Saturday, June 20, 2009

Journey a triumph of human spirit

On the morning of March 3 in Lahore, the world of cricket was shaken to the core. The horrific attack on the Sri Lankan team bus, as it pulled into the Gadaffi Stadium ahead of the third day of the second Test against Pakistan, was the moment a thousand preconceptions were destroyed. Cricket's presumptions to diplomatic immunity had been mocked by the forces of evil, and as Pakistan spiralled into sporting exile and Sri Lanka's traumatised players rushed home to the bosom of their families, the obvious reaction was to wonder "what now?" for the great game.

Three and a half months later, and sport's great gift for reinvention has delivered a contest that flicks two fingers at the perpetrators of the Lahore atrocity, and proves that - without wishing to overload the sentiment - the human spirit cannot be crushed by cold calculation. Pakistan and Sri Lanka will take center stage at Lord's on Sunday for the final of the most joyful international tournament the game has arranged in years. Twenty20 may be cricket for hedonists, but after everything these two teams and their respective nations have been through of late, the need to lay on a party suddenly feels like the only serious obligation.

"It is a fitting reward for the courage of the team in the way they have played the tournament," said Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka's statesmanlike captain. "All the players have got through Lahore, but what it brought home to us is that we are just the same as everyone else. Sometimes it is nice to be reminded of your mortality, especially when the press and everyone else blows you up to be more than that in this sporting culture. But we've shown no fear and we've gone to play cricket, and it's a fitting reward for that attitude."

If Sri Lanka enter the final as favourites, it is only by dint of their exceptional consistency throughout the tournament. Unlike South Africa, the one-dimensional steamrollers who were spectacularly upstaged by the mercurial Pakistanis at Trent Bridge, Sri Lanka's unbeaten run owes itself, if you like, to a Barcelona-style carousel system, in which the identity of the day's gamebreaker is impossible to call until the damage has already been done. One day, Ajantha Mendis will sweep through the midfield, the next it's Lasith Malinga, while Muttiah Muralitharan's enduring class allows no liberties to be taken against his four overs. And then, every once in a while, up will pop a totally random destroyer, such as Angelo Mathews, the three-wicket wrecking ball against West Indies on Friday.

And yet, Pakistan have developed some serious momentum in the latter stages of the tournament. Their captain, Younis Khan, laughed in the face of their group-stage trouncing against England, dismissing Twenty20 cricket as "fun", and later likened it to WWF wrestling as well. His comments caused consternation at the time, particularly for the thousands of passionate Pakistan fans whose presence and exuberance at all matches have been among the highlights of the competition. But internally, his words had a soothing effect on a side that had lacked meaningful match practice since a low-key one-day series in UAE. As soon as they hit their stride with a walloping of New Zealand at Lord's, Younis' impassioned defence of his star bowler, Umar Gul, in the face of ball-tampering insinuations, left no-one in any doubt as to the galvanised nature of their campaign.

Gul's peerless death bowling remains one reason why Pakistan have the potential to go one step better than in 2007, when Misbah-ul-Haq's traumatic aberration delivered India a five-run victory and instigated a Twenty20 revolution. Shahid Afridi's big-game mentality and bamboozling legspin is another. Set against their wiles is the sensational form and innovative eye of Tillakaratne Dilshan, who produced his most orthodox innings of the tournament on Friday and still came within ten yards of posting the second century in Twenty20 international history.

But whatever happens, it's all about to come down to 40 overs of fiesta cricket in front of a packed house at Lord's, and on this occasion, the old adage "to the victors, the spoils" somehow doesn't seem fitting. Sunday's final is not merely a celebration of cricket, it is a celebration of life. And that's a very serious reason to abandon any lingering hang-ups about the place of 20-over cricket in the grander scheme of the game, and simply get on with the important business of letting the hair down. Joie de vivre has carried these two teams into the final, and it will sustain them in victory or defeat.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

When the country is in winning habit, it continues in all aspects

Despites the fact that I am supposed to complete a final year project, write a theses, study for the two hardest subjects ever learned in the university life, I thought to put an article in my blog regarding the knocking out Australia from the T20 world cup yesterday at the Trent Bridge, Nottingham in England. Australia was coming to the match after being hammered by West Indies and they should won the match against Sri Lanka yesterday in order to enter the second round of the tournament and it should be a huge win because the net run rate of Ausies was far behind the 0. Actually it was less than -2. But they started to struggle starting with the first over. Sangakkara won the toss and elected to bowl first with the uncommon opening bowling pair, Anjalo Mathews and Sanath Jayasuriya. Mathews struck in the first over and then the Ausies showed some resistance. But then Ajantha Mendis was called to the action and Ausies was no sign of reading the balls of Ajantha. Certainly, the first ball of Ajantha was a wicket but it was not given but he sent the great Ponting to the dug out in the last ball of his first over. Then the Austalians collapse began and Ajantha and Malinga with his amazing youker shared 6 wickets. However the Ausies were able to score 159 because the Mitchel Jonson scored quick 28 and the finally the score card was 159 for 9 wickets.

