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On a warm winter afternoon as I unpacked my equipment onto a small wooden boat, one of my curious assistants approached me asking what was the red torch that I was holding. “It’s not a torch,” I said hastily, checking if my survey sheet was in place. “It is a depth meter… umm… Depth dekhar jonno… (to look at the depth).”

Perhaps overwhelmed by my sense of urgency he moved back and let me continue my work. Soon, I jumped onto the boat, and was on my first survey of the River Ganga, at Farakka in West Bengal. Farakka, a small town in central Bengal, sits besides NH34, bustling with heavy movement of traffic and people all day long. It is perhaps the last place a layman would imagine a wildlife researcher to be in. Yet there I was, on a motored wooden boat in the middle of the vast Ganga, constantly dipping my depth meter in the water, recording its reading and looking for Ganges river dolphins at the same time.

‘What are you writing?’ asked the curious guy again as our boat – barely big enough for five people – rocked on crashing waves.

“Depth. Goirahi.” I told him.

“Hmm… goirahi ki kore deikhen?” he asked and immediately I had realised the subtleties of speaking a non-native language. He wanted to know how I was ‘looking’ at the depth.

I slowly explained to him that it is not light that the device uses, but sound. Sound – too high in frequency for us to hear – is emitted by one end of the depth meter and its reflection from the bottom of the river is received by an acoustic sensor on the same end. Since the speed of sound in water is known, the time elapsed between emitting this sound and sensing its reflection is translated into the distance travelled or depth – goirahi.

A Hawkeye handheld depth meter used to measure the water level
Photo Credit: Imran Samad

 

He looked confused by the details, but refrained from asking any following questions.

As a student of curiosity, I love its other disciples. Therefore, on our journey ahead, I took to explaining him something a little simpler – a handheld GPS device. A device fitting in my palm, housing a dull coloured 2.2-inch TFT screen alongside a tiny joystick to navigate its menu.

It is a fairly common device used by all kinds of people all over the world to record their positions, navigate landscapes and so much more. It works just like the GPS on a smartphone used by applications like Google Maps, but is designed to work in harsher and more rugged environments, also offering plenty of battery backup. After I had explained it to my assistant, he would often look at the odometer at display on it, and scream atop the engine noise about the distance that we had travelled so far. His friends at the rear end of the boat were equally happy to receive the news. Perhaps it was a new way of looking at the river — that they had grown up around — that filled them with fascination.

At the survey’s end, as we stood on the dock discussing future plans, my assistants were calm and happy. They by now could better visualise the river in a third dimension, quite accurately.

A few days after some consecutive surveys, I had become good friends with my assistants. I told them to be ready at the Ghaat on a cold December morning; I was bringing the CPOD with me.
Surveys are important to know where dolphins are at a point in time, but it is impossible to know how they move all throughout the day. Do they stay in close proximity to one spot? Or do they move a lot? To know this, one would have to sit on a still boat for the whole day, and record dolphins as they surface to breathe. This of course would be a tiring task! But this is exactly what the CPOD does, with minimal complications and biases.

CPOD VLIZ dolphin detector

A CPOD deployed underwater
Photo Credit: VLIZ

 

A Cetacean – POrpoise Detector records the parameters of the vocal signal of a dolphin.
Just as we speak in sentences made up of words, river dolphins communicate in long trains made up of clicks, which have certain properties like frequency, SPL (loudness) and so on. A CPOD records these parameters along with time. Therefore, in effect it becomes like a watchman who is always on alert for dolphins. Since it is a passive logger, it does not affect the animals.

Just like this, much of what researchers do is simple conceptually. It is the translation of their concepts into reality that is complex. How exactly do you employ a watchman underwater? In fact, the quality of research one does is contingent on the quality of this translation, the equipment employed and the methods used. Growing technology and steady access to it is gradually transforming the way we look at our surroundings. 

In fact, there are many interesting devices that researchers use to observe and understand the world. One such device that excited my assistants more than ever was the Chart-plotter. It works on the same principle as the depth meter and is used to ‘see’ underwater, just like how a paediatrician ‘sees’ and assesses a foetus inside a womb. With this, river qualities like its shape, presence of fish and so on can be better understood.

Improving technologies are heavily empowering research, yet one must always remember that any gadget used is only as good as its user. With proper logic and motivation, you can find new ways to look at the same old things. So always stay curious; your observations may someday change the world.

