All posts by Alicia Lawrence

Alicia is a content manager for a tech company. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, cooking healthy meals, and blogging about health, tech and communication.

Turning Ocean Cleanup into a Reality

It is common knowledge that approximately 71% of the earth’s surface is made up of ocean water. Unfortunately, these vastly large bodies of water are also collecting devastating amounts of manmade pollution in the form of debris and plastics.

Over time, circular oceanic currents pull the litter into large floating mounds due to the fact that most of the pollution comes from non-biodegradable materials such as plastic, which does not wear down. Sometimes a trash island is created, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, that spans hundreds of miles.

Resulting consequences of this ocean pollution include 14 billion pounds of additional marine trash a year, as well as 100,000 mammal deaths and 1 million sea bird deaths per year. If we keep on this path, the future of this planet could be headed for despair.

oceans

Even though cleaning up such drastic amounts of debris and plastics is no easy task, there just might be a new breakthrough that could lead us in the right direction.

The New Solution

A new contraption has been devised that can be thought of as an effective rehab for our oceans. Not only would this plan work to clean up the floating trash, it would also take the plastic materials and recycle them into something useful.

19 year old Boyan Slat from the Netherlands has designed a floating structure that would essentially sweep the marine debris into a metaphorical dust pan. The engineering student and his team are on a mission to raise the $2 million needed to build the contraption, even going as far as developing an in-depth feasibility study to lay everything out in the open.

Simply put, the device would consist of numerous floating “V” arms that would collect and push debris to collection points. Trash could be collected up to 3 meters below the surface, which wouldn’t harm marine animals in the process since they could still pass underneath the contraption.

Estimated analysis by Slat and his team shows that approximately 65 cubic meters of debris would be funneled deeper into the device each day, which could then be collected and extracted every 45 days. Ultimately, the plastics could then be recycled and converted into new products, instead of floating in harmful trash patches in the water.

Will it Work?

Though only time will tell, the ocean cleanup contraption looks extremely promising and could very well be one of the greatest innovations to tackle such a major issue. Not only would the amount of floating trash piles in the oceans be reduced drastically, but also marine animal deaths would be reduced.

Additionally, the extracted plastics being recycled into different products would not only help to offset the costs of the machine, but also promote sustainable practices. In addition to cleaning up the already present trash with Slat’s contraption, governments will also need to be much stricter when it comes to the use and recycling of plastics going forward in order to keep oceanic debris piles at bay.

Even though tiny particles less than 0.1 mm would not be caught with this tool, the larger pieces can be collected before they break down into the smaller, harder to extract particles. Regardless of the downfall regarding these tiny particles, money has already been coming in from crowd funding meaning the ocean cleanup team and their contraption could very well turn their project into a reality in the near future.

Social Media and Data Collection

Social media is quickly becoming one of the hot topics in many research fields. Its sudden growth, in addition to its constant use for sharing information, makes it stand out in the field of communications. While it is a subject for many researchers, others see the potential in using social media to gather information for various studies, especially in market research.  However, before you start using social media for your research, it’s important to know the pros and cons of having social media as one of your research methods.

Consent: A Given or A Necessity?

One of the biggest debates concerning social media as a research tool lies in consent. All researchers should be aware that they need consent from the subject to use the information given. It’s easy to get this with a survey or a focus group because the subject can sign a waiver or select the option to give consent.

Social media is trickier. Technically, any post made with social media is available for public use, according to Emily Christofides, a Ph.D. candidate in social psychology at Ontario’s University of Guelph. However, not alerting someone that his tweet or Facebook post is being used as part of your research could be problematic — it could lead to legal issues in addition to ethical issues, possibly throwing off your research. For example, you cannot legally paraphrase or remove the handle name associated with tweets, according to Twitter’s terms and conditions.

It’s always best to err on the side of caution — if you want to use what someone posted on a social media platform, ask for permission first. Make the user aware of your research, explain what exactly you’re trying to prove or disprove, and get written consent for the use of his content.

Anonymity and the Internet

One of the major issues surrounding Internet use is the supposed anonymity that people have. Instead of interacting face-to-face, users can instead communicate with people thousands of miles away in an instant. Because of this anonymity, people can go in three main directions on the Internet: be the same online as they are in person; be more free with their opinions online than in person; or be a completely different person online than in person.

This lack of direct interaction means that social cues such as body language and voice inflections are lost. While images and emoticons — using symbols to create faces — can help depict the tone, it’s very common for something posted on the Internet to be misconstrued. If someone posts about construction and it’s relevant to your research, try to figure out if you’re getting the right message from the poster — if you’re unsure, it’s best to confirm. Make sure you understand the context of the posts you use in your research for the best results.