When the Sri Lankans started batting, Sanath went early for 2 because he was caught amazingly by Warner at the boundary line. Then the Dilshan and Sangakkara thrashed the Ausies bowlers and Dilshan went for 53 after cleaned bowled by Clerk.Mahela jayawardana and Chamara silva were not able to stay in the wicket for long time because both were 11 and 9 when they were out. Then the Mubarak joined with the Sangakkara and the required run rate was more than 9 but both players were calm and cool. But Mubarak plays the role what he supposed to do and he hit an impressive flat six over midwicket for Bret lee. In that moment all are scolding to Mubarak because he wated first 3 balls he faced without single run and the 4th ball for 2. The six came in the 5th ball. The heat was up in the 18 th over but Sanga struck a boundary and it was 15 for 12 balls at the end of the 18th over. Then the things began to change because Mubarak went again over midwicket for a massive six for Bret lee and it was a violent six which went into the crowd. And again another hard hit went for a boundary from Mubarak's bat and at the end of the 19th over, 1 required from six balls. The first ball of the last over was a wide and the Australia went for the dug out to pack their bags to go back to Australia.

It was the first time after 17 years that the Australia is knocked out from a tournament from the first round and that was the first match which led by Kumar Sangakkara as the captain. Sanga became the man of the match and the favourites of this death match group went to their country while the non-favourites heading to the second round.

Sensors and sensitivity

Data collection: Mobile phones provide new ways to gather information, both manually and automatically, over wide areas

IF YOUR mobile phone could talk, it could reveal a great deal. Obviously it would know many of your innermost secrets, being privy to your calls and text messages, and possibly your e-mail and diary, too. It also knows where you have been, how you get to work, where you like to go for lunch, what time you got home, and where you like to go at the weekend. Now imagine being able to aggregate this sort of information from large numbers of phones. It would be possible to determine and analyse how people move around cities, how social groups interact, how quickly traffic is moving and even how diseases might spread. The world’s 4 billion mobile phones could be turned into sensors on a global data-collection network.

They could also be used to gather data in more direct ways. Sensors inside phones, or attached to them, could gather information about temperature, humidity, noise level and so on. More straightforwardly, people can send information from their phones, by voice or text message, to a central repository. This can be a useful way to gather data quickly during a disaster-relief operation, for example, or when tracking the outbreak of a disease. Engineers, biologists, sociologists and aid-workers are now building systems that use handsets to sense, monitor and even predict population movements, environmental hazards and public-health threats.

A good example is InSTEDD (Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters), a non-profit group based in California, which promotes the use of mobile phones to improve developing countries’ ability to respond to disasters. Launched with seed money from Google’s philanthropic arm and the Rockefeller Foundation in late 2007, it has just released a suite of open-source software to share, aggregate and analyse data from mobile phones. Its first test-bed is Cambodia, where health-workers can send text messages, containing observations and diagnoses, to a central number.

The sender’s location is determined for each of the messages, which pop up as conversation threads on an interactive map that can be called up on the web. Clicking on this map allows text messages to be sent back to users in the field from the control centre. InSTEDD says this service, called GeoChat, enables “geospatial ground-truthing, as your mobile team works to confirm, refute, or update data”.

Automating the reporting of titbits from remote clinics has already had a profound impact, says Eric Rasmussen, InSTEDD’s chief executive. Instead of recording information on scraps of paper, which would sometimes take days to reach higher-ups and trigger an alarm, the cycle-time has been reduced to days or even hours. GeoChat has been officially adopted by the six countries which share a border in the Mekong Basin, including Myanmar and Yunnan province in China, establishing a flow of real-time disease data from villages in the region to each country’s health ministry. Authorities can then choose to share this information with international bodies such as America’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organisation. The aim is to enable a quick response to any outbreak of avian flu, cholera, malaria or dengue fever. InSTEDD is helping aid organisations and government agencies deploy its free tools in other countries, including Bangladesh, Peru and Tanzania.

