Links: March 06

Patrio Posts about links are the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Before we get underway, a status update:

The number of lines of code I've written in the last 26 days (since I stopped going to work) is 0, not counting some late night shenanigans where I thought typing some Pandas code into a terminal was going to solve my issues (it didn't).

On the plus side, I've devoured BoJack, and started on Letterkenny. So, there's some progress. Also I finally managed to finish off the first draft of my PGDip report, typeset it in beautiful LaTeX (<3 <3 <3), and send it in. So hopefully I can get around to some real work from now on... *proceeds to write blog post instead*

Sand mining: the global environmental crisis you've probably never heard of

tl;dr: Sand mining sucks, and will destroy ecosystems and infrastructure.

Cities are expanding at a pace and on a scale far greater than at any time in human history. The number of people living in urban areas has more than quadrupled since 1950, to about 4 billion today.

In the past few years, China has used more cement than the US used in the entire 20th century. Last year alone, the nation used enough construction sand to cover the entire state of New York an inch deep.

*looks wearily over Galle Face at the new port city coming up*

Worldwide, thousands of ships vacuum up millions of tonnes from the seabed each year, tearing up habitats and muddying waters with sand plumes that can affect aquatic life far from the original site.

The most dramatic impact of ocean sand mining is surely felt in Indonesia, where sand miners have completely erased at least two dozen islands since 2005.

Lots to learn and think about, especially with our recent issues with both sand mining (leading to salinisation of rivers), and the recent controversy (especially in Divulapitiya in the Gampaha district) regarding soil being illegally mined.

Ann Arbor Is Fighting Traffic With Software - and Winning

Ann Arbor's adaptive traffic signal control system has been playing god for more than a decade, but fiddling engineers continue to tweak its inputs and algorithms. Now it reduces weekday travel times on affected corridors by 12 percent, and weekend travel time by 21 percent. A trip along one busy corridor that took under three minutes just 15 percent of the time in 2005 now comes in under that mark 70 percent of the time. That’s enough to convince Ann Arbor’s traffic engineers, who just announced they'll extend this system to all its downtown traffic lights and its most trafficked corridors.

Music to the ears of Colombo commuters stuck in traffic.

Of course, all this may prove little more than a band-aid. Geometry says there are only so many ways to fit a bunch of vehicles on to streets. The best way to beat traffic is to not be part of traffic at all. It's by moving people onto transit (a regional commuter rail plan is hogtied by funding woes and general intransigence), or carpools, or making it easier to walk and bicycle. In the meantime, though, computers are pretty cool.

In search of Forrest Fenn's treasure

Vox has this wonderful long form piece with video, maps and gorgeous photography. Loved it.

We came here to find a chest filled with $2 million worth of treasure, hidden by an eccentric, wealthy 80-year-old man.

There's poetry with clues, lots of maps and riddles. It's like a Wes Anderson movie.

I am reminded of a telephone conversation we’d had earlier with Scott King, a treasure hunter who failed in his own search. He’d warned us to be wary of confirmation bias - interpreting new evidence as validation of one's preexisting beliefs.

The next day, we turn to science. [...] Using geographic data from the clues (e.g., between 5,000 and 10,200 feet; near a water source; near pine trees), they'd narrowed down the original search area from 27,801,289 acres to 591,636 acres — a 98 percent reduction in size. From there, they’d homed in specifically on the Yellowstone National Park area, shrinking the search area to a mere 0.084% of the original.

Using modern GIS tools for treasure hunting... how abou dah?

From this Sunday's Sunday Times (yes, I read the paper whenever I can), two interesting stories:

A tale of the Kandyan royal architect and court intrigue

The title 'Mulachari' was given to an artificer who was an expert in at least five arts and crafts. As John D'Oyly had observed, there were seven artificers under one Mulachari and it was a coveted position

Devendra Mulachari is also credited for some of the iconic historic monuments of the Kandyan Kingdom including the Pattirippuwa or Octagon of the Dalada Maligawa, Cloud Wall (walakulubemma) and the Kandy lake.

According to Lawrie's Gazetteer, Devendra Mulachari's first architectural work was the construction of the Bana Maduwa in Middeniya. The place which was used as a meeting place for official and unofficial purposes and also as a preaching hall had been demolished around 2004 as Mr. Waidyasekera notes and was replaced by a Samurdhi meeting place today.


'Who are we?'

Who are Sri Lankans? From where have we come? Are the major ethnic groups and also the Veddahs closely-linked or disparately different? The indisputable findings based on the 'Eve Gene' or Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) should lead to stronger bonds among the major ethnic groups, making the call 'We are Sri Lankans' louder and clearer.

The evidence that all Sri Lankan ethnic groups are closely interrelated genetically has been piling up for some time, and this is even stronger evidence of that being the case.

There is a considerable genetic admixture in contemporary ethnic groups in Sri Lanka - the Sinhalese are closely related to the Sri Lankan Tamils. [...] The Muslims and the Malays are also closely related to each other.

West Eurasian haplogroups among the Sinhalese, the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Veddahs suggest early migration of women carrying these haplogroups into the country. [...] Predominance of Indian mtDNA haplogroups among Muslims and Malays support the notion of largely male migration and marriage to local women.

The study size is not huge (about 200 DNA samples in total), and more sequencing of the mtDNA molecule is to be done for even better understanding, but this is pretty sweet. Hopefully the findings make a splash among the general public and we can move over the bickering and start to move forward as a unified nation.

Two pretty great tools for dataviz, and stats respectively.

Firstly, the Pixel Map Generator, which lets you paint map segments and draw all sorts of symbols on it. Great tool for generating maps, and they have a district map of Sri Lanka as well.

Sri Lanka on Pixel Map Generator

Secondly, Seeing Theory, a site that uses D3js visualisations to explain statistics in an easier to understand way to a wider range of students. As someone who's always had trouble with the subject, I'm grateful.

That's it for now. More, soon. Hopefully more substantive. Or rant-ive. IDK.

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