Welcome to Oxus

Oxus is the ancient name for Amu Dariya, a river originating in the lofty Pamir Plateau in Central Asia and weaving its way through Afghanistan and eventually into the large Aral Sea in Russia. Legend has it that when Alexander the Great was conquering the world, he arrived at the Oxus and thought that he had reached India.


The Oxus River of the Greeks has been known to historical record for literally thousands of years. Its present-day name is the Amu Darya (or Amu river) and its course can be traced in any atlas. Turn to the map of Western Asia and find it: the river springs up in the Pamir mountains, runs west through what was once Baluchistan, and forms part of the border of what is now Afghanistan; here, along its banks, were once lapis-lazuli mines famous throughout the ancient world. It runs, gradually curving northward, between a desert marked Kizil Kum (or, the Red Sands) and another marked Kara Kum (or, the Black Sands). Along the way, it supplies irrigation-water for the ancient oasis kingdoms of Khiva and Khwarism. Eventually it empties itself into the southern tip of the Aral Sea.


Further Research: The Course of the Oxus River


The Oxus treasure is the most important surviving collection of Achaemenid Persian metalwork. It consists of about 170 objects, dating mainly from the fifth and fourth centuries BC. This was the time of the Achaemenid empire, created by Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC), when Persian control stretched from Egypt and the Aegean to Afghanistan and the Indus Valley.


The Oxus Treasure

There are very few facts or certainty attached to the story of the Oxus Treasure. The find spot for the Oxus Treasure is in doubt. There is no catalogue for the original treasure, and the historical facts surrounding the final collection of the treasure are few and far between. The story of the Oxus Treasure is perfect matter for a movie or historical novel. The back drop of the Great Game is a perfect one full of intrigue and political machinations.


The Oxus Treasure consists of 170 gold and silver pieces from Achaemenid Persian culture along the Oxus River. The Achaemenid Empire (c. 550?330 BCE) was founded by Cyrus the Great. At its height the Parsa Empire stretched from Thrace in Macedonia to Egypt to the Indus River. The empire reached its zenith under Darius I. The Empire’s borders waxed and waned until Alexander the Great finally murdered Darius III and declared himself the new leader of the Parsa.


Greek civilization owes much to the older Achaemenid culture. The artifacts of the Oxus Treasure are thus vital in charting the development of civilization in both Persia and Europe.


The story goes that the Oxus Treasure was uncovered in the Nineteenth Century. A group of merchants acquired the treasure. They were travelling on the road between Kabul and Peshawar when they were attacked by bandits who stole the treasure. The merchants later ran into Captain F.C Burton who was a ‘political officer’ in Afghanistan. Captain Burton somehow managed to recover the treasure from the bandits. In their gratitude the merchants sold Burton an item of the treasure which today is on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.


This was not the end of the treasure. Burton no doubt alerted his superiors of the importance of the treasure. Most of the pieces now belonging to the Oxus Treasure were bought by the British in the bazaars of Rawalpindi and other cities in India.


Now most of the extant Oxus Treasure is on display in room number 52 of the British Museum.


The Great Game lasted from 1813 to when it dwindled out at the start of World War II. Originally the expansionist ambitions of Russia worried the British. They feared for the security of their ‘jewel in the crown’ namely India. The British sent many spies and pundits north of India to map the regions of Central Asia that were composed of many fiefdoms. The British fought 2 wars in Afghanistan to create a buffer state between British interests in the subcontinent and the rapidly expanding Russian forces.


In the end Russia got to Afghanistan and a shaky agreement set the Oxus River as the border between the two countries spheres of influence. The pact had the effect of shifting the Great Game East and West.


Perhaps the end of the Great Game can be seen as the Soviet Era control of Afghanistan and the American connivance to train the Mujahedeen who bought down the Russians but then morphed into the Taliban and Al Qaeda.


This website is not about the complex politics of Central Asia, the Persian Empire or the Oxus River. Rather this website is concerned with bringing the reader the best available information; it is designed as repository for information. We intend to contextualize and explain in order to let the reader gain a clearer insight of the issues involved. Unlike the Oxus Treasure we intend to bring all the pertinent pieces of the puzzle together. And rather than leaving them in a post colonial museum to share them with all.


