Understanding the Richter Scale

Unfortunately, the past few weeks have seen 2 devastating earthquakes hit different parts of the world. The first was of course the one that ravaged Haiti on January 12th. It recorded a magnitude of 7.0 on the Richter scale. The second hit Chile yesterday morning, with a magnitude of 8.8 on the Richter scale.

Richter was an extremely annoying man who set up the most misleading kind of scale. What’s the difference between a 5 and a 7-magnitude? How come an earthquake of 7.0 killed 217,000 in Haiti, while a 8.8 one appears to have killed only 700 so far? (even one person’s loss is a devastating one, but the human death toll in Haiti was more than 300-times that in Chile so far, so you really can’t ignore the numbers)

Let’s start off by explaining the how the Richter scale works.

“The Richter Scale is the best known scale for measuring the magnitude of earthquakes. The magnitude value is proportional to the logarithm of the amplitude of the strongest wave during an earthquake” < I didn’t understand anything from this, for those of you who did, good for you. For the rest of us, here is sone more:

The energy release of an earthquake, which closely correlates to its destructive power, scales with the 32 power of the shaking amplitude. Thus, a difference in magnitude of 1.0 is equivalent to a factor of 31.6 ( = (101.0)(3 / 2)) in the energy released; a difference in magnitude of 2.0 is equivalent to a factor of 1000 ( = (102.0)(3 / 2) ) in the energy released.

Basically, each degree is 10 times as powerful as the degree below it (earth motion-wise). So, a 7 magnitude is 10 times as bad as a 6 magnitude and a 100 times worse than a 5 magnitude. The 10-fold increase applies to the relative motion of the Earth in each case. A 31.6-fold increase in energy though is seen between each degree. So, the energy involved in a 5 magnitude earthquake releases 31.6 times more energy than a 4 magnitude one, explaining the massive difference in damage and casualties between seemingly close-range earthquake magnitudes.

Next is the frequency of earthquakes. We’ve heard about 2 this year so far but in fact, some 1,000,000 earthquakes happen each year, that’s some 2740 earthquakes a day (2732 earthquakes a day on a leap year =P)


The Richter scale however isn’t the preferred scale for scientists and seismologist. Experts in the field take many other factors into consideration besides wave amplitude. Most notably, the direction of the waves (up and down, or side-to-side), the population density in the affected area, and the strength of buildings and infrastructure.

So, that’s the reason we all get so mixed up when we hear about earthquakes:

1- The Ricther scales isn’t as simple as it looks

2- Scientists prefer to use extra criteria to classify magnitudes

So, the next time you hear that the Chilean earthquake was 800 times worse than the Haitian one, while its just 1.8 degrees difference and wonder why, or why if it was so much worse, was the death-toll was 1/300th that of the earthquake with 1/800th the size? It’s because of the misleading scale, which does not take into consideration a nation’s readiness, population density and proximity of an earthquake’s epicenter.

UPDATE on 11 March 2011

The earthquake that struck Japan today was an 8.9 magnitude, which as you can see is very severe and fairly rare when it comes to earthquakes. Japan, arguably the most prepared and experienced country in terms of earthquake and tsunami response, has suffered hundreds of casualties so far, demonstrating how powerful and unpredictable plate tectonics are.

The quake was felt over 400km away from the epicenter, 10-meter-high tsunamis were reported and the whole pacific basin issued a tsunami warning.


Aboard the Odyssey, Awe and Controversy

In line with our traditions, the 3 scouts troupes: Cabestan, Carrick and Carre, organized an outing together on Saturday February the 20th. The plan was to go dow to Beirut, into the Port and onto a commercial tanker. After that we were to spend a couple of hours in the Central District doing scouts stuff =P (to spare all you non-scouts)

Youssef and I went down before the rest of the party to make sure all our paperwork was in line. First stop was the Customs officials. We went in, an official letter, typed in Arabic in our hands. It was supposed to be a done deal, the Director would sign off on it and we would be on our way. To help bolster this effort, the director there had received a call from a superior, who sympathized with us and has always helped us in times of need.

