energy to send at least one text message.

PNoy wants DOST to create dependable emergency communications system
President Benigno Aquino III on Monday said he has asked the Department of Science and Technology to create an emergency communications system that is not dependent on cellular networks or external power sources.

Hospitals must be disaster-proof—expert
“We should be designing our hospitals to be more resilient in the face of such natural disasters, especially disasters relating to rising sea levels. We can have hospitals that store and extract energy at the roof, as opposed to placing them at the basement. There are also certain materials that you can design and build hospitals with so they would more likely withstand earthquakes,” explained Gary Cohen, Health Care Without Harm president and founder.

Survivors transform fridges into fishing boats
A fishing community in Tanauan, a small coastal town 20 kilometers south of Tacloban city in the Philippines have been going out to sea in boats made out of refrigerators after their vessels were destroyed by a killer typhoon.

Tacloban City as global center for climate change proposed 
A renowned urban planner on Wednesday told the national government that it should transform Tacloban City into a global center for climate change.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The City of the Living Dead

It's just a couple of days until All Saint's Day. Time to go to cemeteries to remember our departed loved ones. I checked Google to look at one cemetery here in Makati, the Manila South Cemetery. The graves form a grid with semblance to a real urban landscape.

 Zooming out just makes the similarity more obvious.

Zoom out some more and you'll see houses and buildings look like magnified graves.

 The city sure looks like a graveyard from up above.

Well, we're all just dead corpses scuttling around and about, getting busy dying, gradually rotting in this stinking graveyard called life. Happy Halloween!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Quantified Corruption

A bunch of senseless rants follows.

Corruptibility Coefficients

An amazing visualization tool to sort of understand the complex network of the pork barrel fund money flow.

Consider, they were able to derive the following values from their data for each of the politicians:

Betweenness CentralityWeighted DegreeClustering CoefficientEigenvector CentralityCloseness Centrality

From here, can we derive another number, the Corruptibility Tendency  Coefficients defined as:
 - a coefficient that indicates the possibility that the politician is taking the pork barrel funds for themselves and therefore tend to be corrupt. The closer this value to a certain threshold, the higher the possibility for corruption.

Let's call those thesholds, the Napoles Thresholds (like the Schwarzschild radius but these are more a social indicator than a universal constant.)

Political science theorist in collaboration with mathematicians, physicists can create theories.
The Napoles investigation will be the experimental proof for the hypotheses.

From accounting data, these can be generated annually and analysed.

This will not serve as an evidence, merely an advanced warning system. A precaution and then a deterrent for politicians thinking of misusing these funds.


Deserved Corruption

 I had an absurd idea way back that corruption should not be seen in a negative light. It is the degree of corruption and person that is doing it that should matter.

If a politician is doing great work to his people, he should be allowed a certain amount of kickbacks from the projects he is able to implement successfully. Like a 20,000 peso cellphone gift as kickback for a multi-million peso housing project that benefited a thousand homeless families. The politician deserved that cellphone didn't he. It should serve as an incentive, a motivation to do better on all his projects.

Compare corruption to the Yakult good bacteria. Bad if too many doses.

I said it was absurd, didn't I.


The Science of Politics

In our local government, the people running for govt positions during elections have established some kind of process, pointers, strategies for campaigning.
- tips to cover the most areas during one motorcade.
- a list of funerals, birthday parties, graduations which will be held during the campaign period (a list which is shared and distributed among running mates)
- the correct size of shorts to wear to attract men's attention without losing too much dignity (yep, the female candidates do)

They boiled the entire campaign processes to a science. Or a business.
Profit = Income - Expenses

Monday, August 26, 2013

Streetlight Astronomy

On a clear and smokeless night, if you look outside from a high building it is easy to find the beautiful network of minuscule lights forming various constellation amidst the darkness.

I'm not referring to the stars twinkling in the night sky but rather on the street lamps lining up the highways, alleyways and city streets.

