Welcome Aleiah!

aleiah closeup picture

I would like to introduce a new student blogger to the Turret. Her name is Aleiah and she is a student in “CCOM 206 – Communication in Engineering” at McGill this semester. The course gives students an opportunity to develop their writing skills through various types of writing including a research paper, a cover letter, and a business proposal. She is a 3rd year student in Mechanical Engineering who is interested in aerospace and wants to works in aircraft design. She is originally from Winnipeg. Welcome to the Turret Aleiah! We look forward to having your perspective as a McGill engineering student added to the blog!

“Natural Disasters – Live from the MOOC’s Epicentre” Event Rocks Schulich Library!

Natural disasters display

Despite a risk of severe thunderstorms (very fitting for the evening’s theme!), about 50 participants braved their way to Schulich Library of Science and Engineering on Tuesday night for “Natural Disasters – Live from the MOOC’s Epicentre!” to hear all about Montreal-area natural disasters. A big thanks to everyone who joined us, and an even bigger thanks to Professors John Stix and John Gyakum for presenting loads of information on different types of natural disasters and their likelihood of taking place in Montreal. Their presentation was delivered in a conversational, fact-filled and thought-provoking style that inspired the audience.

So what natural disasters could happen here? Earthquakes, ice storms (of course!), and even hurricanes are all possibilities. Even though Professor Stix confirmed that Mount Royal isn’t a volcano, he did recount a dream he once had that Mount Royal erupted and lava came flowing down the middle of campus! (This just goes to show you the kind of things geologists dream about!) The professors also talked about increased risk of natural disasters due to human activities (such as the increased chances of extreme weather events due to rising CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels and the increased likelihood of earthquakes from fracking to obtain natural gas). Professor Gyakum showed a video that gives the analogy of steroid use by baseball players to explain how climate change works (available here). He also explained that increased water vapor in the atmosphere caused by increased CO2 emissions ups the chances of more extreme weather, such as ice storms in Montreal. We are, after all, in one of North America’s freezing rain capitals. So make sure to keep those candles and bottled water handy this winter!

Their talk generated a lot of questions such as: Is there a risk of Yellowstone erupting anytime soon? Professor Stix says it is a very active geologic area, which may explain this recent news story . However, he also said “I don’t lose sleep over it.” Another participant asked: Generally, how prepared are Montreal’s buildings for an earthquake? Members of the audience concluded that we are not so prepared, especially considering the number of old buildings we have here.

In case you missed the event, you can always come check out the Natural Disasters display with information, photos and specimens related to ice storms, volcanoes and earthquakes. It is located on the main floor of the Schulich Library and will be up until, at least, the end of summer.

Finally, a special thank you to Teaching and Learning Services and Ingrid Birker from the Redpath Museum’s Science Outreach and Public Program for helping to make the evening a success.

Catch the Next Tsunami: Natural Disasters MOOC Starts Tomorrow!

natural_disastersMcGill is about to launch ATOC185x: Natural Disasters, its second MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), tomorrow and you can register here! The course is publicly available to anyone with an internet connection and interest in some of the most pressing environmental questions of our time:

  • What makes certain areas more susceptible to earthquakes, ice storms, hurricanes, tornadoes and volcanoes?
  • What factors are currently increasing the vulnerability of the world’s population to natural disasters?
  • Do natural disasters happen in an isolated manner or can we predict them?
  • How can we work together to better mitigate the impacts of natural disasters in the future?

Following in the footsteps of McGill’s first MOOC – “Food for Thought” that kicked off in January 2014 and saw over 30,000 people register, this second MOOC given by volcano expert John Stix from Earth and Planetary Sciences and ice storm expert Professor John Gyakum from Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences continues to offer education for the masses on important topics that affect all our lives. Want more information on MOOCs? Check out the library’s MOOC subject guide and make sure you catch this next tsunami that is ATOC185x: Natural Disasters!