Further Research: The Oxus treasure


Online Privacy Research – Demand for Anonymity Grows   no comments

Posted at 4:43 pm in Research

There is no doubt that demand for private browsing applications, encryption and other anonymity devices is growing.  There are many reasons, of course the revelations from Edward Snowden has fueled a lot of this.  People across the world (and many governments I suspect) where shocked at simply how much surveillance was actually going on.

A recent survey that was released by Pew Research found that over 90% of adults believe that consumers have lost control of how companies collect and utilize their personal data.   When asked about social networking, more than 70% cited concerns about Governments and other agencies being allowed to access information shared here without any permission.

In the democratic nations, of course the market has reacted, there are are a huge number of applications like TOR and websites dedicated to anonymous communication – http://www.onlineanonymity.org/.   Sites like Facebook will be facing a huge dilemma as the demand flies in their core requirement of using real identities. Their founder Mark Zuckerberg once famously lambasted using pseudonyms, suggesting a lack of integrity if you would post without using your real identity.

They are beginning to change that stance, recognizing the real danger to their existence.  If people’s concerns keep growing, if the abuses by big business and government keep increasing – nobody will want to use their real identity anywhere online.  They have introduced anonymous chat rooms which utilize TOR and you can expect more to follow.

The problem is that there’s little in it for the individual for using their real identity.  There’s plenty of course in it for marketing companies and social networking firms who love real data, and real contact details.  However when only risks and privacy issues can be seen from the user’s perspective – you can see why people are seriously starting to hide their identities.

The free market will eventually dictate which way this goes, companies need to start being much more open about how they use our data. At the moment most of the benefits seem to lie in remaining anonymous, whether that’s simple peace of mind or having the ability to hide your location so that you can watch Hulu online from Canada or perhaps UK TV in the USA by using proxies and VPN servers.

People will always need the ability to express themselves anonymously online, free speech will not flourish if there’s a risk of legal action or Governments monitoring us when we’re online.  Obviously there are caveats, people always raise the fact that people are more responsible in their opinions online if they can be traced back which is of course true also.

 

 

UK Takes Lead in Research Assessment   no comments

Posted at 9:08 am in Research

This month will see the release of the 2014 Research Excellence Framework results,  this day will see the eyes of the world’s research evaluators looking this way.

The REF is an initiative across the UK designed to assess UK Higher education institutions specifically for the quality of their various research projects.  It’s not the first year, in fact an assessment of academic research has been completed in the UK every five years since 1986.

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This is no meaningless research either, the results of these assessments are used to allocate funding based on the societal impact of research.  No other country, except briefly Australia who conducted an initial pilot study, have attempted such an exercise.

However the Australian study did come up with some useful ideas and findings too, so it’s worth considering both approaches.   One area that was highlighted was the subject of Time Lags, simply put does some research simply take longer to prove it’s worth?  The benefits of research are difficult to measure anyway, but obviously some research will take longer to show real benefits to society.    It’s essential for meaningful impact assessments that enough time is allowed to pass to measure whether any meaningful benefits have occurred.

Both the Australian and UK studies have tried to cover the two important perspectives in research – charities and industries.  This was largely done by selecting different assessors from each of the areas in order to allow a fair contribution of views.  The balance is difficult to achieve and the subject of this proportion has been proposed for future research.

Both the studies have been covered by domestic media, primarily the press and national broadcasters,  these programmes can usually be picked up on their online archives – this is useful for Non-UK viewers.

Of course many will feel that by far the most important aspect of this research is to assess the overall quality of the research looking at factors like case studies, written content, reports and conclusions.  The study is to assess the quality of the research not the findings themselves.   Much can be learned from looking at research from this specific perspective.

Further information

Ref pilot 2010

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Dutch Citizens to Decide University Research Projects   no comments

Posted at 1:38 pm in Research

Universities all over the world have often come under criticism for the subjects they research.  How often have we seen a huge piece of research being unveiled whilst onlookers decry the necessity of it taking place.  Well the Dutch, State Secretary of Education has announced that they intend to allow the Dutch people to actually have some say in what the country’s Universities research projects involve.

The Minister announced that a select number of social issues will be chosen by the population to be research topics.  The agenda for research is normally drawn up by Universities, colleges and business – there is consultation with other groups but they have limited input.  Support for research is therefore needed from the community so it makes sense to ask their opinions.