 

Imran Samad is an engineer turned wildlife biologist who is fascinated by the nature of nature. He is currently enrolled in the M.Sc. in Wildlife Biology and Conservation at NCBS, Bangalore, where he is studying cetaceans. He also loves to write poetry on his blog.


In 2020, will WhatsApp get the killer feature that every Indian is waiting for? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.

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Micromax in 1b to Go on Sale in India for First Time Today via Flipkart, Company Site: Price, Specifications

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Micromax In 1b is all set to go on sale in India today. The phone comes with an octa-core MediaTek Helio G35 SoC and features a 6.52-inch full-HD+ display. It also comes with a dual rear camera setup that houses a 13-megapixel primary sensor. The Micromax In 1b also has an 8-megapixel selfie camera sensor inside the waterdrop-style notch. The company has integrated a 5,000mAh battery inside the In 1b that supports reverse charging and 10W fast charging.

Micromax In 1b price in India, sale

The Micromax In 1b will go on sale at 12pm (noon) on Flipkart and Micromax.com. The phone is priced at Rs. 6,999 for the 2GB RAM + 32GB storage option and at Rs. 7,999 for the 4GB RAM + 64GB storage model. Micromax In 1b will be available in Green, Blue, and Purple colour options.

Flipkart offers include 5 percent cashback on Flipkart Axis Bank credit card, 5 percent off with Axis Bank Buzz credit card, and no-cost EMI starting from Rs. 778 per month.

Micromax In 1b specifications

Coming to specifications, the Micromax In 1b runs on Android 10 and features a 6.52-inch HD+ display. It is powered by an octa-core MediaTek Helio G35 SoC, paired with up to 4GB of RAM options. On the storage front, the Micromax In 1b carries up to 64GB of onboard storage options that are expandable via microSD card.

As for imaging, the Micromax In 1b offers a dual rear camera setup that houses a 13-megapixel primary camera sensor and a 2-megapixel depth sensor, along with an LED flash. The Micromax phone also comes with an 8-megapixel selfie camera sensor at the front.

Micromax In 1b comes with a 5,000mAh battery that supports reverse charging and 10W fast charging (compatible charger is bundled in the box). Connectivity options include 4G VoLTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS/ A-GPS, USB Type-C, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The phone also features a fingerprint sensor at the back.

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AI automation promises to have a big, and not always positive, impact

robots working 5

Commentary: Just as telephone operators struggled with the automation of switching, AI promises to change global economies for the better, even as it wreaks havoc on individuals’ jobs.

Image: iStockphoto/PhonlamaiPhoto

The robots may not be taking over, but they just might erase your job. Yes, it’s almost certainly true that the “creative destruction” of technology will result in more jobs than it destroys, but a new academic paper about US telephone operators displaced by automated switching suggests that while the overall economy will be better off with artificial intelligence (AI)-driven automation, those immediately impacted may never recover. 

Better in the long run

As detailed recently by Daphne Leprince-Ringuet on sister site ZDNet, the World Economic Forum (WEF) expects to see AI and other new technologies shred 85 million jobs over the next five years–that’s the bad news. The good news is that these same technologies are expected to help create 97 million new jobs. COVID-19 has served as an accelerant to corporate plans to embrace things like AI/ML-driven automation, effectively hitting “fast forward” on this labor upheaval. All of this is for the better, at least at the macro level.

SEE: The new normal: What work will look like post-pandemic (TechRepublic Premium)

In practical terms, this means that the majority of the work associated with information and data processing and retrieval (65%) will shift to machines, according to the WEF. People currently working as data entry clerks, accountants and auditors, and factory workers will be most affected even if, as I’ve written, organizations figure out ways to leverage things like AI to enhance worker productivity rather than replace it.

So what happens to these workers? It’s a polite fiction that they’ll simply be re-skilled and adapt to this new AI-automated future. As we’ve seen in past situations where technology automated away jobs, the immediate impact on those workers can be painful. 

Just look at what happened in the telecommunications industry. 

Learning from Ma Bell

As detailed in the aforementioned academic paper “Automation and the Fate of Young Workers: Evidence from Telephone Operation in the Early 20th Century,” written by professors James Feigenbaum and Daniel P. Gross, “Telephone operation, one of the most common jobs for young American women in the early 1900s, provided hundreds of thousands of female workers a pathway into the labor force.” It was a great force for good, but between 1920 and 1940 AT&T (then the dominant telecommunications provider in the US) automated telephone switching in more than half of its network, eliminating hundreds of thousands of jobs. 