I have a useless hobby, only good if you have plenty of time on your hands and if you happened to be living on some high building with a nice unobstructed view of the cityscape. Like a good astronomer, I map constellations formed by the street lights and give names based on the patterns they formed.

It's easy to find a pattern, as most street lights line up a straight road, successive lamps would more or less form a straight line of small lights. What is a little tougher is finding patterns from lights from different streets maybe those a hundred or so meters away from each other.

It's nice to find a particular pattern and name them with what you want as if you are discovering some new star or celestial object. But since you discovered them you can give something cool, something you want for their names.

Below is an image what the Downtown hemisphere, the top left area is the Skway (not included in the image) and on the right side  is the Osmena highway as seen on a vantage point on a building near the corner of Buendia Avenue and Osmena higway. This is sort of a star chart of the street,  a Streetlight Chart if you wish ( and I am a streetlight astronomer).

I have labeled some of the constellations that I discovered (I'm not planning on labeling them all). The image is a crappy capture, low res. The actual view much more radiant, the lights are much more visible. Some of the constellations I found in real view can't be found in the image because some lights are displayed very faintly to distinguish.

And below are the enlarged versions of the labelled constellations.

It is interesting to realise that the lamps form a very different pattern aside from their geographical location. Though seemingly unrelated, a lamp on the corner of Batangas St. for example is actually connected to a streetlight somewhere in Libertad by an arbitrary pattern created by an observer above, just as the stars Betelgeuse and Aldebaran are actually connected by a pattern perceived by an observer millions of light years away them. Extreme pattern finding on its highest level.

Yeah, it's sort of a useless hobby as there is no real-life application of the streetlight chart whatsoever. Although similar to a star chart, the streetlight chart can serve as an alternative map, a location pointer only applicable if viewed on the exact place where the map is created. It can serve as a coded map, one only need to give names to the individual streetlights forming the constellations to be usable.

I'll meet you at the Daenerys star in the Laser Sword constellation. 3'oclock sharp.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Commercialization and Entertainmentization of Space

Doing science for the sake of gaining knowledge itself is a mantra every scientist cannot deny. And the pursuit of knowledge is an end itself. Does this imply that any means to achieve this end is a valid means? The end justifies the means, that is the common saying.

I began thinking about this after reading some articles about some space exploration/missions with added twists. Some major projects actually incorporate entertainment and commercialization to achieve the actual goal.

Welcome to the Big Brother Planet

Consider the MARS One Project. 

The project aims to establish a permanent human colony on Mars by 2023. The organization will be taking applications, who will undergo selection, training and finally will be sent to Mars at around year 2022.

Their website says:
Not unlike the televised events of the Olympic Games, Mars One intends to maintain an on-going, global media event, from astronaut selection to training, from lift-off to landing, to provide primary funding for this next giant leap for mankind.

Norbert Kraft, former Sr. Research Associate at NASA and Chief Medical Director for Mars One states, “In my former work with NASA we established strict criteria for the selection and training of astronauts on long duration space flights. Gone are the days when bravery and the number of hours flying a supersonic jet were the top criteria. Now, we are more concerned with how well each astronaut works and lives with the others, in the long journey from Earth to Mars and for a lifetime of challenges ahead. Psychological stability, the ability to be at your best when things are at their worst is what Mars One is looking for. If you are the kind of person that everyone chooses to have on their island, then we want you to apply too.”

It's actually like Big Brother Mars edition. The global reality-TV media event is actually expected to be the major source of the funding for the entire project, which definitely costs a lot. Which means we will be seeing official Mars cereals, official Mars pajamas, official Mars beer etc on our TV not very long now.

Astronauts should have nice-smelling underarms

Another project  is the Axe Apollo Space Academy.

One can sign up for the AXE Apollo Space Academy in their website . Users will be voting for the candidates online. The people with the most votes will advance to their National Challenge where the top-voted candidates will compete with other qualifiers in their country. The top recruits will advance to Global Space Camp, where the qualifiers will again compete for a chance to join the international crew and be sent to space.