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It’s an interesting concept, but in some ways quite confusing.  It suggests that perhaps there’s a big problem in the current method of research.   Although there are always the odd strange research project, there’s little evidence of any huge disconnect between academia and the public.

The coordination for the process lies with the NWO, the organization that annually distributes 650 million euro in research funding. The universities will also get an extra 50 million euro, which should be used to bring in more research projects from Brussels.

According to Bussemaker and Dekker, the research agenda is also required to meet the growing international struggle to maintain knowledge. There is increasing competition among businesses for scientific talent and research laboratories. Additionally, citizens are becoming more involved in the production of new knowledge.

It is expected that these new developments will link in with increased online courses and interaction between citizens and academia.  It is hoped that it will open a new era of successful research projects in the Dutch education sector.   It already has a great reputation and their reports are often released by European media sites especially from national broadcasters like the BBC (for examples check out the BBC iPlayer application which can be accessed globally using this method).

Hans Gonsan

Is a writer, columnist and broadcaster mainly online.  For further examples of his own research products please check out samples here.

Research Casts Doubt on Future of British TV   no comments

Posted at 1:08 pm in Research

The BBC, the UK’s national broadcasting firm is funded in a very particular way.  Every UK citizen who owns a TV set must purchase a license which is used to fund the corporation.    Many people argue about this and dispute the need for such forced payment, but few will argue with the quality of programmes that this produces.  The BBC is world famous for producing the very best quality in entertainment and as far as TV goes, arguably is the world’s premier broadcaster.

Of course not having to rely on advertising is a huge advantage when  you’re a broadcaster.  Not only do you get much more editorial freedom over your content, but obviously watching TV without an advertisement every few minutes is a much more pleasurable experience.

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However research suggests that this situation needs to change, due to the changing viewing habits.  The stark figures in this report suggest that youngsters between the age of 11 and 15 watch less than half as much TV as their parents.  If this trend was to continue, the BBC may struggle to raise it’s funding from licenses, as many people will simply not need them.

The problem is linked to the internet to some extent, firstly obviously children now spend much more time watching videos and media online.  However in addition, even to watch the BBC online you don’t actually need a TV license currently – even those people abroad who use a proxy can watch it free – check here for the method people use.

At the moment in the UK, over 500,000 simply watch the BBC online using catch up features within BBC iPlayer – they also avoid the requirement of buying the annual TV license.   Who knows how many people watch from abroad although it’s technically not allowed.

The fact is that TV viewing habits are changing and the funding model that has worked for decades is likely to become unsustainable in the future.  There’s no question that the BBC’s funding is going to fall over the coming years if the status quo remains in place.

Today’s children are the license fee payers of the future and at the moment the internet is supplying more and more of their entertainment.  Whilst you can also get the BBC online plus all the commercial UK stations through the internet too.  These are also accessible from abroad as well, this page shows how to access ITV player from the USA  for example.

Consider Demographics in Your Market Research   no comments

Posted at 4:23 pm in Research

Every single brand, every firm and each sector is ultimately influenced by public opinion. But it’s your target audience’s opinion about the best way to run your company that shows that finding the truth is the essential goal of market research. Businesses seeking direct consumer feedback frequently use common demographics within their economical and advertising research. Some areas are obviously more sensitive to this sort of demographic data, for example computer software like these proxy tools – here are much less effected than perhaps local services. Prioritizing and identifying important demographics can enable you drastically enhance your organization and to increase your research initiatives.
puzzle-reserach

Demographic profiles provides a great means of identifying which part of the populace will be a likely goal to get a specific service or product. Also, they are able to give a clear view of consumers when it comes to pros and cons perceive crucial brands. Finally, these penetrations could be used to boost sales for the firm sponsoring the research.

Numerous variants could be placed on a demographic profile. Demographics that are common include age, sex, income, schooling, freedom, environment, and technological understanding. No matter exactly how many demographics are being quantified, the aim should be the same: to identify your objective. Demographics could show not only what makes your consumers tick, although who they are. Since demographics – like tendencies – often change over time, it is suggested to run demographics-established research on a routine or semi-routine basis.

All marketing research services needs to be subjected to extensive evaluation to be able to assess what’s effective and what’s not. This applies to demographics just as much as another part. When developing a demographic profile, it is necessary to target groups in the beginning which are probably to be brought to the service or product in question. Among the best ways of identifying a specific group is a survey, which may take the form of omnibus or a custom (shared) poll submitted into a cross section of a population that was given. The marketplace audience identified as well as the survey was conducted, marketing efforts can be concentrated within an much more effective and timely fashion.