Social Media’s Role in Research

Social media is one of the best ways to get a grasp on people’s reactions to events, how they feel about products or opinions about day-to-day life. It can certainly be used in ethnographic research, but you can also run the numbers — how many people tweeted about a certain topic, for example — to get statistical data.

As with all research methods, using social media is not a perfect option. It should be used in conjunction with other methods to help support your argument, rather than being the main source. However, it is a new way to gather information, and the possibilities for its use in the research field is only growing.

Source:

Beninger, K., Fry, A., & Jago, N. Research Using Social Media; Users’ Views. NatCen Social Research. Retrieved June 1, 2014, from <http://www.natcen.ac.uk/media/282288/p0639-research-using-social-media-report-final-190214.pdf>.

 

 

 

5 Ways to Keep on Top of the Latest Stats in International Affairs

Americans are often stereotyped as being people who don’t stay abreast of what happens in other countries, let alone their own communities. If that’s sometimes a problem for you, keep reading and find some resources for being a well informed, globally minded citizen.

Study the Happy Planet Index

A website called the Happy Planet Index looks at dozens of factors that gauge happiness according to how well a country’s citizens are able to live within environmental limits, promote well-being and minimize their ecological footprints. This data is not only helpful if you’re trying to compare how others live, but it could also be useful if you’re thinking about taking an extended trip around the world and trying to decide where to go.

Take An International Business Class

If your workplace will soon be expanding to reach an international audience, that’s a perfect opportunity to tell a supervisor you’d love to take a course in international business. Proposing the idea shows initiative and can help increase your value to the company. People in many lines of work, such as translation, may opt to pursue such types of education, believing it’ll help them be more able to seamlessly interact with people from all over the world.

During the course, it’s very likely an instructor will recommend supplemental resources to help you more firmly grasp the extent of issues that directly impact international affairs. That’s even true if you take a course in a non-traditional format, such as through the Internet.

Get Lost in Data From The World Bank

With The World Bank’s website packed with data, you’ll probably find your time there to be very enjoyable. That’s because you can sort with several parameters. Whether you want to look at statistics for an overall country or segment your results into particular topics ranging from urban development to health, labor to energy, it’s possible to do all that and more with relatively little effort.

Navigate to the NationMaster Website

This site lives up to its name, because after browsing it for just a little while, you may feel you’re much more able to master the complexities of very dense topics such as population growth rates. Currently, you can look at information that relates to more than 4,000 categories and get statistics about crime, life expectancy, languages, average salaries and much more. It’s possible to make comparisons between several countries with just a few clicks, too.

Check Out International Music Charts

Initially, you may not see the value in looking at international music charts as a way to stay informed about affairs in other countries. However, music is very powerful, and some artists are able to influence large portions of the world by singing songs that have social consciousness themes. It’s always worthwhile to see whether you can spot music trends across the world and then connect them to social norms.

After using these techniques, you should find it’s much easier to stay in the loop about things going on around the world, even if there’s barely enough time to stay informed about the latest news in your hometown. Happy learning!

Why Academic Libraries are Still Useful for Research

There’s no question that the Internet has forever changed the way we perform research. With a simple click of the button and keyword search, we can get thousands of results about the topic we’re looking for at our fingertips. Even so, this doesn’t mean we should overlook the valuable resource of academic libraries.

In fact, many libraries nowadays recognize the value of Internet research, but just as one part of the research process. The resources of your local library, academic or otherwise, are another source. The resources they offer aren’t just of the historical variety.

Not Everything is Online

As hard as it is to believe, not everything is accessible online. While Google Books has made strides to change that fact, there are a plethora of sources that Google can’t find, simply because they don’t exist online yet. Libraries often organize digital libraries, but even those may require a library password or other authentication.

When visiting a library, you can gain access to other sources to make sure you’re covering your research topic as thoroughly as possible. This means you’ll also have access to newspapers, academic journals, magazines and print references, to name a few. Many libraries also have a section of archived materials, some quite old, which will never exist on the Internet. All these sources can be a wonderful treasure trove of information.

Catalog in a Different Way

Libraries use a very specific cataloging systems that they’ve used for years. This makes it easy to search out content and easily find where that content is stored (as long as that source isn’t checked out). The Internet is set up in a different way. Unlike the library, there is no in-house expert categorizing the results of your search. Rather, when you type in a keyword, you’re going to get the content that the web and the search engine’s algorithm sees as the most important. Due to this, you might be missing a source that could be quite valuable to the topic you’re researching.

Know Your Sources

Along the same lines, it’s not always easy to tell who the original source of an article online is. Anyone can publish a website nowadays, and content can easily be misleading or even wrong. In a library though, the content you’ll be looking at has been vetted. As it was published under rigorous guidelines, whether the source is a newspaper or an article in an academic journal. This is not to say there isn’t valuable sources and research available online – there is. But sometimes you might have to dig deeper to make sure you’re getting accurate information from a reliable source.