So what happened to those women who had been employed as telephone operators?

[T]he automation of telephone operation led to a large, swift, and permanent decline in the number of young, white, American-born women working as operators, of around two-thirds in levels—roughly 2% of total employment for the group (in any job). As it was for many women a transitory job (often, a first job), far more were exposed. For an automation shock, we consider this large, especially for a vulnerable subset of the labor supply. 

Our question is: what happened after these jobs disappeared? Did the elimination of a major entry-level job cut off future generations from entering the workforce? After accounting for concurrent trends taking place in cities of similar size around the country independent of cutovers, we do not find that the shock reduced later cohorts’ employment. We also see no substitution into marriage or childbearing. The negative shock to labor demand was instead counteracted by growth in other occupations, especially secretarial work and restaurant work, which absorbed the women who might have otherwise been telephone operators.

Future generations of would-be telephone operators, in other words, did just fine. The economy took care of creating net new jobs. But for those telephone operators who lost their jobs to automated switching? “While some became operators at private switchboards, others left the workforce, and those who remained employed were more likely to have switched to lower-paying occupations.”

Automation, in short, was good for the overall economy but bad for those whose jobs were automated away. 

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Beyond the Luddites

So what do we do? It doesn’t seem practical to destroy the looms as the Luddites once did, attempting to hold back the machines that threatened their jobs. But it’s also not useful to engage in wishful thinking about “upskilling” or “re-skilling.” These are positive endeavors, but it feels like we (by which I mean industry and government, working together) can’t afford to wave away the negative impact technology can have on jobs today. 

Those telephone operators either left the workforce or found lower-paying jobs. Is there something government can do to underwrite some of the costs of helping the modern-day equivalent of the telephone operators to find new jobs? I don’t know. If you have ideas, please comment below or ping me on Twitter (@mjasay). 

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but the views expressed herein are mine.

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Blast from the Past | Technology Org

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Gemini North observations enable breakthrough in centuries-old effort to unravel astronomical mystery.

An international team of astronomers using Gemini North’s GNIRS instrument have discovered that CK Vulpeculae, first seen as a bright new star in 1670, is approximately five times farther away than previously thought. This makes the 1670 explosion of CK Vulpeculae much more energetic than previously estimated and puts it into a mysterious class of objects that are too bright to be members of the well-understood type of explosions known as novae, but too faint to be supernovae.

350 years ago, the French monk Anthelme Voituret saw a bright new star flare into life in the constellation of Vulpecula. Over the following months, the star became almost as bright as Polaris (the North Star) and was monitored by some of the leading astronomers of the day before it faded from view after a year [1]. The new star eventually gained the name CK Vulpeculae and was long considered to be the first documented example of a nova — a fleeting astronomical event arising from an explosion in a close binary star system in which one member is a white dwarf, the remnant of a Sun-like star. However, a string of recent results have thrown the longstanding classification of CK Vulpeculae as a nova into doubt.

Blast from the Past Technology Org

CK Vulpeculae seen with Gemini North. The enigmatic CK Vulpeculae nebula. The team of astronomers measured the speeds and changes in positions of the two small reddish arcs about 1/4 of the way up from the bottom and 1/4 of the way down from the top to help determine that the nebula is expanding five times faster than previously thought. Credit: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA. Image processing: Travis Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), Jen Miller (Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), Mahdi Zamani & Davide de Martin

In 2015, a team of astronomers suggested that CK Vulpeculae’s appearance in 1670 was the result of two normal stars undergoing a cataclysmic collision. Just over three years later, the same astronomers further proposed that one of the stars was in fact a bloated red giant star, following their discovery of a radioactive isotope of aluminum in the immediate surroundings of the site of the 1670 explosion. Complicating the picture even further, a separate group of astronomers proposed a different interpretation. In their paper, also published in 2018, they suggested that the sudden brightening in 1670 was the result of the merger between a brown dwarf — a failed star too small to shine via thermonuclear fusion that powers the Sun — and a white dwarf.

Now, adding to the ongoing mystery surrounding CK Vulpeculae, new observations from the international Gemini Observatory, a Program of NSF’s NOIRLab, reveal that this enigmatic astronomical object is much farther away and has ejected gas at much higher speeds than previously reported.