That demographics make up an important part is not unclear. Partnering using a market research service that can really understand your organization is critical. Research meet your own organization ‘s needs will be customized by a credible service – frequently by emphasizing and identifying your target audience’s requirements.  It’s often crucial to the success or failure of any piece of advertising or marketing – try and sell a tool specifically designed to be used to access the BBC from the US like this in the United Kingdom and it will fail spectacularly.   Perhaps an extreme example but a very pertinent one.

 

Tips on Starting Your First Research Project   no comments

Posted at 4:05 pm in Research

It ought to be the rewarding and most satisfying piece of work – a student’s first project. More times than not, yet; preparation, carrying out and writing up research, be it job, dissertation or a thesis becomes a wellspring of great anxiety and worry for a lot of pupils.

Within my ability as a research manager, especially bearing this particular at heart I put the following guidance notes for my pupils, which I trust you may not find useless.

Getting Started

Oftentimes the primary thing you will be requested to do would be to submit, or in minimum think about putting together a job/research proposition. Any general thoughts at this point, you have will likely be too obscure or overly comprehensive.

The great thing about putting together a project or research proposal so shortly to the method is that it’s going to make you refine your thoughts earlier as opposed to after. What follows, was made to get you considering the crucial phases that were first in the research procedure.

Phase 1: Developing a focus in just a broad area of interest.

This phase of the research procedure presumes you have an overall research notion at heart. I can not emphasise because it actually will discover finally you do and how easily your research goes.

That practicality and values should be considered in developing your focus of inquest recall.

Another good thing about narrowing your focus is when running your literature review you will possess a structured search strategy in place. It may seem obvious but having a definite idea about what to search for will save you energy plus precious time.

Most subject areas may have an established system of research, unless you happen to be studying something exceptional. In such instances you must familiarise yourself with the conventional/classic studies in the area, in addition to the research that is most up to date.

The primary strategy to show and keep your focus of inquiry will be to develop suitable research questions or hypotheses. There are not any hard and fast rules about what makes up a great research question/hypothesis. However, there is a practical guideline that you will be able to offer an obvious justification for the question/prediction being modeled.

Basically you have warrant each research question/hypothesis in turn’s inclusion and to take it. By The Way, you need to be able to offer the same reasoning for the research).

Developing research questions that are clear-cut and easy doesn’t mean you can’t undertake research that is advanced. You’ll learn should you be to the correct path if you answer these queries, and can ask yourself.

  • What am I expecting to investigate in the length of my research?
  • What’s the thinking behind the research questions/hypotheses of my study?
  • Am I able to get an extensive range of background stuff?
  • Can it be comparatively uncomplicated to gain access to my target public?
  • Am I on ethically safe ground?

The very best guidance I can provide you in the initial phases is to remember to get it right before you begin. keep it straightforward and be realistic. Recall research is a procedure, and you may be evaluated how good that procedure is undertaken by you.

Citation Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2wPPJ7T64w

Extending Your Life with Health Research   no comments

Posted at 11:06 am in Research,Uncategorized

It sounds quite simple and actually just common sense, keeping up to date with all the latest health research particularly with regards longevity and apply to your own life.  However it’s actually much easier said than done, much like trying to apply the latest dieting method to lose weight.

You could happily read some piece of health research, apply it rigidly to your life and suddenly find it’s been at best worthless and possibly harmful ten years later.  For anyone who follows health research it’s actually quite common to find reports and findings routinely contradicting each other.

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The latest to appear in this category is the latest research with tells us that all all our effort in trying to avoid salt to reduce blood pressure has been completely misplaced.   A US research team have concluded that it is high sugar levels and not sodium levels which causes your heart rate to increase and blood pressure to rise.   Which is of course completely different from the guidance we’ve had for many years urging us to avoid salt at all costs.

They suggest that restricting levels of sugar to between five and seven teaspoons a day is a much more effective strategy to reducing the risk of strokes and heart disease.   The research focused on a large group in France,  nearly 9000 adults and found no link at all between slat and high blood pressure.  Although obviously there are probably lots of other factors in pay here, particularly to the French diet which is traditionally a pretty health one and also the consumption of red wine will hopefully be a factor to us wine drinkers.