Offer Other Resources

Not only can you find some great content at a library, but you can use their other resources, like librarians. Librarians have literally been trained to find information, and they can help you navigate the library catalog so that you’re finding all the information you can. Let’s also not overlook that libraries are about more than just pulling books and materials off the shelves. Libraries can offer a quiet place to do your work, meeting rooms for tutoring, coaching sessions, team projects, as well as access to computers and the Internet.

Libraries are, and continue to be, important places, and not just because studies have shown that students who use library resources tend to do better on standardized testing. They offer a number of resources, both online and off, and as such, they shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Environmental Impact of Air Conditioning

Air conditioners are no longer just a luxury for the wealthy citizens of the world — they are becoming a necessity. Staying cool and comfortable is just about impossible unless you own one of these devices. While the benefits of air conditioning for basic, everyday living are welcomed during the hot and muggy seasons, the hazardous environmental effects due to their use need to be considered as well.

Air Conditioners Are Everywhere

Whether you are walking down the street in a crowded city or driving through a suburban neighborhood, heating and cooling systems are everywhere. They have become cheaper for companies to make, so households even in developing countries are beginning to use this source of comfort.

At this point in time, so many people have become accustomed to their presence that they cannot see themselves living without one. With the rising temperatures and extremely humid climates in many parts of the world, who can blame them? Still, everyone should know that they are contributing to environmental damage.

What Makes Air Conditioners Detrimental to the Environment?

Air conditioners have an environmental impact in more ways than one, but the most significant are the inputs and the outputs. These popular cooling machines do not just function on their own; they are powered by electricity. The effects of electricity production alone can be very detrimental to the world in which we live. The hazardous pollutants pumped into the air from traditional fossil fuels are one of the top sources of negative environmental impact.

Not only is the energy consumption detrimental, but the gases emitted from air conditioners are also affecting the environment. Many, if not most, of the most harmful CFC gases have been stamped out via the Montreal Protocol, which reduces the emission of pollutants, but the gases that are still being emitted have a huge impact on global warming. It has been said that 27% of all global warming will be due to the gases emitted from air conditioning by the year 2050. This shocking statistic is largely due to the expected increase of use of air conditioning as temperatures continue to rise, thus creating a cycle of damage.

Moving Forward

So, what can be done to stop this damage from spiraling out of control? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed plans stemming from the Montreal Protocol that would help to reduce the negative impact on the environment caused by the harmful gases emitted. As proposed, by next year, 2015, the United States must reduce its use of damaging HCFC’s to 90% below the baseline. This would drastically help to reduce the pollutants going into the environment, including those from air conditioners.

The EPA has also proposed alternatives for the materials used in air conditioning units. These substitutes will be less damaging to the ozone, thus helping to cut back on the cycle that is currently overwhelming the planet. Homeowners can also install options such as new cooling systems that rely on less damaging coolants.

Keep in mind that this shift to newer materials and systems will not only impact the environment, but it will also impact the jobs of those working in the heating and cooling service industry. While it is already required for technicians to keep their licenses up to date, they will also need to learn the latest information regarding the new cooling systems in order to help home owners reduce their environmental impact. Resources such as online continued education courses for heating and cooling specialists will be extremely helpful as they work to keep up with the latest information and policies. Furthermore, with new cooling systems being developed to combat environmental damage, these professionals will need to be able to service, update and replace all systems so that they are within the current regulations.

Conclusion

The impact of air conditioning on the environment is obviously a very serious issue. We must address it now to avoid further damage. The rising and sometimes deadly temperatures make living without a cooling system very difficult and uncomfortable, and living without one is simply out of the question for many people in certain areas of the world. Regulations regarding the output of air conditioners must continue moving forward. Researchers must also develop substitutes for coolants until they are as environmentally friendly as possible.

Heating and cooling technicians will also need to stay up to date on the latest regulations, as well as continue their education as new systems are developed. Overall, innovation must continue before further damage from air conditioners causes an irreversibly drastic impact on the future of the planet.

How To Choose Between a Focus Group, Survey or Interview

If you’re a small business owner, student or marketer, you’ll eventually need to test out a new product or concept.  Some of the best ways to do this are to use a focus group, survey or interview.  The question is, how do you tell which option is the best option for your business and needs?  Here’s how to tell:

Survey

A survey is a set of questions that is given to a specific set of participants.  Surveys can be paper, digital, face-to-face or carried out over the phone.  The participants can be randomized or selected and usually submit anonymous answers.  One of the biggest pros of administering a survey is that participants feel compelled to be totally honest, as they are anonymous and not directly corresponding with a real human.  Surveys are very efficient in the sense that they can be quickly administered online or at a popular polling place such as a mall.