Image from www.mcgill.ca

A New Addition to the Blogging Team

I am pleased to introduce Mushfique, the Turret’s newest blogger.  He joins some of his fellow students from this semester’s Communication in Engineering course in contributing to the blog about his experiences as a new student at McGill.  Mushfique is an electrical engineering student from Dhaka, Bangladesh who will be staying on in Montreal this summer to take part in McGill’s Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering.  Welcome to the Turret Mushfique!  We look forward to hearing about your experiences as an international student in engineering. Mushfique_photo

A Keyboard Without a Keyboard

keyboardWe all know there are apps for everything.  But now there is an app that can create something out of nothing.  Imagine typing up the next great novel by simply tapping your fingers on a desk.  Florian Kräutli is an industrial designer living in the Netherlands who has designed an app that can allow you to do just that.  His invention can literally turn any surface into a keyboard for your iphone.  For his master’s degree in cognitive computing from the University of London, he created the Vibrative Virtual Keyboard, an invention that is less like transmitting Morse code and more like playing air guitar.  Unlike similar designs that allow users to type onto a laser-projected keyboard, his app requires no additional hardware other than your nearest flat surface.  The app works by taking readings from the iphone’s internal accelerometer which measures vibrations near the iphone.  The user spends some time teaching the iphone what certain taps mean, and the software figures out the rest.  The app is in its early stages and the readings from the iphone’s internal accelerometer are not always spot on.  However, Kräutli claims that “if you made the accelerometer more sensitive you could improve the accuracy quite easily” (The Telegraph).  In the meantime, the app relies on a spell checker to get words right.  Here is the app in action.

How do you get your keyboard without a keyboard installed on your iphone?  The app is still in its proof of concept phase and has yet to be commercialized.  So for now, you’ll need some hardware or at least a pen and paper to get started on that novel!

Image from Goldsmiths, University of London

The Science of Loooooove!

The-Science-of-Love beakerIt’s time to get your groove on!  Get your Mojo working and get in the mood for love!  McGill’s Freaky Friday series is sponsoring a love-in of sorts with their Science of Love Competition just in time for Valentine’s Day!  Open to undergraduate students in science, the six best one-page proposals on the chemistry, biology or physics of all things love-related will be chosen to deliver a 4-slide 4-minute presentation at Redpath Museum for the McLovin’ Science Prize.  The big event will take place on Valentine’s Day (of course!) at 5pm in Redpath Museum and is open to the public.  Proposals are due Jan. 31.  Please click here for further contest details.

In need of some inspiration to get the juices flowing?  Check out the BBC’s Three stages of falling in love page, PositScience’s Your brain in love page, Nature’s blog post reporting on research that confirms the existence of love at first sight and Scientific American’s Illusions of love page.  Or check out McGill’s home grown talent from the Mini-Science lectures on Science, Sex and Gender delivered by some of McGill’s most renowned scientists like Chemistry’s own Dr. Joe Schwarcz and Dr. Ehab Abouheif from the Department of Biology.

What could be more romantic than seducing the apple of your eye by showing him or her what an expert you are in love talk and winning the grand McLovin’ Science Prize?  Go ahead and wear your heart on your sleeve.  Share what you know about the Science of Love!

Image from Arif-nma.com

The Power of the Mind

EEG headset

Just how far are we away from the mind-powered car? These were my thoughts when I read an article in Prism about Japanese researchers at Toyota who were developing a headset device for wheelchair users that would allow them to control their wheelchairs by simply thinking about where they wanted to go. Toyota’s “Brain Machine Interface” technology uses electroencephalography (EEG) data to enable people with physical disabilities to drive, steer and stop their wheelchairs using the power of the mind. The technology takes some training in order to coordinate the user’s thought patterns and the system’s responses. Researchers claim that the system can “adapt to a particular user’s thought patterns to improve accuracy to as high as 95%… Training on the system for 3 hours a day for a week is enough to have it tuned in to a user’s motor-control thought patterns” (PC World). The applications of such a revolutionary technology seem boundless! Imagine you could just think up what you wanted to have for dinner, mentally going through the various tasks while a robot actually went about preparing the meal. You might not even have to lift a finger in order to sit down to a four-course meal! Even though Japanese researchers are working on applications of this technology for use in controlling robots, we’re not quite there yet.

But now an electronics company called Emotiv has partnered with Hyundai in Australia to market a brain-powered car which uses similar EEG technology to control a vehicle via the mind and researchers in Germany are testing similar technology called BrainDriver that can actually drive a car. At this point, the only technology that has been commercialized is limited to making sure that drivers stay alert as inattentiveness on the road accounts for nearly 50% of fatal vehicle accidents in Australia (Drive.com). The Attention Powered Car will slow down and come to a stop if the driver becomes fatigued. Here it is in action. In terms of implications for road safety, Australians are already headed in the right direction!