Having signed off on the paper (faster when the director’s subordinate knew on whose behalf we had come) I still had 3 stops to make to finalize the paperwork. The 3 orange buses had arrived, so we were pressed on time. At the gates, the Surete Generale people felt their ego was bruised, and thus I was sent off to the Surete Generale’s Director. To my surprise, the director was even more childish than his gatekeepers and demanded I retype one in his name. Being the amazing arabic typer myself, I sat on a pentium 3 computer and typed up the letter and 54 names on Yamli.org. The director only read his name and signed off on it.

Luckily, we had managed to negotiate the buses’ entry onto the port while I was still typing up the letter. On the gates, the suddenly responsible guard wanted me to call the 3 buses back here so he could ‘review’ the persons on board. I was getting annoyed, so I apologized and drove to pier 14.

To my horror, the tour had not begun. Victor and Bruno had learned you also need a signature from the Port Authority, the company that the pier was outsourced to (BCTC) and some other institution I forgot about now. Awesome, bureaucracy at it’s finest.

Not wanting to leave empty-handed, we decide to take a stroll through piers 7, 8 and 9. To our surprise, one of the ships docked there was one enlisted to help the efforts in investigating and salvaging the Ethiopian Plane that crashed off the Lebanese coast. It was the Odyssey Explorer.

How did we know? Well, obviously the name was painted on it, and second, we recognized the REMOTE OPTICAL VEHICLE (as NewTV’s Bassel Aridi once famously said) on board. It’s actual name is Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle or ROV for short.

A few minutes later, members of the crew came down and a couple of us started discussing the possibility of going onboard. Minutes later, the crew were all on deck, taking photos and videotaping the boys in their tenues. That’s when the excitement began to rise. We were about to board one of the most technologically advanced marine vessels in the world, no paperwork involved.

We divided ourselves into groups of 15 and clambered up on to the ship. The tour began on deck, where we met Zeus (the ROV) and were taken through it’s extremely intricate and sophisticated parts and pieces. The most astonishing of which was the Super-hi-def-camera, which could make out the date of a coin from an 8-meter distance in poor lighting conditions. After touching the 2-km long cable that the ROV uses to get to the depths it operates at and shaking hands with the 500,000 dollar arms, we went into the ROV control room.

That's Zeus, the ROV

The stuff we saw there was fresh out of Avatar, with a tiny arm-like controller with the different joints and fingers that could be moved by the controller and be mimicked exactly by the ROV’s arm 2 thousand meters underwater…

Then it was off to the bridge, where the ship is navigated. Honestly, it felt more sophisticated that the control tower in the Beirut International Airport, which we had visited a few months ago. Then again, water is a trickier medium than air… After the bridge, we inspected the interior of the ship, from living quarters to the galley and finally where all the pieces are brought together into one, big picture.

Now that I’ve described our comprehensive tour of the ship, I’m going to move on to clearing up some question marks many Lebanese people have, thanks to the stupid media (like Aridi)

  • What is the Odyssey? Where did it come from?

The ship is privately owned by a company in the UK

  • Is it a military vessel?

No, its crew are all civilians and it receives its orders from a private company.

  • What about Ocean Alert?

Ocean Alert is the sister vessel of the Odyssey, contrary to media reports that it is part of the Royal Navy

  • What do they do?

They are hired by organizations or governments to help excavate shipwrecks or other sties of interests which lie underwater (which include treasures)

  • Did they look for gold treasure instead of the plane?

The Ocean Alert was working on another project under charter less than a day’s sail from Lebanon BEFORE the plane crash.

  • Are they top-secret spies collecting intelligence from Lebanon?

They’re a bunch of engineers, technicians, divers, navigators, archeologists, etc. who enjoy a night out in gemmayzeh. They were also very transparent with their tour, with absolutely nowhere off-limits. We even caught glimpses of the pictures and maps they had compiled off the Beirut coast, something I’m sure the authorities wouldn’t have enjoyed.

  • What kind of wrecks have they excavated?

One we saw was a fabulous wreck of a WWII airplane off the coast of Britain. The extremely cool one though was the map of the Lusitania, the Italian ship sunk my German torpedoes in WWI, one of the reasons the US joined the armed conflict (many US citizens were onboard that ship)

In the end, we had a BLAST on board this ship, one I hope we won’t be seeing again anytime soon. Poetic justice at it’s finest. The government officials were absolute jerks with us, we got onboard a better ship, had more fun, learned a lot more! And please, please, please… Stop thinking everything’s a conspiracy, cause what I mentioned above is the truth, or as close to the truth as it gets.