The worry is that the diet of a typical French adult is probably very different in many ways than that of the average American.  A visit to a typical French restaurant and an American one would instantly highlight the huge difference.  Or perhaps spend an afternoon watch American TV for food adverts online using this neat little website for example.  There are almost certainly a huge number of external factors affecting this research and although it was published in the American Journal of Cardiology, you would be right to be cautious before shoveling huge amounts of salt onto your food.

You don’t have to look far for an expert to criticize this report, one leading cardiovascular expert in the University of London suggested that the evidence was incredibly weak.  He also pointed to decades worth of research and evidence demonstrating that there was a strong link between salt and blood pressure.

Jane Solloway

Source

 

 

Women in Leadership Role – UK Television   no comments

Posted at 4:02 pm in Research

Here is the first in a series of reports about women in leadership roles.  The first one is in response to some interesting research into the number of women who have high level roles in British Television.  It was commissioned by Directors UK and they looked at over 140 of the most popular shows on British Television.  I did wonder if this was the best approach,  but I guess it depends on what you’re focusing on – if it’s just women working in British Television then perhaps this would skew the results (perhaps men are better directors?).

In any case the study shows that nearly a third of these have never employed a female director.   Taking this statistic further, the numbers of women directors has fallen over the last couple of years too.   The episodes studied were generally the multi- episode ones and run across a variety of genres.   There were only about 20% of these shows which employed an equal number of female and male directors.  Directors UK pointed out that this wasn’t due to lack of talent as their membership is about 33% female.  This again seems a confusing conclusion to reach after all simply being registered with an organisation does’t necessarily imply talent?

Again more statistics that could be misleading – 28 shows were highlighted that hadn’t used a single female director – Benidorm, The Inbetweeners and Luther to name some of the most famous ones.  This could be significant but would need more research – perhaps these were inspired and brought to the market by specific groups (who perhaps happened to be male?).     Another finding was that many of the longest running shows had only 5% of episodes directed by women – again is this necessarily deliberate?  For many people who watch UK TV abroad, including Asia and Middle East – these figures would probably be spectacular.

Some of the report suggested that women were more likely to be directing shows about health, food or home issues.  Is this deliberate gender bias or stereotyping – is it perhaps women applying for these roles out of preference or maybe their background complimenting these subject areas?

The report’s finding were described as ‘disappointing’ by one female director who read an early copy of the report.  However we at Oxus Research found the report to be a bit too keen to jump to gender bias and discrimination conclusions.  It could well be that these do exists in these areas, but the numbers involved are very small and the roles quite specialised – there are not that many TV directors of either sex.

Harold Evenstar

TV/Technology Blogger

Dangerous Law Drafted in Burma/Myanmar   no comments

Posted at 2:08 pm in Uncategorized

Most laws, you would expect in a country trying to embrace democracy, would in fact encourage this process.  However in Myanmar, there is a real danger that several anti-democracy laws could soon be implemented.   The latest one that has been drafted and proposed is the Law Relating to Religious Conversion.

It’s supposed to protect religious freedom, but in line with the military government’s earlier laws it actually achieves almost completely the opposite effect.   What the laws purports is the establishment of boards at a local level which will analyse any individual’s proposal to change their religion.  In fact you need a permit from these boards in order to make any meaningful change to your religion.

In many countries you might think – ‘big deal’ , I’ll just change without the boards.  However in this country your religion is very important and is displayed on most personal information – identity documents and such.  In fact your religion can play a very important role in some circumstances concerning marriages, employment and even issues involving inheritance.  All will look at your religious standing especially with issues traditionally dealt with by religious courts.

Here’s how these boards will be compromised – (taken from the AHRC press release)

Under section 3 of the draft law, the inquisitorial boards will consist, at the township level, of the head of religious affairs (chairperson), the head of the national registration department (deputy chairperson), the deputy administrator of the township and a person of his choice, the chairperson of the women’s affairs federation, and a member of the education department. Under section 7(a) at least four of these persons form a quorum with which to interrogate someone seeking to convert her or his religion. Under section 7(b), the interrogation, to take place within 90 days of an application, will inquire about the extent to which the person wanting to convert has grasped the “essence” of the religion to which she or he wishes to convert; its cultural practices relating to marriage, divorce and the separation of property, and inheritance and child custody. Following this inquisition, the board will either issue or deny a permit with which to convert.

