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.

Research Picks Extra – July 2017

Smoke and fires

New research into smoke and fire detection published this month in the International Journal of Signal and Imaging Systems Engineering suggests that a fire can be detected earlier and with fewer false alarms if the various detection technologies utilize image processing as well as sensor technology. Malik Mohamed Umar and colleagues at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam explain that smoke is a good indicator of conditions in a building or other environment that might ultimately develop into a potentially lethal fire. As such smoke detectors are key to warning occupants of a fire having started. There are several devices that can detect smoke for disaster prevention. However, the team suggests that image processing is far more effective especially in terms of avoid false alarms triggered by bathroom steam, cigarette smoke, burnt toast or other common false alarms.

Malik, M., De Silva, L.C., Saifullah Abu Bakar, M. and Iskandar Petra, M. (2017) ‘State of the art of smoke and fire detection using image processing‘, Int. J. Signal and Imaging Systems Engineering, Vol. 10, Nos. 1/2, pp.22-30.

Supercritical drying of carbon dioxide

As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise through human activities, specifically the burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – it is unlikely that the future climate will be as comfortable as it is today. As such, there are many efforts to find alternative energy sources that are close to carbon neutral, wind, solar, tidal, to name a few. However, there is also a need to remediate the damage already done as we attempt to head towards a sustainable future. Technologies that extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere would have to be carried out on a geological scale and would only be truly beneficial if the energy and resources they needed were themselves carbon neutral. Steps towards such a system is being developed by researchers from China and the US. They are developing an aerogel sorbent, amine hybrid silica aerogel, that can absorb the greenhouse gas. Moreover, the material is more effective with higher humidity.

Kong, Y., Shen, X., Cui, S. and Fan, M. (2017) ‘Supercritical drying: a promising technique on synthesis of sorbent for CO2 capture‘, Int. J. Global Warming, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp.228-241.

Recycling rechargeable batteries

Rechargeable lithium batteries have a limited lifespan as drivers of electric vehicles and anyone who uses a modern portable electronic device knows only too well. Moreover, the cobalt and lithium metals, which are essential components of these batteries, need to be reclaimed from expired batteries. Researchers in Malaysia have taken steps towards and efficient and effective way to retrieve the cobalt from such batteries. Once processed to calcinate the material and remove any organic compounds, the team was able to extra 90-99% of the cobalt from a used battery using their high-temperature technique. Of course, such recycling must itself be carried out using sustainable energy and resources otherwise some of the benefit will be negated.

Rahman, A. and Afroz, R. (2017) ‘Lithium battery recycling management and policy‘, Int. J. Energy Technology and Policy, Vol. 13, No. 3, pp.278-291.

The entropy of walking

Human gait is a fascinating area of biometrics and pedestrian dynamics. Individuals can be recognized from the way they walk even if we cannot see their face while understanding the movements of a crowd or group of people as they walk can tell us a lot about social activity. Researchers in Portugal are taking a thermodynamic approach to understanding human gait in terms of the disorder, or entropy, that arises as a crowd moves around. Self-selected gait speed, and gait transitions from walking to running, can be linked to, and understood based on the quantification of entropy generation, Antonio Miguel of the University of Evora, Portugal reports. Moreover, he has demonstrated through this analytical approach that there exist repulsive forces between pedestrians that ensure interpersonal distances are moderated by the energy of the crowd and dissipation of energy.

Miguel, A.F. (2017) ‘Entropy generation: a path for understanding human gait patterns and crowd dynamics‘, Int. J. Exergy, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp.18-30.

Research Picks – July 2017

Good to go

Online communities, virtual worlds, cyberspace, the concepts are diffuse but the meaning is almost common knowledge. Now that almost everyone has a powerful computer in their pocket or purse and a penchant for playing games, the notion of the gamification of marketing has come to the fore in recent years. One of the more prominent fads in this area was the digital game Pokémon Go. The game is essentially an augmented reality version of the Pokémon video game and card-trading activity popular in the late 1990s and onwards. Researchers at the Lebanese American University, in Beirut, have carried out an exploratory, qualitative study of the impact of gamification, with Pokémon Go, as a particular focus. The trust built between members of such gaming communities could, the team suggests, have an enormous impact on product and brand perception and thus marketing and sales of products associated with a given game and franchised products aligned with that brand. The exploratory work shows, as one might expect, that marketers could utilize these communities and virtual venues in order to indirectly market their products and shape to their advantage consumer purchase intentions.

Ramadan, Z.B. and Farah, M.F. (2017) ‘The Pokémonisation of the first moment of truth’, Int. J. Web-Based Communities, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp.262–277.


Tweeting about security

When a major security problem arises in the world of information and communications technology, such as the Heartbleed bug in the open SSL, security layer for web servers, many users turn to social media to find out what impact it may have on their privacy and security. A UK study, which takes the Heartbleed debacle as a case study, points to the microblogging platform Twitter as being one of the first ports of call for many users in the immediate aftermath of the revelations about this problem. Heartbleed essentially broke the security that protects data transmitted between server and client and vice versa and so could allow passwords and other sensitive data to be stolen via compromised computers. Fundamentally it seems, legal, financial, entrepreneurial, media, and IT professionals were the first to participate in Heartbleed discussion on Twitter. The research highlights the fact that there is no voice of authority when it comes to the field of cybersecurity users of all shades essentially fending for themselves and finding their own way through the data fog.

Jeske, D., McNeill, A.R., Coventry, L. and Briggs, P. (2017) ‘Security information sharing via Twitter: ‘heartbleed’ as a case study’, Int. J. Web-Based Communities, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp.172–192.


Energetic clouds

Mobile computing requires powerful platforms for the massive amounts of data that are shuttled to and from consumers and between servers. Cloud computing has facilitated many of the applications we all rely on in this environment, reducing overheads on individual end-user gadgets and allowing server load to be distributed across different setups rather than a single provider having to offer full power to all users simultaneously. However, mobile cloud computing comes with security risks and an energy footprint. Now, a team in China has developed a lightweight mobile storage platform, that uses cloud storage technology and has several innovative mechanisms that offer better file query experience, enhanced data security, and optimized energy efficiency. The team’s extensive experiments on “QoS” (quality of service) performance as well as energy efficiency prove it offers a viable tradeoff between performance and energy consumption compared to many other approaches.

Xiao, P., Chen, R. and Qu, X. (2017) ‘Improving security and energy-efficiency for cloud-based storage platforms in mobile computing environments’, Int. J. Information and Communication Technology, Vol. 10, No. 4, pp.468–481.


Infrared detection

Pyroelectric infrared radiation sensors are passive sensors, they detect infrared radiation, heat, from objects in their vicinity. They are commonly used in intruder detection systems for burglar alarms. Now, a team from China hopes to extend the use of these passive devices so that the signals from them can be used to discern multiple moving people in an environment. They explain that a clever piece of mathematics, decomposition of wavelet packets with multi-resolution allows them to extract energy variations and reconstruct the signals based on feature vectors to represent various characteristics of different moving human targets. Such a system would be useful in various security settings and perhaps in disaster management, and other applications.

Zhao, N., Li, F., Liu, X. and Li, Y. (2017) ‘Signal processing of pyroelectric infrared sensor for classification of multiple moving human targets’, Int. J. Information and Communication Technology, Vol. 10, No. 4, pp.419–436.