That's Ewan showing us the main camera on Zeus

The ROV control room, that's the device which controls Zeus's arms

Just so you get an idea about the camera lens' size

That's a photo I took before I knew if we were allowed to take photos or not

Makes you wanna join the crew, doesn't it?

the computers where the thousands of images are compiled into one complete map

Sound Selection 10 – A Whopper

This is the 10th Sound Selection on the Blog, quite a milestone by my standars =P

So, here are a few tracks I’m listening to these past few days (WITH LINKS)

These are all somewhat commercial tracks which I’m sure all of you will love =D Enjoy!

David Guetta Feat Kid Cudi – Memories (Barletta Remix)

Inna – Love (Electrical Brothers Bootleg Remix 2010)

Dan Black feat. Kid Cudi – Symphonies (Dada Life Remix)

Rihanna – Rude Boy (Insan3Lik3 Remix)

Sebastien Leger – The Rhythm (Original Mix)

Dirty South, Mark Knight – Stopover (Original Mix)

Electronic Music For Dummies – Trance Edition

Trance Music

Trance music’s origins can be fairly estimated to be European in essence, more specifically German. As for when it started emerging in clubs and raves, the 1990s are a safe bet. The obscure information about origin in place and time of electronic music might seem annoying to some, and questions the integrity of it as a ‘new’ genre for others. However, to me, that makes it all the better because several countries and people can claim it as their own, or at least no one an really attribute it to a specific nation, movement or time, making it a truly universal pleaser.

Anyway, on to what makes Trance music different from other EDM music. Trance’s defining feature is its dynamic musical form, which builds up and down throughout a track. The ‘entrancing’ effect it has on ravers is supposed to derive from the fact the music gradually builds up to a point where the music climaxes, and the revelers burst into an energetic dance spree after subdued moves in tune with the ‘build up’ phase. That is why Trance fanatics often conserve their energy specifically for those climaxes, making the sea of revelers seems calmer than House or Techno revelers.

Trance music also incorporates vocals most of the time, with short phrases that can be often dubbed as ‘uplifting’ and are always easy to follow. Others though provide a more intense poetic aspect, while my favorite type focuses purely on the musical aspect.

Clubs rarely showcase Trance music, for it does not ensure steady and paced dancing throughout the night, but instead offers a relatively fast tempo, and as mentioned earlier, a build up and build down of the track. Stadium events and raves are Trance’s playground where revelers with the intent of attaining that altered state of consciousness are the majority of the crowd.

Beats Per Minute: 130 to 155 BPM (faster than House music)
Famous DJs: Armin van Buuren, Tiesto, Paul van Dyk, Ferry Corsten, Above & Beyond, Cosmic Gate
Famous Classics: Adagio for Strings – Tiesto, Burned with Desire, Communication Part 3- Armin van Buuren, For An Angel, Crush – Paul van Dyk, Till I Come (9pm) – ATB, Children – Robert Miles, Can’t Sleep – Above and Beyond, As the Rush Comes – Motorcycle
Famous Recent Hits: In and Out of Love, Never Say Never, Unforgivable, Fine Without You, Imagine, Broken Tonight -Armin van Buuren, Gaia – Tuvan
Famous Events:
Armin Only – Netherlands, Creamfields and the Global Gathering – UK, Together As One -Los Angeles
Famous Hotspots: Goa (India) and the Netherlands
Samples I Recommend:
Rush Hour (Original Mix) – Armin van Buuren – A good example of trance without vocals, others like it by Armin include: Communication Part 3, Imagination, Intricacy.
Satellite (Above and Beyond Remix) – Oceanlab – Inspirational Vocals
Find Yourself (Cosmic Gate Remix) – John O’Callaghan – Amazing Vocals, not too old
Some DJs in Lebanon Who Spin Trance: Amadeus

The Perfect Place to Suffer Trauma

Today, Sunday the 21st of February, I was informed we had a service to do for the Lebanese Red Cross. Most of us have already helped in the awareness campaigns and fundraising events. However, today’s maneuver was one at the heart of the LRC’s practices and norms.

A dozen scouts from my troupe heeded the call and showed up to SJS. We then headed out to the adjacent wilderness where LRC veterans were preparing the ‘battlefield’.

