Archive for January, 2010

Research Computing Lab Short Course: LaTeX

“LaTeX Basics”

 Aubry Verret, Research Computing Support Specialist

Monday, February 8, 2010, from 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

In the Brown Science and Engineering Library Electronic Classroom

This class is a hands on introduction for those who have no prior experience with LaTeX but are interested in using it to write academic/scientific papers. It will contain an overview of capabilities and features as well as basic commands. By the end of the class you will be able to create a document that includes sections, figures, a bibliography and mathematics.

Anyone interested in attending a session is asked to sign-up by submitting a ticket at the following url:

Squeezing Out More Power

Piezoelectric Material Harvests Record Amount Of Energy.

Technology Review (1/29) reports, “Researchers at Princeton University have created” a piezoelectric material that “can harness 80 percent of the energy applied when it is flexed–four times more than existing flexible piezoelectric materials.” The researchers used PZT, “the most efficient piezoelectric material known, but its crystalline structure means that it must be grown at high temperatures, which normally melt a flexible substrate. The Princeton researchers, led by mechanical engineering professor Michael McAlpine, got around this by making PZT at high temperatures and then transferring thin ribbons of the material onto silicone.” The researchers are particularly focused on biomedical applications.

The above reposted from the January 29, 2010 issue of ASEE First Bell.

Nuclear Fusion Milestone

Scientists Reach Milestone In Nuclear Fusion Experiment.

According to the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), AFP (1/29) reports, “US scientists have produced a laser shot with an unprecedented energy level that could be a key step towards nuclear fusion.” In a statement, the NNSA said that “researchers for the first time delivered a megajoule of energy to a target by focusing 192 laser beams at the same time at a temperature of 111 million Celsius (200 million Fahrenheit).” NNSA administrator Thomas D’Agostino said, “Breaking the megajoule barrier brings us one step closer to fusion ignition,” adding, “This milestone is an example of how our nation’s investment in nuclear security is producing benefits in other areas, from advances in energy technology to a better understanding of the universe.”

In a report that only refers to the NNSA’s funding of the project, the San Francisco Chronicle (1/29, Perlman) reports that scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility said that their work “marked the most important advance yet in more than 10 years of work at the $3.5 billion facility.” In the coming months, “the team will start a new round of experiments seeking finally to achieve what they call ‘ignition’ — a true thermonuclear reaction inside the laboratory’s tiny targets.” L. Jeffrey Atherton, one of the lead physicists on the project, said, “We’re confident of our ability to start seeking ignition this summer.” Atherton added, “And we’re optimistic that at some point soon we’ll achieve it.”

The above reposted from the January 29, 2010 issue of ASEE’s First Bell.

Federal Highway Administration Documents

U.S. Department of Transportation: Federal Highway Administration:  Geotechnical Engineering [pdf]

 This important site contains a report which summarizes Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) geotechnical research and development activities over the past 25 years. The report’s author is Al DiMillio, and it is divided into seven chapters, some concluding remarks, and four appendices. The chapters cover material related to road construction and detailed maintenance and strengthening projects. Each chapter provides a background essay on the subject, along with information about each project and technical material on the ways in which each project was successfully completed. Visitors can navigate the work by subsections as well, and they will also want to look over the appendices, which give detailed histories of previous works on this subject. [KMG]

NOTE:  The parent site also contains a wealth of additional information and documents related to highways and geotechnical engineering.

The above is reprinted from  The Scout Report, for January 29, 2010.  Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2010.

Guidebook to Internet Searching

You can view or download in PDF format a 30+ page book by Dean Sherwin called Guidebook to Internet Searching.  This book outlines basic techniques for searching the internet for information of all sorts, including web pages, images, people, products, videos and data files.

Word Order Matters

The following is reposted from the ResearchBuzz blog for January 13, 2010 by Tara Calishain.


Doing Real Time Search? Watch Your Word Order

Posted: 13 Jan 2010 04:36 AM PST

If you’ve been reading ResearchBuzz for a while, you probably know that the way you enter your search terms in Google makes a difference.  If you enter words in one order, you may very well get a different result count and a different order to the results you get back.  (Try searching Google for scratching post and post scratching to get an idea of what I’m talking about.)

I have used this knowledge to benefit over the years, when I needed to narrow down search results or just get a different perspective on what was available.  When Google’s new real-time search came out, I assumed word order would no longer make a difference.  After all, real-time search is just that — the latest and greatest material that Google is adding to its index.  The stream should be the stream, right?  No matter what kind of word order you use.

