Thanks to amateurs and experts at waarneming.nl, the Netherlands is currently the only country in the world that is able to properly and automatically count insects, and plans to spend this summer doing so.
Using 100 camera traps that will be placed throughout the country specifically developed to automatically count and recognise insects, Software will be ‘trained’ using a photo database containing several million photos. The size and quality of this database is apparently unique in the world.
Counting and identifying insects gives researchers insight into the numbers of insects nationally as well as the effectiveness of measures being applied to restore biodiversity. According to recent publications in scientific research, there’s an alarming drop in numbers of insects in Western Europe and in Dutch nature reserves. Regular folks like myself often see adverts about the lack of bees, with garden centres selling seed mixtures for plants that attract bees and butterflies.
Using camera traps is a bid deal because they can count and cover more ground as it were. The Netherlands apparently leads the field automatic image recognition of insects and the technique, sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, will now be delivered in time for the summer.
In Helmond, Noord Brabant, there are plans to build a neighbourhood, called Living Lab, where people will be able to live for free, but there’s a catch: they’ll have to give up all their data.
Part of the Brainport Smart District, Living Lab will be the ‘smartest neighbourhood in the Netherlands’ with 1500 homes where 4000 people are expected to live. Their behaviour will generate a huge flow of data and that’s the goal. Basically, you’d be a guinea pig with free housing. Sensors will measure what you do, how you sleep, what you do online and whatever else companies will pay to find out.
Free living for only a year is not very practical, but considering how difficult it is to find a place in this country, I’m sure they will find 4000 people ready to give up their privacy, which is a bit sad in a way.
Toronto, Canada was the location of a similar project called Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet, the parent company of Google. The difference is that this project hit a brick wall when it came to privacy and proprietary rights of the data.
Living Lab is on the edge of what is actually acceptable, which means it’s not out of the woods yet. But again, in a country where corruption is common in the housing market, having a free space to live that’s nice will have people willing to give up quite a bit of their lives. Let us not forget that social media seems free, but many of us are giving away our data there as well.
An alumna of Utrecht University from Rotterdam has left 1.2 million euro to the university, making it the biggest amount ever bequeathed to it in Dutch history.
Annie van Leerzem studied medicine in the 1950s in Utrecht, as Rotterdam did not have a faculty of medicine back then. Although she graduated, she never practiced medicine, as the care of both her parents fell on her shoulders.
A fund has been set up in her name, the Familie van Leerzemfonds. The money will be used for young clinical researchers in general medicine.
The Tilburg University is back in the news with another PhD student making up research. Mohammad Nazar Soroush obtained his PhD with research into the lives of young Salafists in the Netherlands. However, he was caught faking conversations as well as visits to mosques that never happened, but may keep his PhD title. Professor Ruben Gowricham who helped Soroush can no longer be involved with granting PhDs and Soroush’s doctoral advisor has been reprimanded as well.
Gowricham has a business that makes money from doctoral candidates such as Soroush to the tune of thousands of euro a year. As well, Gowricham would receive 35,000 euro from Tilburg University per successful doctoral candidate. Two Islamist associations complained about the PhD, saying things in it were fabricated. Soroush used a supposed Salafist logo that is in fact not used by Salafists, and more of these kinds of details raised many red flags.
Although Soroush may keep his title, he has been asked not to distribute his thesis. He has also been asked to publish the fact that his thesis is based on insufficient evidence. People are surprised that he can still keep his title at this point, but the university claims that revoking it goes a bit too far. His credibility is definitely questionable, which will follow him around for a long time.
Dutch scientists have developed an instrument capable of detecting the presence of living plants kilometres away, which in the future could be used to help search for extraterrestrial life.
Lucas Patty of the VU Amsterdam has built the TreePol spectropolarimeter, a camera with special lenses and receptors able to detect the rotation of light that occurs when it is reflected by plants. His instrument is able to detect the difference between healthy and dying vegetation. Patty tried out his instrument on the roof of the university by pointing it at a nearby football pitch and didn’t get a signal: turns out the pitch was made from artificial grass.
Scientists are now investigating whether TreePol could be used to monitor agricultural crops from an aircraft or satellite, and maybe it could be used at even greater distances. “We’re also working on a version that could be used on the international space station or a moon lander,” explains astronomer and co-developer Frans Snik of Leiden University.
Over the last two decades, astronomers have discovered almost four thousand ‘exoplanets’, planets that orbit stars other than our own sun. Astrobiologists have often focused on the presence of water, oxygen and carbon, but these molecules and atoms don’t always show the presence of life and therefore involve the risk of a ‘false positive’. TreePol could finally eliminate that false positive, and that is all kinds of exciting.
Back in 2013 we wrote about the search for extraterrestrial life at Leiden University by detecting oxygen on far away planets using transit observations.