So if you want to change your religion and you’re in Burma, then you’d have to wade through a series of questioning and inquisitions by various government officials.  If you live in a Western democratic nation, could you imagine going to the town hall to ask permission from a group of council officials to ask their permission to change your faith!!

Even if implemented in a fair, unbiased and democratic manner, it would of course be completely unacceptable and a serious violation of human rights (to worship freely whatever deity they wish).  But in reality this will be used in a very different manner, it will be used to prevent Buddhists converting to any other religion.  It’s probably mainly targeted at stopping people switching to Islam more than anything.

It’s almost certain that these boards will be anything like fair, and most Burma watchers are predicting interrogation and intimidation to be built into the process.     In truth it will probably be a rubber stamp to anyone wanting to convert from any religion to Buddhism and a way to block anyone wanting to switch the other way.  It’s almost certain that this law will be abused greatly and will further erode human rights in Burma.  The country is straying away from it’s path which once looked set for a free and democratic society after years of military dictatorship.

Freedoms are still not in place, voting, religion and even the ability to use the internet without resorting to using a fake ip address like this.

Julian Basenky

Website Address

 

 

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New Research May Help Irish Network Speeds   no comments

Posted at 1:37 pm in Research

All across Ireland it’s potentially an issue, slow internet speeds and saturated networks making streaming movies, TV shows and online media an extremely frustrating experience.    But there is hope and the good news is that it might be coming from an Irish research team based in the University College Cork.

The four year project is looking at helping Internet service providers make the absolute most of their capacity and it is expected that this study will make a major improvement.  The benefits will hopefully be seen all across Ireland initially with increased speeds and a better online multimedia experience.

At the moment, video accounts for about 50% of all internet traffic, but this is expected to rise significantly during the next few years.  Many industry experts predict the figure could well be over 70% by 2018, with current technology and bandwidth that’s going to mean a fall in quality which is unavoidable.

A ‘fall in quality’ usually means a lowering in resolution, so the picture quality will have to fall or the increase in buffering – where the film or video clip needs to keep stopping to catch up.   Either situation is far from ideal and doesn’t help  the viewing experience.

The obvious solution is of course to increase the speed and capacity of the broadband infrastructure but this is costly and time consuming.  Of course the infrastructure upgrades are fairly unavoidable but this project is focusing more on utilising the existing bandwidth more effectively.  The key to this is something called software defined networks which control and manage the capacity of network infrastructure in order to deliver video and other data directly to the end user.

In this instance, it is hoped that managing the flow of data more effectively will bring the same sort of benefits that increasing capacity would bring.  It is hoped that the project will allow those higher picture qualities needed for higher definition services.  These are becoming increasingly common now online through services like RTE Player, BBC iPlayer, ITV, Hulu and Netflix.  Although some of these are not directly accessible from Ireland, methods like these enable most global services to be accessible from Ireland fairly easily when using proxies.

The benefits won’t simply be seen by the consumer only, the Internet service providers should benefit in other ways too.  Making better and more efficient use of their current infrastructure will reduce costs and increase the profitability of such businesses.  For a country like Ireland having a thriving and profitable telecom and internet sector is extremely important in the country’s economic success.

Julian Graves: Technology Correspondent 

Ethics and Research – Some Difficult Questions   no comments

Posted at 10:58 pm in Research

We all probably agree that research into some of mankind’s major problems is essential.  Furthermore, the growing obesity epidemic is probably one of the most pressing problems facing the Western world.  Indeed the problem is now spreading to countries that have never faced this issue before including China and India.

But research costs money, lots of money, and the better and more in depth the research – the more that it costs.  So who will fund these costs?

It’s a question that is often raised and a recent paper from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology has raised it again.  In this paper, an article has been published reviewing the relationship between obesity and heart disease – their case is that a decline in physical activity is the primary cause of the increase in obesity.

Now this sounds fine on an initial reading, but when you dig deeper you start to worry about this report.  For instance I personally have read several reports and extensive studies which have found that in fact there has been very little decline in physical activity in our lives.  One study particularly focused on children actually found that they were at least as active as children from three decades ago.  The evidence sometimes doesn’t always fit into what we expect to see.

