Digital Urban Living

Browsing the Danish Research Council’s homepage — searching for some info on my own grant but failing at that — I stumbled upon this press release (in Danish, sorry). A large project in digital urban living will run in Aarhus the next four years.

I haven’t heard anything about this until today. That really shows how much I’m out of the loop these days. Since I started doing “Real Science” I haven’t been keeping track of what was going on in IT and computer science in town.

Sarcasm on!

Anyway, reading the press release it looks like a lot of the “usual suspect” visions in pervasive computing: mobile phones for news browsing (local news, in this case, probably because they want a digital Aarhus and not just any old digital urban living), mobile phones finding the closes restaurants when you go out, etc.

Let’s ignore for a sec. that I can already do that with any smart phone already. I am sure there are more visions than that…

Well, one thing they mention that smart-phones cannot do is houses changing colour according to the weather. My brick house sort of changes colour between sunny days, cloudy days and rainy days, but all shades of yellow. I am sure changing between red and green is an improvement.

Sarcasm off!

Ok, the press release is a bit daft on the concrete examples, and the remaining examples are too vague to comment on. This doesn’t mean that the project is crap, though. Boiling things down to the length of a press release is bound to dumb it down a bit as well.

I look forward to hear more information about the project. Concrete examples of what they plan to do. Find out what is in it for me! How will digital living change my life? Smart phones, ubiquity of laptop computers and wireless network has changed our life, so there is certainly a potential for IT to change the way we live.

How will this project add to this? Would the money be better spent just providing free wireless Internet downtown? ;-)

The budget is DKK 43.5 million, so it is well funded, and there is a lot of collaborators in it, so it will be interesting to see where it will lead.

More links, but all in Danish, here:

23andMe explains it so much better than me

I tried to explain my main research area in a previous post, but 23andMe even uses animations! See the animations at ScienceRoll.

23andMe is one of the new personalized genomics companies that popped up late last year. Another is deCODEme at deCODE, the company we collaborate with in the PolyGene project.

I haven’t really made up my mind about these personal genomes companies yet. Not that I think there is anything unethical about them, it is the science I cannot make up my mind about. Technologically, it is cool that you can actually type a million tagSNPs for $1000 (with the current value of the dollar that is essentially for free), but how much can you really use the information for?

Tracking the genealogy can be done with some accuracy — not sure exactly how much accuracy — but the disease risk stuff I am very sceptical about. The genetic factors of life style diseases that we know about have so little relative risk that calculating it for individuals as part of some genetic profile seems a bit dodgy to me.

Knowing that a particular genetic variant increases the disease risk ever so slightly tells us about the underlying biology of the disease, and that information is important. Making medical decisions based on the type of an individual, if the relative risk is tiny fractions of the environmental risks we know about anyway, is just plain silly.

If you know that smoking increases your risk of cancer dramatically, but you don’t stop smoking, are you likely to benefit from knowing that your genes increase your risk from 1% to 1.1%?

No manual entry for fopen

What the f*ck is going on here?

$ man fopen

No manual entry for fopen

How can Ubuntu leave out the most fundamental man pages? The man pages for system calls and for the C library is the most essential pages if you program on UNIX. With pretty much everything else, you are better off with Google, but for these?

Can someone please tell me how to get my man pages back?

Post-exam evaluation of genome analysis

We have just completed the exams for genome analysis. Half the students decided not to show up, but of those who did show up, the vast majority got top grades. This is telling me that we did something wrong with the course.

If only half the people show up, and no one manage to get an average grade, it is telling me that we have made the class too hard. Since the average grades are missing, bets are that it is the people who would normally get those who decided to give up all together.

I haven’t been too happy with this class myself. We didn’t structure it that well and we probably included too much in each particular topic.

I hope we can do it better next time.

BiRC Blog

About a month ago I suggested that we started a blog at the BiRC homepage to show the outside work a bit more of the activities going on at BiRC. I don’t think we do enough of that at our current web pages. The suggestion got some mixed responses, but mainly it was just ignored, so I went ahead and added the blog just to try it out. There is not much work involved in setting it up. Skeletonz already has a plugin for it.

Throughout December, the blog ran at our pages, but could only be accessed internally at BiRC. This defeats the purpose, of course, but it served as an experiment for seeing if there was enough to blog about to make it worth doing at all.

The blog hasn’t exactly been flodded with posts, but there is at least some activity, so now I’ve made it public here.

What I have in mind for the blog is just reporting new papers, interesting seminars, releases of software and such. Stuff that ought to be reported somewhere, but that doesn’t deserve being shown on the announcement list on the front page.

The blog is just a small part of an update of the entire web-pages. Generally, I don’t think the pages show enough of what is really going on at BiRC and I’d like to change that. This is very hard to do, of course, since everyone has a different opinion about how the pages should be. Last summer we had a long discussion about the pages, the entire BiRC group, but nothing came out of it. Now my hope is that by actually making prototypes of what I have in mind, we can have a more productive discussion about it. Discussing abstract page changes gets us nowhere, but maybe discussing concrete suggestions will.

I’ve made a couple of other updates to the pages, but they are still only avaialble internally to BiRC. We will all discuss it at a meeting early February. I’ll blog more about it by then.