This campaign was launched in January 2013 to promote the Axe Apollo deodorant brand. It came with a slew of TV commercials depicting an astronaut's awesome status, higher than firemen or lifeguards with their catch phrase 'Nothing beats an astronaut'.

Round trip tickets to space

Other companies offer a more direct approach to space travel.
Virgin Galactic direct sells reservation for a seat in their spaceship bound to lower outer space.

Tickets are priced at US$250,000 (deposits are refundable).
Many celebrities have already signed up, including Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, X-en director Bryan Singer, Paris Hilton among others.

The company Space XC is offering something similar. Their program also includes undergoing astronaut training prior to the actual space flight. The ticket prices range from 95,000 to 100,000 US Dollars. Their flight will reach 60 to 100 km altitude in space.


Of course these endeavors would gather a lot of criticisms, all great endeavors do. Space Tourism, in particular, were cited to speed up global warming and other environmental effects. There were also legal issue raised, like licensing et cetera.

Others say the very steep price of tickets is very impractical and will only be attainable by the wealthy. Some criticise that funding through sponsorship and advertisements is a very risky proposition.

These are all valid criticisms and are matters that should be discussed.

What I'm particularly thinking about is the one question  I posited in the beginning of this article. Does the end justify the means? Space Exploration and experimentation is the end itself, so is it okay if it is funded by a deodorant company, or by cereal ads etc?

Personally, it gives a bad taste in my mouth if I am a scientist doing science and funded by Axe for example. Note that I don't think it is about company interests/conflicts since a deodorant company clearly has no interest on whatever findings you might find in your space experiments (or is there? hmmm...)

Having said that, as a scientist, I think it may just feel wrong or awkward in the beginning but when you are already out there doing your experiments or walking in space, all those hesitations will disappear. You are in space! That's all that should matter. And if it is your dream, the ultimate vision of your end realized, then everything else will just feel trivial.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Great Slum City

One aspect of the Sherlock (TV series) which interests me is how the protagonist utilizes a vast connection of vagrant persons (aptly called the 'homeless network') to gather various information for the hero's benefit in exchange for a few bucks. It depicts a bunch of seemingly inutile members of the society performing critical functions in a formal society, which as Sherlock boasts, is more efficient than the police in terms of intelligence gathering.

Sometime later, I would find myself researching on 'informal' citizens with defined purposes in a thriving city. 0ne such website (URL) has a project called Informal City Dialogues:

Informal City Dialogues is a global, multi-stakeholder project fostering a conversation about the role of informality in creating inclusion and resilience in future cities. The informal city encompasses diverse activities and actors whose livelihoods and dwellings are usually neither regulated nor protected by the state (e.g., waste pickers, street vendors, slums, etc.), and yet often accounts for a large percentage of GDP, housing, and transport. 

Informal living

They cover many interesting topics in this site. Slum technology is one.
They solicited a competition where they ask what can 100,000 dollars do to improve the slum community. The end goal is to have a better city where a waste picker and a businessman can ride a bus together, drink coffee together etc without any pretense. The winner suggested the establishment of a slum techno hub where the residents can play around with the provided materials and tools to solve their own problems. (Site)

Another contributor argues that slums are a necessary part of a city as it serves as an opening for opportunities where the less fortunate from outside can come in and try their luck to move up the ladder. On one hand, he could be wrong in implying that even in a perfect city, poverty still exists and is a way of life. On the other hand, realistically he has  point. I'll explain.

If the elite on a very successfully city suddenly felt philanthropic due to some divine intervention, what should they do to alleviate the poverty-stricken lives of the people from areas outside of their paradise?
1. They may go to the poor rural towns and create opportunities in those areas. But what are the chances that a few establishments (malls, factories) would make the life of everyone around it to be better. Economically, the poor town is in a financial black hole and putting money there is hopeless.
2. They can invite a sizable bunch of the poor residents from those areas and just get them to live inside the city. Give them few opportunities of work. Someday, if they are diligent, they will reap the fruits of the city, the same fruits that the formal citizens get until they climb a step on that ladder. Then invite more folks inside. Rinse and repeat. Divide and conquer.