But there is more of a worry from a research point of view with this paper.  Obviously there will always be the case where some research points one way and others in the opposite direction.  It’s the nature of research and the reality is that finance limits important factors like sample space.  Even when you use the internet to increase coverage, there are many difficulties.  For instance restricting your respondents based on certain factors is rather complicated online – many people lie, make up answers, hide their locations – like this.   Any of these could seriously skew your results.

This is more about logistics though, in the case of this particular paper, the worry is about who the authors were. Three of the five authors reported a financial relationship with the drinks company – Coca Cola.

It’s a perfectly valid conclusion that the current obesity  issues are due to falling levels of activity.  But there is an equally valid (and many would say much more) opinion that the issue is due to fast food and the increase of sugar in people’s diets.  The problem is when you read a report where 60% of the authors have a financial link to a global purveyor of sugar filled drinks, it’s difficult not to be suspicious of the results.

Of course the read the report yourself, and make your own judgement. There is an important debate though about the value of such research.  What is the value of commercially sponsored research like this, with the best will in the world – any expert involved who is being paid is going to struggle to be completely impartial. In some areas the conclusions might not be that important but with health issues like this, they could be crucial.

Stuart Pearson: IT and Development News.

Instinct Proves the Key to Truth   no comments

Posted at 10:50 am in Research

There has been some interesting research in how humans can identify whether someone is lying.  The results have suggested that our initial responses are often much more accurate than when we spend some time analysing a situation or statement.

However we are basically a trusting species and overall most people are actually very poor at spotting liars.  In fact if we are given time to assess then our results are little better than just random chance.    The success rate rises though if people just use instinct and rely on initial impressions without being given a chance to think about it.

This of course suggests that there is something operating in our subconscious mind which is far better at spotting a lie than we are when we actually think about it.  If we start thinking hard about something our success rate drops significantly to the level of just random choice.

So how do people look for the evidence of lies?  Well the majority of people are looking for small physical cues like eye movements, body language or stuttering in voice perhaps.  The reality is though that although this makes perfect sense, we are really not very good at using this information to decide on whether someone is actually lying or not.  Some research by psychologists in the University of California have found that we are unlikely to get over 50% success rate, the expected probability of just choosing at random.

However when the research team used some tests designed to use the unconscious mind based on word association the results were much better.   There seems to be some sort of intuitive sense that can detect a lie much better than when we actually try and work out the truth.  It fits in with other research which suggests that our intuitive mind is often more powerful than our conscious one.  In the UK there is a very funny game in which contestants try and deduce who is lying or not – you can see how people struggle to determine the truth even in such contrived conditions – you can watch it on BBC iPlayer – here’s how to access Truth or Lie outside UK – on YouTube.

The research may seem quite trivial but it’s actually quite important, being able to spot deception is an important skill in evolutionary terms, successful species usually are quite successful at this sort of determination.  It has been detected in other species such as chimpanzees for example who are able to detect falsehoods or deceptions with remarkable success.

For further information on technical input :

See Here.

 

Can Titan Solves the World’s Problems   no comments

Posted at 4:02 pm in Research

The Titan super computer is a magnificent machine, capable of performing 20,000 trillion calculations every second.  It lives at the Oak Ridge Computer Facility and is estimated to be the world’s most powerful supercomputer  in existence.  Imagine the computing power, it is the equivalent of every member of the human race carrying out 3 million calculations every second – that’s some serious number crunching power.

Up to now though this computing power has been out of reach of most of academia unless you happened to be working for the Department of Energy in the US.  However this year sees the computer being opened up for research development projects who can use the facility for benefit.

It is hoped that this computing power, can be used to help tackle some of the world’s most crucial issues – healthcare, climate, energy and how we feed our planet are some of the problems it will look at.  The criteria for use is that science and research projects which have a ‘high potential for accelerating discovery and innovation’ will be able to use the facility.

There are several target areas but some of the most important from a purely human perspective are climate change, biofuels, Nuclear energy and the study of combustion.  Each area could potentially provide real world benefits and each one can benefit from the computing power of Titan.

So what powers this beast of a computer?  Well it’s amazingly ten times more powerful than the last system at Oak Ridge – Jaguar.  Yet the system takes up about the same space and uses pretty much the same amount of electricity.  Power requirements and physical space are two of the constraining factors in the creation of supercomputers.   Which is why, you simply can’t keep adding CPUs to an existing system.  What they did with Titan was instead to use Graphic chips instead to work alongside the existing CPUs.  They worked with the company Nvidia to implement the GPUs drastically increasing computing power without the corresponding power and space requirements that would normally be required.

