Saturday, 30 April 2016

Claude Shannon: The juggling father of the information age who coined the term 'bit'

Claude Shannon: The juggling father of the information age who coined the term 'bit'
Who was Claude Shannon?

From building two-seater unicycles, juggling robots to creating chess-playing machines, Claude Elwood Shannon was not just an information theorist. The gifted mathematician also used his skills to analyse the stock market with a system he designed though his methods remained unpublished.

The American electrical engineer and
cryptographer was the grandson of an inventor and a distant cousin of Thomas Edison and would earn money by repairing radios when he was a schoolboy. He went on to study electrical engineering and mathematics at the University of Michigan, graduating in 1936, and obtained his PhD in mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1940.

During the Second World War, he designed equipment to intercept V1 and V2 missiles and in Axis code-breaking and while working at Bell Labs, he is believed to have met codebreaker Alan Turing, though there is no record of their meeting.
He became a visiting professor at MIT in 1956, and a permanent member of the faculty in 1958.

During his working life, Shannon worked on early mechanical computers under Vannevar Bush, who subsequently forecast the World Wide Web some 40 years before its invention.

He married Betty Moore in 1939 and had a son and a daughter.

Shannon was completely focused on his work, though that was not to say he was anti-social. His days at work began with a game of chess with the Mathematics Centre director and he would work until late evening on his own. Revered in the Soviet Union, Shannon did not seek praise from his contemporaries. In fact, he spent long periods away from the field he had contributed so much to.

Such was his fame that when he attempted to attend the Information Theory Symposium at Brighton in 1985 under disguise, rumours went around of his attendance and soon he was found out. Once discovered, he was given large applause before a speech, where it was remarked that it was clear he was suffering from the early effects of Alzheimer's. He died in February 2001.
What was the impact of his theory?

One of the things Shannon is most remembered for is how we quantify information today in “bits” and “bytes.” To express information in a “bit,” one uses a binary digit, either a “1” or a “0.” These binary digits can describe everything from words to pictures to the most sophisticated gaming software.

At MIT he worked on the "differential analyser", the world's leading computer at the time but Shannon's experience with this slow machine led to his vision that computers should be built not using motors but electrical circuits.

It was Shannon's master's thesis, A Symbolic Analysis Of Relay And Switching Circuits, that showed the possibility of solving problems simply by manipulating two symbols - 1 and 0 - in an automatic electric circuit.

It referred to Boolean algebra where 1 equals true and O equals false, so for circuits, 1 meant they were turned on and 0 would mean circuits were turned off.
Claude Shannon is often described as the father of the information age who created the term "bit", short for binary digits. Had Shannon been alive on April 30, 2016, he would have turned 100 (or 1100100 if you prefer his age in binary).

His most famous work is A Mathematical Theory of Communication (1949) in which he introduced information theory, the branch of mathematics focused on transmitting digital data.

It was in this masterpiece that he coined the term "bit",  the fundamental unit of information which relates to digital certainty: true or false, on or off, yes or no.

Now to celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday, Shannon's work and life is celebrated with a Google Doodle in which a cartoon Shannon is juggling, a reference to the juggling machines he built and his juggling on a unicycle in lab halls.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Virginia Engineer Among ASCE’s ‘New Faces of Civil Engineering’