Soon the city will be bigger and more vibrant and its blessing will spread.
(This of course is just wistful thinking and purely theoretical and no proof whatsoever, so feel free to argue otherwise.)

The urban poor dilemma

In a third-world country like the Philippines, accept it or not it is practically impossible to eradicate the poverty which causes the informal citizens to flourish in the city. Street vendors, peddlers, hawkers, squatters, garbage pickers, cart-dwellers, shantytowns, grease-people (taong grasa). They are members of this urban society as valid as people on suits and ties.

The sooner we accept this fact, the faster we can think of solutions to make things better or at least more livable for the informal and formal citizens alike (solutions that may even remove the distinction between the two).

The Makeshift solution

Knowing that these citizens are on the fringes of the formal government, we might as well form an entirely different body to 'govern' them from people who will come from their ranks as they are the ones with full knowledge of their situation.

The Central Slum Government as we will christen it which will be based on the squatter towns on the mountains of Payatas or along the PNR rails. With the initial help of educated lawmakers and change-agents, the CSG will have legislative, executive and judicial arms just like real government but the CSG system will be specific to the informal citizens.

Their architects will study how to build sturdy shanties enhanced to withstand extreme weathers, minimize fires and prevent cave-ins. This while making sure that materials are available from nearby garbage dumps and junkyards. They will create easily retractable bed-enclosures for the wandering homeless.

Their nutritionists will research how to repurpose throwaway pagpag and botya meat to make them edible and not harmful to hungry stomachs to lessen the sickly from their ranks who collect and eat these food everyday.

Their chemists will find ways to make readily available ingredients into makeshift medicines against infection for their picker-gatherer bunch.

They will create recycled gloves, masks and HAZMAT suits for their waste-picker-scavengers.

All these will be performed in the makeshift laboratory in the center of the slums, akin to 'Next City's Slum techno hub.

The central government will pass laws to register each and every citizens who are part of their network (meaning they are not in the real government's database/radar/registry). ID's will be given to each homeless citizen and their roaming zone will be declared, as such, going outside that zone after the curfew or sleeping outside that zone will be answerable to the law of the slums.

Beggars will be assigned to designated zones as they will now be professional beggars working in their own cubicles. Same will be for the hawkers, peddlers, street vendors, cart stores.

Speaking of work, the homeless network model from Sherlock will be imitated so that the homeless will serve as the CIA which can be another source of income for them. They could provide valuable information to the formal government for a fee.

Economically, they will not rely too much on money. Their means of purchase will be made of those necessity for them; food, shelter materials, clothes.

All these are monitored by the CSG to ensure that they do not encroach the rights of the formal citizens and that formal citizens do not encroach on theirs. Regular intergovernmental talks and status reports will make sure that both governments are in accord.

With the model established, here will now be a system for an otherwise hardly monitored aspect of urban living. They govern themselves, they regulate themselves and they are responsible for the thriving of their great city. This will soon be a city within a city. A great city lining the pathways of another city the way a vine hugs a bamboo trellis. A city running along the railways of another city, under bridges, atop garbage dumps, roaming the alleyways,stuffed in container vans, in makeshift mansions on junkyards, abandoned buildings, in a hapless fixtures of scrap card boards and ply woods -- the Great Slum City.

Edit: These could actually clear-up Manila's notoriety as being the Gates of Hell! I wonder if I get a lot of hits if I mention that? Dan Brown  (Inferno) versus MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino. LOL.

Edit2: The informal settlers are getting a lot of heat recently. Demolitions here and there on squatter areas, fires razing a slum neighborhood thought of as conspiracy etc...