After a small briefing, the boys were assigned their respective injuries and spread out across the field. Anything from a broken hand, to head trauma, to multiple limb amputations lay sprawled around a 20-meter radius. Some animal remains were sprinkled here and there as well, adding to the intensity of the scene.

Ambulance after ambulance, the recruits jumped off, fully clad in their war-time gear, carrying stretchers and first aid kits. Fireworks, annoying citizens and relatives, criminals and incapacitated victims all interfered with the new LRC recruits. The scenario, unfortunately, was all too familiar to the vets. Winds and light showers added even more urgency to the chaotic exercise.

This was the LRC’s VISA process. A sort of right-of-passage for recruits who have completed their basic training and are ready to head out for emergency responses. Dozens of young men and women were put through two hours of grueling drills and scenarios and at the end of the day, they became Red Cross volunteers. After lots of cheers and pictures, they all got their Red Cross ID cards.

I’m not just writing a story, I’m trying to remind you all of the amazing job the LRC does. A job we take for granted all too-often. The LRC are as professional as it gets, yet they all are volunteers in it for the humanitarian cause. So, next time you see a siren behind you on the highway, get out of their way. And when you see a team raising funds on a street intersection, don’t curse them cause they’re causing traffic, help them or at least encourage them. After all, whether we like it or not, they’re going to help save our life (if they haven’t already) or the life of someone we love.

As usual, even though the LRC are impeccable in fulfilling their duty, it should not be their duty to fulfill. It is the Lebanese government who should take care of rescue missions and emergency-response, and with the new breath of change and reform in the Interior Ministry instilled by Ziad Baroud, and the training programs and plans for the Civil Defense he has put forth, one can only wonder what will become of the current status quo…

Electronic Music For Dummies – House Edition

This post was inspired by my dear friend Karine =D

First of all, let us distinguish between electromechanical music and electronic music. Electromechanical music is music produced by instruments such as the Hammond organ and the electric guitar. Electronic music are made by devices such as synthesizers and computers.

Technology has opened up new horizons for music and the traditional understanding of musical performances has become totally revolutionized. Expensive studios and instruments can now be replaced by music production programs on any standard laptop (creating a movement in the electronic scene called laptronica)

So, music is now essentially a highly personalized, highly versatile and virtually limitless source of art and entertainment. You do not have to be endowed with special abilities (nice voice or musical ear) to create good music with a computer. That however does not mean it is something bad. If that were true for everything, you’d probably be reading Bacon or Nietzsche instead of this blog right now. Having brought that point up, not all electronic music is good, just like not all blogs are fun to read.

Electronic music has usurped the throne of dance music in the 90s and 2000s, today it is common knowledge that a respectable club = electronic music. As a result of this massive proliferation within the EDM (electronic dance music) industry, EDM has branched out into countless subgenres, of which I’m going to highlight a few.

In this post, I’ll be dealing with House Music

House Music

House music can trace its origins back to one specific city in one specific moment of time: Chicago in the early 80s. To be even more specific, in a club called Warehouse between 1977 and 1982. The music got its name because the new genre, heavily influenced by disco, soul and funk, was the Warehouse’s trademark. When it caught on and similar tracks started emerging, people would say “Hey, that’s ‘house music” and hence the name of today’s House Music.

House music is the music for dancing. It is synonymous with clubbing and glamour. It is also known to have established itself among the rich and famous, with many brands eventually springing up to support this rising movement.

House found itself to Europe quickly after is US debut, and there it flourished. Although the US has seen less success of the music, Chicago’s mayor announce August 10th “House Unity Day” in 2005.