This brings me back to my initial question: just how far are we away from a vehicle that not only stops when a driver is fatigued but is actually controlled by the impulses of the brain rather than the touch of the hand? If the work that researchers in Germany, Australia and Japan are doing is any indication, we’ll soon be driving into the future!

Image from Physiological Computing.net

Tablet for the Masses

aakash

A tablet, touted as the world’s cheapest, designed and developed by a Canadian-run company with operations in Montreal?  Who knew?  Now priced at around $40, the product is called the Aakash and it’s heading into version 3.0.   Datawind, the company that produces it, has ambitions to bring the price down even further to around $25.  Their company slogan is: “Bridging the digital divide” and now that they have the largest market share of tablets in India, the world’s second most populous nation, they may just be living up to it.  In order to bring low-cost internet to developing markets, Datawind has patented a process that uses a proxy server between a portable device and an internet service provider’s server to reduce the volume of data that get transmitted over the web.  This process shortens the time users wait to view a webpage, which is especially useful in developing countries where internet access is often slow and expensive.

I had a chance to speak with Derek Kopke, a McGill alumni (B. Ed. 1992) who is Datawind’s Executive Vice President of International Business Development.  He explained that the Aakash’s popularity took off from the time the company won an Indian government bid in 2010 against 17 competitors to produce a tablet for use in India’ schools that would be subsidized for students.  Ever since the Aakash received endorsement by the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, it’s been a challenge to keep up with demand.

Datawind now has its headquarters in London, England and offices in India but maintains a Research and Development office and a touch screen lab here in Montreal.  In an interview given to the Montreal Gazette, Datawind’s Chief Technical Officer Raja Tuli states that the company finds Montreal to be a great location because it possesses “engineering graduates with impressive skills and he’s not sure he would be able to find the same level of expertise in another city.”

I was curious to know what kind of skills his company looks for in new employees.  Kopke said that they hire for very specific needs, but he suggests that new engineering graduates gain a basic understanding of how to work with open source software.   He sees future growth to be in low-cost and free applications and hardware.   For those of you in Computer Science, you may be interested in taking COMP 529: Software Architecture.  Last year’s syllabus describes the final project where students learn how to reverse engineer a large open source system.  The course will be offered again this winter.

I asked Derek if we can expect to see the Aakash on McGill campus anytime soon.  He said Datawind is planning to market their product in North America within the next couple of months.  And with that, Derek had to get back to work bringing his tablet to the masses.

Image from Smart Planet

Technical Paper Workshop

engineering

Are you a student in CIVE 432, CHEE 360, CHEE 462 or any other course in Engineering where you are writing a technical paper?  If so, please join us for a hands-on workshop on Researching and Citing for Your Technical Paper!  The sessions will be held on Mon. Sept. 16 from 2:30-4pm and Tues. Sept. 17 from 1-2:30pm in Room 313 of Schulich Library.  The same workshop will be offered on both dates.  You will learn how to:

  • Build an effective search strategy
  • Find journal articles and other sources (such as standards) appropriate for your research topic
  • Use EndNote to quickly cite your sources and automatically create the bibliography for your paper
  • Read published articles in half the time

If you can’t make the workshop, here are some of the sources we will be exploring for finding material on your research topic: Technical Report Archive and Image Library (TRAIL), ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, and McGill Library’s subject guide to standards.

If you have any questions about this workshop or about writing and citing for your technical paper, please contact tara.mawhinney@mcgill.ca or giovanna.badia@mcgill.ca

We hope to see you there!

Image from Microsoft Images

Back to School!

home-f2013-workshop_0

As the new school year begins, hope you have your pencils sharpened and are ready to learn all about the library’s resources and services!  (If you don’t have any pencils, don’t worry we have some spares.)  With workshops and tours happening almost every day, take advantage of your time now by learning about the library so you can save time later.  Everyone is welcome: new students, returning students, undergraduates, graduate students, even parents!   There are two different activities scheduled at Schulich Library.   At Library Quick Start 101, you will learn how to:

  • Navigate the library website
  • Find books, course materials, and other useful resources
  • Get help from a librarian

At the Welcome Tour, you will discover your home away from home!  We’ll show you where to:

  • Find your secret study space
  • Scan, print, and copy
  • Check out a book

For the schedule of orientation activities taking place at Schulich Library, please go here.

On behalf of the Schulich Library staff, we look forward to meeting you or welcoming you back soon!