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Divine Forensics

Some months ago, there was news about an alleged miracle which happened in the town of Nasugbu, Batangas. According to reports, the statue of Mary of Mediatrix was seen shedding tears of blood. This prompted Dr. Erwin Erfe of Public Attorney’s Office to investigate the matter. Unfortunately, the family who owned the statue refused for it to be examined.

Dr. Erfe is a forensic expert in the best sense of the word. His job description is as follows:

Dr. Erwin Erfe is a Certified Forensic Physician of the American College of Forensic Examiners (ACFEI) and is a Diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Medicine (ABFM) and the American Board of Forensic Examiners. He specializes in Forensic Medicine, Forensic Osteology, Bloodstain Pattern Analysis and Crime Scene Reconstruction. He currently consults with with government agencies, lawyers and law firms on forensics, evidence and medical malpractice.

Why bring his credentials to this article, you might ask? I am just curious with the process of investigation for the aforementioned phenomenon. For the report above, he will have to prove if the miracle is a false claim or genuine in nature. Proving that it is a hoax is a simple task; simply get a blood sample, check if it is true human blood, check if it is not blood from any person from the town, etc... A simple positive result will invalidate the claim.

I'm more concerned with the other possibility. How do you really prove that it is indeed a miracle? If the blood sample returns negative match with any person in town, it will not have proven anything. If the sample returns a very different cell structure, it will just mean that it is not a blood structure as we know it. So how then do we prove it? It should match Mama Mary's blood. Right.

The Catholic Church actually has a proper scientific commission to investigate such matters; proving or disproving miracles, that is. The  so-called miracle commission employs many experts; scientists, physicians not necessarily Catholic to investigate. This is part of the routine process to canonize someone to sainthood. (A miracle is one of the qualifications to be canonized as a saint).


'Miracles' such as healing of the sick are vigorously and meticulously studied by the commission  They look for facts, evidences or scientific explanations for the phenomenon using the scientific method. If the commission can't find any sufficient scientific explanation, they forward the matter to the theologians, meaning the experts have no explanation for the matter and thus might be due to divine intervention.

Which I don't have any problem with, whatsoever. Religion is anyway based on faith on something unexplainable by science and science as we know it can't explain everything-- or at least we humans still don't have a scientific explanation to everything yet. I'm sure there's a lot of debate on these topics elsewhere.

The thing is,  what if the Vatican declare that the phenomenon is not divine in nature, (i.e. they can't, with their best methods, conclude what caused the 'miracle' to happen) what does it make of the phenomenon?

Well, we can say that it is probably caused by some unfathomably advanced technology (maybe by aliens or by future people whatever). And as St. Arthur Clarke puts it, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

To sum up, in proving a phenomenon, it may be a scientific breakthrough. Or it could be a miracle. Or it could be magic.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pinoy Pangkalawakan: Philippines Joining the Space Race

Apparently, there were some proposals for the creation of a Philippine Space Agency, our Pinoy counterpart of NASA. I have many things to say about this. But I'm in no mood for a a long write-up, so just refer to my previous post for some insights.

Going Up!: Farewell to a Space-faring Legacy

And here are some news clips about this topic.

Bill eyes space agency for Philippines
Campaign for creation of Phl Space Agency launched today
Galactic Pinoy? Scientists push for PHL space agency
Gov’t space agency pushed
Pinoy astronomers, scientists to launch Phl Space Agency

Also check their fan page for more info.

I Support the Philippine Space Agency Bill

Some more references, including the actual bill.

A Fight for Philippine Space Agency
HB 6725 Philippine Space Act of 2012

Actually, we're quite close to having our first Filipino astronaut. If you can just ignore the blatant commercialism and advertisement, this is a sort of a good campaign.
Philippines to launch the first Filipino into space

Here's what made me research all these things.
I was making a paper plane trying to model it from a US Space Shuttle with some customizations to make it Pinoy.


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