On an related note albeit not a Dutch one, if you want to listen to entertaining YouTubers talking about what they call ‘woo woo’ (UFOs, weird places on Earth, spooky stuff, etc.), then you absolutely need to listen to Gary and Diktor van Doomcock on the ExoZone on Nerdrotic and/or Overlord Diktor van Doomcock.
Feel free to look up having sex in space regardless of who is involved, which I filed under ‘complicated/pass’ in my mind palace. However, if you want to move on to giving birth in space, there’s a Dutch company that wants to tell you about its plans.
Dutch company SpaceLife Origin, a collaboration between business people (dudes, right?) and organisational expert Egbert Edelbroek (a man) from Eindhoven. In 2024, the company’s goal would be to have a Dutch woman give birth in space.
“If we don’t learn how we can procreate in space, then as humans we’re bound to Earth, while life on Earth is increasingly under threat”, explains Edelbroek. It’s under threat because we’re billions of morons using the planet as our own personal rubbish bin, but sure. If we want to go to Mars, we’re theoretically going to have to find out what it’s like to procreate in space. I’m secretly hoping women just won’t want to, but that’s me talking science-fiction.
SpaceLife Origin wants to start with fertilisation in space using an embryo incubator called Mission Lotus. Experts warn against problems such as a baby being exposed to ionising radiation that causes cancer and the g-force that occurs with space flight. Oh, and weightlessness, and I’m sure a whole bunch of other things.
I hope the woman (women?) who sign up and anyone else really know what they are getting into, but that also goes for anybody who thinks getting to Mars is easy at this point.
Kees Moeliker, ornithologist and curator of the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam, who was awarded an IgNobel back in 2003 — the tongue-in-cheek awards of Improbable Research — for writing about “The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard”, has recently had his book ‘De eendenman’ (The Duck Guy’, or Man) translated into German.
Not only is “Der Entenmann: Von Spatzenklöten, aussterbenden Filzläusen und nekrophilen Enten. Mysteriöse Todesfälle aus dem Tierreich” now available to the German-savvy population, the book is presented here by Moeliker himself in German.
Also known as ‘The Duck Guy’, Moeliker does give talks in English, but his book has yet to be translated into English or anything else than German at this point. However, if you’re in the Netherlands, you can visit the preserved remains of one of the ducks at the museum. The best time to visit is on June 5, when the museum and the city of Rotterdam celebrate Dead Duck Day, on the anniversary of the incident, involving two ducks and a glass wall.
Forty-four undergraduate students were asked to listen to white noise and instructed to press a button when they believed hearing a recording of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas without this record actually being presented. Fourteen participants (32%) pressed the button at least once…. hallucinatory reports obtained during the White Christmas test [might] reflect a non-specific preference for odd items rather than schizophrenia-like, internal experiences.
In my neck of the woods, we used to sing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, and all the cars stuck in the snow.” And in case you’ve never heard this great Christmas classic, here it is.
As of yesterday, the police, together with Eindhoven University of Technology, started a trial using data correlation to determine the bad behaviour of criminals such as pickpockets more quickly.
In Roermond, Limburg, a city next to both Belgium and Germany that welcomes tens of thousands of visitors from other countries every day for their outlet shopping centre, the city has a major pickpocketing problem. A university team led by data-mining professor Mykola Pechenizkiy is helping the police analyse various databases containing information about shopping centre visitors, including automatically recognised number plates, data collected for marketing purposes, messages on social media and camera images.
Of course, privacy is an important part of this project for both the criminals and visitors. “For this reason, we also work closely with the mayor and public prosecutor, for example. Based on the experiences in the living labs, they can assess the impact on the privacy of citizens and decide whether this is acceptable in order to achieve the desired goals’, explains Marius Monen of the university’s Data Science Centre.
In Rotterdam a while back, a dynamic teenage duo was following pickpockets, taking pictures and calling the cops on them.
Around the world in the past decade, all kinds of publications apparently claim that cows, deers and dogs tend to lie down in a North-South direction, possibly affected by the North Magnetic Pole.
However, according to the first scientific studies on the sensitivity of cows for the magnetic North at the University of Wageningen, it’s not true. Although there is scientific evidence to suggest that small animals are affected by magnetism, anything that has been said about large animals has been solely based on observations, from farmer descriptions to Google Earth photographs.
Tests were done in Portugal on 34 cows fitted with a strong magnet by checking their orientation when they were resting. With or without the magnet, the cows just lie around wherever. Actually, the direction of the sun makes a difference, not the wind, which is the same result of a study done at the same time in Portugal of 659 cows on six farms.
Critics who claim that environmental factors such as wind and sun exert such a strong influence on animals that they obscure the effect of the earth’s magnetic field are welcome to repeat this experiment at night.