To the veteran ear, House music is easily discernible. But to those of you aren’t as educated in EDM, here’s the juicy part:

Beats Per Minute: 115 to 135 BPM (usually 120-128 BPM nowadays)
Famous DJs: Sasha, John Digweed, Deadmau5, David Guetta, Benny Benassi
Famous Classics: Love Parade’98, Alarma – 666, Satisfaction – Benny Benassi, The World is Mine – David Guetta, Let Me Be Your Fantasy – Jerry Ropero
Famous Recent Hits: One Love, Sexy Bitch, Memories – David Guetta, Leave the World Behind You – VA,
Famous Clubs: Pacha – Ibiza, Ministry of Sound – London, b018 – Beirut, The Basement – Beirut
Samples I Recommend:
Slip (Original Mix) – Deadmau5 I’d also recommend the Sebastian Leger Remix of Slip
Open Your Mind (Dinka D.E.E.P Remix) – Daniel Portman
Some DJs in Lebanon Who Spin House: Most DJs who play EDM play house music in leb, to name a few: Jade & Diamond Setter, Gunther & Stamina, Ronin’n’Nesta, JoJo, Dray

I hope you can now know what a House song should sound like. Hopefully, with coming editions bringing forth the characteristics of other EDM genres, you will never ask me ‘how d you know it’s house?’ or ‘how can you tell the difference?’

Artificial Selection

 Before I begin this post, I need to tell you that this topic was brought up in a course I’m taking this semester: Cognitive Neuroscience by Dr. Arne Dietrich. The debate itself was started by the professor, which helped kindle some interesting questions, and somewhat of an opinion.

Before I discuss Artificial Selection, allow me to elucidate Natural Selection and Evolution in the realm of Biology for those of you unfamiliar with the process.

Let us take the noble giraffe as a paradigm for the colossal process that is evolution of species. The giraffe’s ancestor many millions of years ago did not have such a long neck. Unfavorable conditions probably led to lack of food on the Savannah floor. The main source of energy became the trees scattered in the African planes. Unfortunately for the proto-giraffes, not all of them could reach the sustenance higher up. Those lucky few who did, survived and procreated. The offspring, which shared their parents’ slightly longer neck, survived while their siblings perished. Thousands of generations later, the incidence of this genetic trait as well as how it’s manifestation in the phenotype (what is actually manifested in the animal) became much more pronounced. Hence, we have the adorable animal today with the several-meter-long neck we all love.

That is how Mother Nature ‘selects’ the best traits to accommodate for changes in behavior and/or environment. Scientists have been able to induce that same principle into computer science. How this works is that some computer programs are simply too complex for humans to code. Thus, through evolutionary programming, the program will evolve itself by altering its code to best fit its intended function.

That sounds too science-fictiony, right? Well, you’ll be as surprised as I was to learn about John Koza’s “invention machine.” John Koza is a famous evolutionary programmer who designed this super-computer. Since its creation, the invention machine has designed several lenses, antennae, and circuits. Now, here’s the whopper: the computer got a patent from the US Patent Office. Yes, the machine got it, not its creator. So, that means that silicon-based piece of equipment now has legal status in the United States…

Computers have already surpassed our computational capacity, they can easily transfer date (their ‘self’) from one machine to another (immortalizing it), they have begun their accelerated version of evolution… So, theoretically, in our lifetimes, machines will become an independent part of society that we will interact with in the future as more than tools.

The inevitability of this occurring will become evident in the coming years, with advances exponentially propelling the new field closer and closer into the unknown.

Having a Biological thinking framework, I cannot but help returning to the matter of evolution. We are a product of millions of years of genetic mutations that passed the tests of time and nature. The haphazard circumstances that our ancestors encountered were more or less unique to our species evolution. Metabolic processes within our cells supply our energy needs; machines might sustain themselves with different techniques (one that springs to mind is solar power). The threats our immune system is tuned to resist are microorganisms that harm our tissues, computers will have to learn, or evolve, to keep themselves protected from potential threats such as system crashes and computer viruses and worms. The list goes on and on…

Imagine the possibilities… Cognitive processes will emerge in machines, all indicators point at that for the moment. However, cognitive characteristics that distinguish us from other animals are unique to us because they once served an evolutionary purpose and at some point in time enhanced our chances of survival. So, dreams, emotions, etc. are residue of something that at one time helped us adapt to some circumstantial or behavioral changes. Machines will undoubtedly evolve cognitive processes eventually, but they will be very different from ours. We can only speculate what they may be, but the prospects of our ‘creations’ evolving to the extent of being independent, legally protected entities pushes us to question the very meaning of life’s definition.

I’m sure this is quite the food for thought for many of us. Unless you’re someone who’d rather say ‘it has no soul’ or some other unscientific argument, I’m sure you will find satisfaction in believing in a divine being that made us exclusive and will not allow your ego to be bruised by this magnificent possibility.