Research Picks – August 2017

Clearing the way

Wax deposited in well bores and pipelines is a major problem for the oil industry, resulting in waste material, blockages and overall loss of production. A team in India has now developed a novel solvent system that can quickly dissolve such wax deposits and get the oil moving freely again. Their final formulation was based on tests with 12 different solvents and three commercial dispersants. The optimal mixture could dissolve wax to between 72 and 83% of initial mass within three to six hours at ambient temperature, the team reports. This implies enormous potential for recovering solidified wax and opening up pipelines.

Banerjee, S., Kumar, S., Mandal, A. and Naiya, T.K. (2017) ‘Design of novel chemical solvent for treatment of waxy crude‘, Int. J. Oil, Gas and Coal Technology, Vol. 15, No. 4, pp.363-379.

Securing the IoT

The internet of things (IoT) is a far more complicated technological beast than the internet itself as it carries within it so many disparate devices, sensors and other technology that are not usually considered to exist within the world of computers. Environmental monitors, remote-controlled thermostats and windows, connected household goods such as refrigerators and washing machines and a whole range of industrial devices are but a fraction of the total IoT. As such there are many vulnerabilities in such an electronic ecosystem where malicious software might intrude and thence break through into other more critical systems higher up the system and compromise data and infrastructure. Researchers in China have now proposed a new trusted architecture that might preclude entry by many forms of malware attack and so make the IoT more secure at the fundamental level.

Cong, P., Ning, Z., Xue, F., Liu, H., Xu, K. and Li, H. (2017) ‘Trusted connection architecture of Internet of Things oriented to perception layer‘, Int. J. Wireless and Mobile Computing, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp.224-231.

Bioremediation of nitrate

The presence of nitrate in waste water and water resources is one of the most pressing pollution problems of the modern era. Much of the polluting nitrate is from agricultural fertilisers and can lead to toxic algal blooms as well as contaminating drinking water. Various techniques are available for removing nitrate from water including ion exchange, biological denitrification, chemical denitrification, catalytic denitrification, reverse osmosis and electrodialysis. Now, a team in India have demonstrated that bioremediation using a fluidised bed biofilm reactor (FBBR) could be the most effective method of denitrification and the technology should be adopted where severe nitrate ingress into waterways and aquifers is a significant problem because of intensive agricultural practices.

Burghate, S. and Ingole, N. (2017) ‘Bio-removal of nitrate from wastewater by FBBR‘, Int. J. Environment and Waste Management, Vol. 19, No. 4, pp.281-296.

Management agency and ventriloquism

Without communication there is no organization. However, our lives, both personal and in business are guided and nudged by dominant narratives that we do not necessarily see. Researchers in Denmark writing in the European Journal of Cross-Cultural Competence and Management hope to remedy that situation and render the invisible visible and to reveal the counter-narratives that exist in society.

Lundholt, M.W. (2017) ‘Fabric of counter-narratives: agency and ventriloquism‘, European J. CrossCultural Competence and Management, Vol. 4, Nos. 3/4, pp.316-325.

Anonymity, scoundrels, and free speech

Christoph Bezemek of the Institute of Public Law and Political Science, at the University of Graz, Austria, tells a tale of his school history teacher who purported that only “scoundrels” sent letters to a newspaper anonymously. His teacher’s argument being that public discourse as a democratic society’s bonding agent and so those who wish their voice to be heard should not hide behind a veil of anonymity. And yet, in a free society, surely one should have the right to a voice whether anonymous or not, after all throughout history often the messenger was at the lethal end of the phrase: the pen is mightier than the sword.

In the modern world, where everyone is a messenger thanks to online social networking and social media, there seems an even greater need to protect the right of an individual to remain anonymous in public discourse if they chose to do so and perhaps even to have the prerogative to encrypt their message and so limit its audience. This does not necessarily conflict with the notion of civic courage,

Being anonymous is often the only way to honourably, rather than perniciously, spread an opinion especially when faced with fraudulent scoundrels who hold power. There is a long tradition of anonymous pamphleteering that continues onto today’s digital age. At least in democratic nations, it is established sufficiently that the principle of anonymous free speech lies at the very core of that democracy. Everyone should have the right to free speech and to whether or not they make their name public in their declarations. Whether they are anonymous or not we all have the right to listen or to ignore them.

As governments start to ban encryption technology and virtual private networks (VPNs) or request technology companies to grant them “backdoor access” into computer systems, we must be vigilant that free speech may still be exercised, whether openly or anonymously; even if by scoundrels.

Bezemek, C. (2017) ‘Behind a veil of obscurity – anonymity, encryption, free speech and privacy‘, Int. J. Technology Policy and Law, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp.3-15.

Always take the weather with you

The advent of mobile communications devices and in particular the internet-connected smart phone and tablet means that users can have access to almost any information they desire with the tap or swipe of a screen. That evergreen conversational topic, the weather forecast, is perhaps one of the most universally accessed pieces of information that people access. Now, writing in the International Journal of Social and Humanistic Computing, a research team from Southern Cross University, Gold Coast Campus, Australia, explain how they have developed a predictive model of user acceptance and the value of weather software applications, so-called “apps”. Their research could help future research into this burgeoning area of human activity as well as offering the developers of such apps insights into user needs and other information.

Until the advent of the Internet and more specifically the public World Wide Web, most people got their weather forecast from their daily print newspaper, the broadcast media (radio and television) or simply by looking out of their window. Information and communications technology have advanced considerably in the last two decades and even more so in the last ten years. Now, almost everyone has in their pocket a networked computer more powerful than the room-sized machines of the mid -twentieth century that took astronauts to the Moon and ran the earliest incarnation of the internet itself.

These devices are ubiquitous and provide near instantaneous access to almost any information a user might want via inbuilt web browsers, email clients and the aforementioned apps. Almost every media organization offers a weather app tied to its broadcast channels, website and in increasingly rare instances, its printed output. For a weather app to be accepted it has to be trusted, it has to work seamlessly and it has to be easy to use.

Bryant, Wilde and Smart have carried out quantitative social research via survey to find out how users engage with such weather apps and what they perceive as the pros and cons, and the essential qualities of a weather app. They have correlated the data with specific apps. Primarily, users are only interested in using simple, easy to install weather apps. But, they must also trust the app, an app that forecasts sunny days when it’s raining will be quickly uninstalled and replaced by a more trustworthy app. The data suggests that females are more likely to use an Apple iPhone and its preinstalled weather app than to use another brand of phone, such as an Android phone, and seek out a third-party app. Trustworthiness also applies in the context of personal data and privacy in that an app needs to know the user’s location to offer a useful forecast for that place. Moreover, as with many other apps, users must trust that a specific piece of software with access to one’s phone data and accounts does not compromise one’s privacy.

Bryant, M.J., Wilde, S.J. and Smart, W.J. (2017) ‘Taking the weather with you: user acceptance, trust and value of weather apps on smartphones’, Int. J. Social and Humanistic Computing, Vol. 2, Nos. 3/4, pp.247–260.