An Indian American environmental and water resources engineer with Virginia-based ARCADIS and a Bangladeshi-based research associate were named among the American Society of Civil Engineers’ New Faces of Civil Engineering.
ASCE recently announced the ‘10 New Faces under the Age of 30,’ which included Rajan Jha and Ariful Hasnat. The 10 individuals were also nominated for DiscoverE’s overall New Faces of Engineering, for which Jha was selected as a winner.
Born in Delhi, Jha, 29, is a graduate of the Punjab Engineering College and Virginia Tech. At Virginia Tech, the Indian American engineer earned a graduate fellowship.
In addition to his time with ARCADIS, where he has been since 2013 working on numerous water-based projects, he has served as a project engineer at Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. in India and was a graduate research assistant at Virginia Tech. Jha is also currently the co-chair of the Central Virginia Chapter of Engineers Without Borders USA and vice president of ASCE's Virginia section.
As a project engineer, he develops environmentally sustainable solutions for water resources, bringing polluted rivers back to healthy ecosystems and rehabilitating and restoring streams and waterways.
His work for ARCADIS involves inspecting more than 5,000 storm water structures and rehabilitating extensive sewer networks, a DiscoverE news release said.
Jha has been honored at the ASCE World Water Congress for his research that collected data from over 1,500 rivers and streams around the world, it added.
The engineer told India-West in an email that, even as a young student, "I had this one dream of becoming a civil engineer and solving the problem of water in developing countries."
And though he says "I always considered myself an average performer who would never be able to achieve big in life," with the ASCE and DiscoverE honors, clearly he has surpassed those considerations.
Hasnat is a graduate of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. In addition to his teaching role at the University of Asia Pacific, Hasnat volunteers as a faculty adviser for a short-term education program that assists children in Bangladesh who are not attending regular schools. It helps provide technology that the children would not likely otherwise have access to, along with organized activities, competitions and trips that help build community and confidence.
He also serves as a research fellow for the Housing and Building Research Institute where he is working on several research projects, including pile capacity analyses and verification through field loading tests, mechanical behavior of polymer concrete and fracture mechanics of locally available concrete aggregate.
Hasnat said in an ASCE report that as a child he remembered his father saying, "If you can build bridges over these rivers, then you can pass it in 10 minutes,” The 7-year-old Hasnat then asked his father who built the bridges and he responded, "civil engineers.”
That conversation impressed him enough that years later, he chose to study structural engineering in Dhaka.

ASCE’s New Faces of Civil Engineering recognition programs highlight the next generation of civil engineering leaders. By showcasing young, diverse, talented engineers the program shows that engineering is an exciting profession open to everyone.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Thailand: 23-year-old first to apply to become pioneer female air force pilot

Thailand: 23-year-old first to apply to become pioneer female air force pilot
A 23-YEAR-OLD woman is one step closer to realizing her dream of becoming a member of the Royal Thai Air Force’s pioneering batch of female pilots after being the first to apply for the role during a registration drive recently.

The aspiring aviator, Suwattana “Mai” Chanthalert, had showed up first in line as the century-old air force was, for the first time, looking to fill in five pilot positions for women.

Thai news site Khaosod English quoted her saying that with the air force’s decision to open its doors to female pilots, “now men and women have equal potential.” She added that “it is not necessary to divide people by their gender.” Suwattana, who is from the Pattani province of southern Thailand, said her father’s death during an insurgency attack in 2005 had inspired her to join the military. She found herself taking part in an air force youth program two years after the tragic loss and found herself fascinated by the aircraft featured at the air force’s museum.

Women pilots in Thailand, the site reported, were still underrepresented, even in commercial airlines, as only five percent of AirAsia Thailand pilots were female.

However, the possibility of earning less in the Air Force compared to a commercial airline did not deter Suwattana from wanting to be part of it. Another local report cited by the news portal also found that 92 women had gained commercial pilot licenses compared to 5,000 men from 2003 to 2016, in a tally revealed by the Kingdom’s Office of Civil Aviation.

The move was part of Thailand’s security forces’ effort to increase the presence of women into their institutions.

The report also noted that the metropolitan police force announced late last month that it would promote three policewomen to station chiefs for the first time in history.

Alibaba’s Jack Ma is now Asia’s richest man

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd Chairman Jack Ma overtook Dalian Wanda Group Co’s Wang Jianlin as Asia’s richest man after the e-commerce giant’s financial affiliate raised a record amount in its latest round of fundraising. Ma added US$4.3 billion (RM16.8 billion) to his fortune yesterday after his Ant Financial’s latest deal, expanding his wealth to US$33.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. That puts him ahead of Wang’s US$32.7 billion and Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing’s US$29.5 billion. Ma’s lead among Asia’s billionaires could be short lived as Wang reorganises his entertainment business and seeks to relocate his property unit’s listing in search of higher valuations in mainland China — deals that could affect the property-to-entertainment mogul’s fortune. Alibaba’s billionaire chairman owns 6.3 per cent of Alibaba and 37.9 per cent of Ant Financial, whose full name is Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group Co, after the fundraising. Ma is also said to be planning to take Ant Financial public in what could be China’s largest IPO since 2010. — Bloomberg

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

PLEEC model on energy efficiency and sustainable city planning

The PLEEC model is a guide for city planners in European cities to develop their Energy Efficiency Action Plan (EEAP) in order to meet the EU 20-20-20 goals. The guide consists of the PLEEC partners´ joint experiences from developing six EEAPs. By taking part of the model content, through literature studies, checklists, movies and city partners' advice, the reader gets a strong base to initiate the Action Plan. One of the lessons from PLEEC is that understanding local conditions in different cities is key to developing an EEAP that can be successfully implemented. No action can be copied from one city to another but by sharing experiences we can come a long way towards a more energy efficient future. The PLEEC model is one of the core outputs of the PLEEC project.