This team, led by Dipankar Banerjee of Physical Research Laboratory Ahmedabad, India, Tom Geballe of Gemini Observatory, and Nye Evans of Keele University in the United Kingdom, initially planned to use the Gemini Near-Infrared Spectrograph (GNIRS) instrument on Gemini North on Hawai‘i’s Maunakea to confirm the 2018 detection of radioactive aluminum at the heart of CK Vulpeculae [2]. After realizing that detecting this in the infrared would be far more difficult than they originally thought, the astronomers improvised and obtained infrared observations across the full extent of CK Vulpeculae, including the two wisps of nebulosity at its outermost edges.

“The key to our discovery was the GNIRS measurements obtained at the outer edges of the nebula,” elaborated Geballe. “The signature of redshifted and blueshifted iron atoms detected there shows that the nebula is expanding much more rapidly than previous observations had suggested.” [3]

As lead author and astronomer Banerjee explains further, “We did not suspect that this is what we would find. It was exciting when we found some gas traveling at the unexpectedly high speed of about 7 million km/hour. This hinted at a different story about CK Vulpeculae than what had been theorized.”

1606313035 394 Blast from the Past Technology Org

Finder chart of CK Vulpeculae. This chart of the position of a new star (marked in red) that appeared in the year 1670 was recorded by the famous astronomer Hevelius and was published by the Royal Society in England in their journal Philosophical Transactions. Credit: Royal Society

By measuring both the speed of the nebula’s expansion and how much the outermost wisps had moved during the last ten years, and accounting for the tilt of the nebula on the night sky, which had been estimated earlier by others, the team determined that CK Vulpeculae lies approximately 10,000 light-years distant from the Sun — about five times as far away as previously thought. That implies that the 1670 explosion was far brighter, releasing roughly 25 times more energy than previously estimated [4]. This much larger estimate of the amount of energy released means that whatever event caused the sudden appearance of CK Vulpeculae in 1670 was far more violent than a simple nova.

“In terms of energy released, our finding places CK Vulpeculae roughly midway between a nova and a supernova,” commented Evans. “It is one of a very few such objects in the Milky Way and the cause — or causes — of the outbursts of this intermediate class of objects remain unknown. I think we all know what CK Vulpeculae isn’t, but no one knows what it is.”

The visual appearance of the CK Vulpeculae nebula and the high velocities observed by the team could help astronomers to recognize relics of similar events — in our Milky Way or in external galaxies — that have occurred in the past.

 

Credit: Images and videos: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA, K. Pu’uohau-Pummill, A. M. Geller/Northwestern University/CTIO/SOAR. Image processing: Travis Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), Jen Miller (Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), Mahdi Zamani & Davide de Martin. Music: zero-project – The Lower Dungeons (https://www.zero-project.gr/).

“It is difficult at this stage to offer a definitive or compelling explanation for the origin of the 1670 eruption of CK Vulpeculae,” concluded Banerjee. “Even 350 years after Voituret’s discovery, the nature of the explosion remains a mystery. ”

Notes

[1] 17th-century astronomers who observed the bright new star CK Vulpeculae included distinguished Polish mayor, brewer, and astronomer Johannes Hevelius and the French-Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who discovered four of Saturn’s moons. After it faded from view in 1671 there were numerous unsuccessful attempts through the intervening centuries to recover it, some by noted astronomers including Halley, Pickering and Humason.

[2] A spectrograph is an instrument that splits light from an astronomical object into its component wavelengths, allowing the composition of the gas emitting the light, its speed, and other traits to be measured.

[3] Just as the pitch of an ambulance siren changes depending on whether the vehicle is moving towards or away from you, astronomical objects change color depending on whether they are moving towards or away from an observer. Objects moving away from Earth become redder (known as redshift) and approaching objects become bluer (known as blueshift).

[4] The brightness of an object is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from an observer. In the case of CK Vulpeculae, if the 1670 explosion occurred five times as far away it must have been 52 = 25 times as bright.

More information

This research is presented in the paper Near-Infrared Spectroscopy of CK Vulpeculae: Revealing a Remarkably Powerful Blast from the Past to appear in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The team was composed of D. P. K. Banerjee (Astronomy & Astrophysics Division, Physical Research Laboratory Ahmedabad), T. R. Geballe (Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), A. Evans (Lennard Jones Laboratories, Keele University), M. Shahbandeh (Department of Physics, Florida State University),

C. E. Woodward (Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics, University of Minnesota), R. D. Gehrz (Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics, University of Minnesota), S. P. S. Eyres (Faculty of Computing, Engineering, and Science, University of South Wales), S. Starrfield (School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University), and A. Zijlstra (Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, University of Manchester).

Source: Gemini




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