The top ten lists of supercomputers rarely stays the same for very long, in fact it’s updated every year or so.  It’s encouraging to see one of the leaders being opened up to all sorts of research though, especially with the target areas of this research.

It’s the kind of cooperation that the internet initially promoted and in some ways still does.  However in this area we are seeing increases in restrictions, blocks and filters in internet access through out the world.    Many people already have to invest in software and subscriptions to access web sites depending on their location like this software – here.

For more information on internet filters: see this site.

 

Social Networks Still Rule Our Online Time   no comments

Posted at 5:00 am in Research

It probably comes as no surprise to many of us, but a recent report has shown that just under a third of all online time is spent on social networking sites.  The countries covered included Australia, US and the UK who probably represent some of the world heaviest internet users. So to put that into time, for every hour spent online a UK internet surfer will spend nearly 13 minutes of it on social sites like Facebook.    The US users actually spend a little more time on these sites up to 16 minutes out of each hour.

Compare this with other online tasks and you see how socialising dominates our online world.  We spend only a few minutes an hour shoppping and the report didn’t really register the amount we spent on education and research.  You can perhaps see some justification behind the huge price assigned to the recent Facebook share issue in the context of these figures.

However the research also importantly highlighted that although the figures were high, the trend is not up.  In fact there is quite a large fall from the previous years with a surprising rise in the number of people who are using email.  This may be well fueled by technological changes – most smartphones are easily able to access email systems where as in previous years this was more complicated.

The boost in power of mobile devices will definitely have some effect on our online useage patterns.  For example online media such as films and videos would only be accessible from a small minority of mobile devices in previous years.  Nowadays however even an entry level smartphone is more than capable of streaming video of a watchable quality.  There are still restrictions on these however – some based on geography although many sites illustrate how to avoid these – like this site.  The other issue is obviously the quality of internet connection available.  Phone networks are more extensive but until 4G becomes more available streaming video across such a network can be a frustrating experience if a wireless network is not available.

Citation: Technical information

Online Games – Teach Your Kids Ethics   no comments

Posted at 3:31 pm in Research

Now having seen my eldest son in action in a variety of online games, I’m not quite sure about this latest research.  But apparently a study at the University of Victoria, British Columbia has just published the results of a 5 year study that suggests games can boost many positive traits in children.

What many of us see watching our kids play games, is I suspect pretty much a huge waste of time.  But the study found that there was a lot of learning and character development going on.  Many games have high levels of interation and problem solving, there are also huge elements of strategy involved in succeeding in many games.

Of course today’s online games involve loads more interaction and decision making than the solo computer based games of a decade ago.  To succeed you normally have to interact to some extent and in role playing games like Guildwars and World of Warcraft this is essential.  All the characters in these games are continually confronted with ethical and moral decisions.  Many games offer tracks of good or evil with the results of each track being very different.

The study seems to have been heavily focussed on the online world games citing many examples from games like Guild Wars 2.  On child in the research project seemed to be able to apply leadership skills in the classroom he had learnt in the game.  The boy had managed to rise up the ranks to be a clan leader and was responsible in the game for leading and organising a large group of players.  It’s easy to see how this could have a beneficial effect on someone’s confidence and indeed leadership skills.

Whether there can be any beneficial effect on their ethics and morals from playing these games seems somewhat more suspect.  The reality is that although you can simulate such situations in a game, the repercussions of stealing, lying and killing are obviously much greater in the real world.  Can we really assume that the games developers are able to produce an environment that really teaches our kids about these values.  I suspect not, however appealing the idea may be for parents.

What I think this research does highlight is the very different environments our children are growing up in even compared to a few years ago.  certainly our childrens are experiencing things in their childhood that we parents have very little idea about.  The rise of the internet is certainly at the heart of this – where information and communication is at their fingertips.

This article was written by Gale Strandston who writes on technology and entertainment blogs.  She specialises in solving technical and computer problems like – this site – http://www.uktv-online.com/online-british-tv-abroad/, which is focused on allowing people access to specialist proxy servers to watch British TV overseas.