Turns out that’s incorrect; Google does change the real time search results based on your word order.  That’s okay, but it does mean if you’re looking for real-time data you may want to play around with your word order, especially if you’re searching for words that don’t make a common phrase.

Let’s take an example.  I’m interested in a Ford Taurus, and I want to see what kind of real-time buy/sell activity there is out there.  I do a Google search for Ford Taurus and pay attention to the latest results.


I’m getting the “latest” results, and the list looks very much like a Google search result except the results show how recently the content was indexed.  The result count for this search, at this writing, is 4,250,000.  You’ll also notice that the left nav gives you related searches, mostly other car models.

Now take that search and turn it around.  Just turn it and do a search for Taurus Ford.  Your search results now look like this:


You’ll note that the related searches are gone, the search results have shot up to about 6,670,000 results, and the order of the search results has shifted a little bit.

Now, is this bad?  No, of course not.  But if you’re really working in the live search and you want to make sure you get as many search results as you can, you’re going to have to run multiple searches of multi-word queries.

Word order shows a lot of difference when the words make up a phrase.  If you do a search for search engine, at this writing you’ll get about 315,000,000 results along with some Twitter tweets.  If you change the search to engine search, the result count drops to 109,000,000, the results shift around a lot, and only one tweet appears, way down at the bottom of the page.

I remember being astonished when search engines hit a billion pages of indexed content, but that’s nothing these days.  The name of the game continues to be narrowing down your results to get the information you need and approaching a search problem from different angles.  You can make a different angle just from changing the word order in your query even in Google’s real-time search; try it!

Seeing in the Dark

The following is reposted from the January 14, 2010 issue of ASEE First Bell.


Toyota Developing Night Vision System Based On Insects.

Popular Science (1/14, Hsu) reports that engineers at Toyota have developed a night vision system using a “new digital image-processing algorithm” that “takes inspiration from nocturnal dung beetles, bees and moths that can see across a remarkable range of color, brightness and shadow.” The system, which requires only “a standard digital camera and typical PC graphics card,” is reportedly capable of capturing “full-color images at night from a car moving at high speeds, and can even adapt to light levels automatically,” thereby eliminating issues “with the sudden blinding bright lights of an oncoming vehicle.” The design stems from research done by Eric Warrant of the University of Lund in Sweden, who “was first to create a mathematical model describing how ‘local adaptive spatiotemporal smoothing’ works.”

The Write Stuff

The following is reposted from The Scout Report for January 15, 2010.  From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2010.


Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science Students

Penn State University provides a great web resource for all engineering and science students with the models, exercises, and advice that it gives for over a half dozen type of documents they will likely encounter in their schooling and eventual professions.  On the left hand side of the homepage visitors will find “Student Resources”, “Instructor Resources”, and links to the “Contributors”, which include “Virginia Tech”, “University of Illinois”, and “Georgia Tech”.  The “Introduction” on the homepage, offers the following basics to consider when starting a paper: “Assessing the Audience”, “Selecting the Format”, and “Crafting the Style”.  Also on the homepage the site gives links to guidance on “Presentations”, “Correspondence”, “Formal Reports”, “Proposals”, “Instructions”, and “Journal Articles”.  The “Design of Presentation Slides”, under the “Presentations” link, demonstrates the use of the assertion-evidence structure for presentation slides, as opposed to the typical PowerPoint template, along with many resources on the left hand side of the page that tout the benefits of that structure. [KMG]

Report on Big Data

The following is reposted from The Scout Report for January 15, 2010.  From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2010.


The Promise and Peril of Big Data

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Some data-crunchers and others are thrilled by the prospect of the growing amount of “big data”.  According to a recent report, the amount of digital content available on the Internet is approaching five hundred billion gigabytes.  This 66-page report from the Aspen Institute asks some key questions about these developments, including “Does Big Data represent an evolution of knowledge, or is more actually less when it comes to information on such scales?”   Released in January 2010, this report is based on insights from the recent Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, which brought together 25 leaders from the fields of technology, economics, and public policy.  The report was written by David Bollier, and it includes sections like “Big Data and Health Care”, “How Should Big Data Abuses Be Addressed?” and “Business and Social Implications of Big Data”.

It’s an important read, and one that visitors with an interest in any of these fields will want to pass along to their friends. [KMG]

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January 2010