the six “PLEEC model cities” in the second part of the event: Each city has developed during PLEEC project an Energy Efficiency Action Plan clearly outlining the goals and strategies how to become more energy efficient and a true energy smart city in the future. As all PLEEC cities are unique and have very special preconditions every city is choosing an individual way towards the sustainable future. All experiences made throughout the project´s lifetime are synthesized in the model of energy efficiency and sustainable city planning accessible online at and presented by Lotta Ek (Eskilstuna municipality). “Green Thoughts, Green Futures” - another core output of the PLEEC project and showcased by Annika Kunnasvirta (Turku University of Applied Sciences) - is a publication which summarizes the PLEEC results in a popularized format, describing the most relevant aspects of energy efficiency in key urban fields from a city perspective: the technologies, thoughts, processes and innovations that are already underway yet in need of more work - “peppered with” energy smart city success stories.

Controlling RNA in living cells

MIT researchers have devised a new set of proteins that can be customized to bind arbitrary RNA sequences, making it possible to image RNA inside living cells, monitor what a particular RNA strand is doing, and even control RNA activity.
The new strategy is based on human RNA-binding proteins that normally help guide embryonic development. The research team adapted the proteins so that they can be easily targeted to desired RNA sequences.
“You could use these proteins to do measurements of RNA generation, for example, or of the translation of RNA to proteins,” says Edward Boyden, an associate professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at the MIT Media Lab. “This could have broad utility throughout biology and bioengineering.”
Unlike previous efforts to control RNA with proteins, the new MIT system consists of modular components, which the researchers believe will make it easier to perform a wide variety of RNA manipulations.
“Modularity is one of the core design principles of engineering. If you can make things out of repeatable parts, you don’t have to agonize over the design. You simply build things out of predictable, linkable units,” says Boyden, who is also a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research.
Boyden is the senior author of a paper describing the new system in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper’s lead authors are postdoc Katarzyna Adamala and grad student Daniel Martin-Alarcon.
Modular code
Living cells contain many types of RNA that perform different roles. One of the best known varieties is messenger RNA (mRNA), which is copied from DNA and carries protein-coding information to cell structures called ribosomes, where mRNA directs protein assembly in a process called translation. Monitoring mRNA could tell scientists a great deal about which genes are being expressed in a cell, and tweaking the translation of mRNA would allow them to alter gene expression without having to modify the cell’s DNA.
To achieve this, the MIT team set out to adapt naturally occurring proteins called Pumilio homology domains. These RNA-binding proteins include sequences of amino acids that bind to one of the ribonucleotide bases or “letters” that make up RNA sequences — adenine (A), thymine (T), uracil (U), and guanine (G).
In recent years, scientists have been working on developing these proteins for experimental use, but until now it was more of a trial-and-error process to create proteins that would bind to a particular RNA sequence.
“It was not a truly modular code,” Boyden says, referring to the protein’s amino acid sequences. “You still had to tweak it on a case-by-case basis. Whereas now, given an RNA sequence, you can specify on paper a protein to target it.”
To create their code, the researchers tested out many amino acid combinations and found a particular set of amino acids that will bind each of the four bases at any position in the target sequence. Using this system, which they call Pumby (for Pumilio-based assembly), the researchers effectively targeted RNA sequences varying in length from six to 18 bases.
“I think it’s a breakthrough technology that they’ve developed here,” says Robert Singer, a professor of anatomy and structural biology, cell biology, and neuroscience at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who was not involved in the research. “Everything that’s been done to target RNA so far requires modifying the RNA you want to target by attaching a sequence that binds to a specific protein. With this technique you just design the protein alone, so there’s no need to modify the RNA, which means you could target any RNA in any cell.”
The researchers are now working toward using this system to label different mRNA molecules inside neurons, allowing them to test the idea that mRNAs for different genes are stored in different parts of the neuron, helping the cell to remain poised to perform functions such as storing new memories. “Until now it’s been very difficult to watch what’s happening with those mRNAs, or to control them,” Boyden says.
These RNA-binding proteins could also be used to build molecular assembly lines that would bring together enzymes needed to perform a series of reactions that produce a drug or another molecule of interest.