An alternative approach is to gather information passively from mobile phones, without any user intervention. Alex Pentland, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, dreams of “X-raying entire organisations, cities and countries” by collecting data in two ways. First, some handsets can capture information about individuals, such as their activity levels or even their gait, using built-in motion sensors. (Modern handsets use these sensors to work out whether to display information in landscape or portrait format.) Second, information from mobile-network operators, which keep track of handsets in order to pass them smoothly from one network cell to another, can provide a high-level view of how people move around. Dr Pentland’s algorithms can even cluster information from thousands of phones to divide people into “tribes” of like-minded folk. He calls this “reality mining”.

Following the crowd

Sense Networks, a company co-founded by Dr Pentland, wants to use the predictions derived from tracking mobile phones not only for commercial purposes—to produce real-time maps showing the most popular nightlife venues in a particular city, for example—but also for the public good. The company’s charitable foundation is working with Vodafone, a big mobile operator, the CDC and other collaborators to build an early-warning system for modelling and predicting the spread of tuberculosis in South Africa.

As a first step, Sense plans to collect positional information from a control group of infected patients being treated at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg who would have to volunteer to participate in the scheme. Dr Pentland and his colleagues will then be able to determine which neighbourhoods these patients frequent, and their commuting patterns between them. They hope this will then enable them to work out the characteristics of typical TB patients, so that they can then spot potentially infected people in the wider population. How public-health officials will use this information has yet to be decided: people who are thought to be infected could be contacted by text message and asked to visit a doctor, for example.

Path Intelligence, a British firm, is applying a similar approach to answer more commercial questions. Its FootPath system aggregates and analyses signals picked up from mobile phones as people move through a particular area. The results can be used by planners to optimise the flow of pedestrians through railway stations and airports or to guide the layout of shopping centres. It can determine, for example, whether customers who visit a given shop also visit a rival shop. The same passive method can be used to figure out where best to locate emergency exits, and even to locate clusters of survivors after a disaster.

But some people find the idea of having their movements tracked in this way unsettling, even when the data are anonymised and aggregated. And knowing someone’s position is not enough on its own to determine whether they carry a disease or would be interested in going to a particular nightclub. So the best approach may be to combine voluntary (but potentially unreliable) contributions that are submitted manually with automated data capture that does not require user intervention, but may not capture the whole picture. A good example is the study of well-water contamination in Bangladesh conducted by Andrew Gelman, a statistician at Columbia University. His project combined readings from remote water-sensors with queries and data which villagers keyed into their mobile phones.

On a grander scale, InSTEDD’s Dr Rasmussen is trying to stitch together a global network, tentatively dubbed Archangel, to combine all manner of data sources, from satellite imagery and seismic sensors to field-workers texting from refugee camps. A first glimpse of what such a network would look like is, an experimental web-service launched in 2007 by Usman Haque, an architect based in London. He aims to patch together sensors and people into a “conversant ecosystem” of devices, buildings and environments.

Some computer scientists look forward to the day when mobile phones and sensors can provide a central nervous system for the entire planet. An abundance of sensors, they believe, will lead to two things. First, the amount of data will increase, allowing scientists to build more realistic models. Alessandro Vespignani of Indiana University compares the current state of affairs to weather forecasting a century ago, before satellites had provided meteorologists with the data to build and optimise mathematical models. When it comes to problems such as tracking and predicting the spread of diseases and other environmental hazards, he argues, scientists can never get enough data.

The human touch

Second, once people are able to contribute data to research projects from their mobile phones, it could provide an ideal way to broaden public involvement in scientific activities. This would be the next logical step after the popularity of web-based participation in scientific research, from folding proteins to categorising photographs of galaxies. Eric Paulos, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, predicts the rise of “citizen scientists” able to measure and sample their surroundings wherever they go. When people can report mundane variables such as the level of traffic noise in their street or the degree of air pollution at the bus stop, he argues, their outlook on science changes. “People develop a relationship with and a sense of ownership over the data,” he says. He foresees amateur experts being driven by a new sense of volunteerism, the 21st-century equivalent of cleaning up the neighbourhood park. Nokia has even designed a prototype handset with environmental sensors (see article).

Dr Paulos has already equipped street sweepers in San Francisco and taxis in Accra, the capital of Ghana, with sensors to measure pollution levels, which he then used to create a map of each city’s environmental landscape. He plans to do the same with cyclists in Pittsburgh. Graduate students in his newly created Living Environments Lab have loaded households with sensors to sample tap water and indoor-air quality. Results are uploaded to a website where participants can compare them with other people’s contributions.

The technology is probably the easy part, however. For global networks of mobile sensors to provide useful insights, technology firms, governments, aid organisations and individuals will have to find ways to address concerns over privacy, accuracy, ownership and sovereignty. Only if they do so will it be possible to tap the gold mine of information inside the world’s billions of mobile phones.