Surveys are generally cost-effective because many survey participants are not compensated for their time.  One of the downsides of administering a survey is the fact that you can’t tell what a participant means when selecting a particular answer.  Therefore, you’ll have to design the survey questions in a very careful manner so as to avoid human error or confusion.  Most of the information you receive from surveys will be quantifiable information that is useful for proof and reports.

Interview

An interview is a personalized version of a survey.  In an interview, the interviewer will sit down with the interviewee and ask him or her a specific set of questions pertaining to the product or concept at hand.  The important factor to consider with an interview is that the results are much more quality-driven as opposed to quantity-driven.  Though you won’t get as much information from a wide range of individuals, you’ll get comprehensive, in-depth information from one participant.  Of course, you can hold multiple interview sessions, but this will end up costing you a significant amount of money.  Interviews can also be done over the telephone, which leads to increased mobility and therefore lower cost.

Focus Group

A focus group is a session that takes place with multiple participants.  Usually, a moderator will ask a general question and whoever feels compelled to speak will do so.  This is a great way to see how your product or concept is regarded within the group dynamic and is a great way to get a quick feel for how people feel about the questions you are asking.  For example, if you were doing a focus group to get feedback for this web graphic, you could ask focus group participants to look at it on a computer there in the room and then give their thoughts about what they did or didn’t like about it.

In terms of cost, holding a focus group can get expensive if you have to calculate in food, a moderator and if the participants require payment.  But you will be seeing and receiving opinions from more people than if you were to hold one-on-one interviews.  One of the downsides of focus groups is that you have a limited time to dig into the answer of each person.

Must-Visit Sites for Statistics

What is statistics? The term can loosely be defined as mathematics that involve the collecting, interpreting, analyzing and presenting of a large amount of numerical data. Simply put, it is the processing of a great deal of information in a way that presents a complete picture of a particular subject. For instance, the United States Bureau of Economic Analysis, or BEA, is responsible for using statistical information to determine, among other things, the country’s gross domestic product. Stats show the GDP being increased by about 2.5%.

While that may be interesting for some, the average citizen may shy away from number crunching. Still, there are some great resources on the Web that can demonstrate just how important, useful and fun statistics can be.

statistics

Population Information

Whenever considering moving to a new location, there are some statistics to always be aware of. City-Data.com is a very popular website that can shed light on statistical information related to the population, average income, rent, etc. of various areas. If you’re looking to take population stats global, check out GeoHive.com. Here you learn that the United States is ranked as the third most populated country on Earth. The United States has roughly less than a third of the population of India, which is now ranked second while China is the most populated country on the planet.

If you’re looking to check these numbers in real-time, you should visit worldometers.info. Track global births, deaths, book titles published, money spent on video games (over $115,000,000 so far today!) and so much more.

The Census Bureau is also an ideal and reliable source for information about population.

On Crime and Safety

Few statistics are as compelling to the public as those determining the crime rate and safety of different locations. While the previously mentioned City-Data has a section of its site devoted to this, a statistics site more specific to crime is the popular CrimeReports.com. This site reveals the data regarding different crimes in a particular location over a period of time. CrimeMapping.com relies a bit more on reports through local police departments, making its data less detailed. However, the information that is available is very illuminating.

If you’re concerned about safety as it relates to flying, there are stats at Skybrary.aero that might interest you. As for determining which states are safest according to the number of occupation-related injuries and fatalities, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics provides these numbers for each state.

Sports Related

These statistics could be considered less serious to anyone who isn’t a sports fan. However, when you really want to know how your favorite player or team is doing, they can be very relevant. Baseball statistics are among the most well-known sports statistics, and the official mlb.mlb.com site features sortable baseball statistics. For more general sports stats, OptaSports.com is ideal.

All About Politics

Whenever election time rolls around, statistics representing the chances of those running for office are everywhere. Over the past couple of presidential election cycles, Fivethirtyeight.com has come to the foreground due to the brilliant use of statistics to predict election results with startling accuracy.

Fun Statistic Sites to Visit

If you’re not looking for any particular statistical information, but would love some fun statistic sites to check out, be sure to visit Gapminder.org, StatisticBrain.com or MathIsFun.com. There are even statistics games available for kids at onlinemathlearning.com.

No matter what the topic is, it is likely to have statistics of some sort related to it. Whether you are looking for fun, a school project, or creating an info graphic or report for work, these sites can help you find the right stats. Number crunching can seem daunting, but statistics often provides a convenient way to learn more about our world and each other.

Making Your Research Count

Good quality research is the key to many aspects of work, academia, and life in general. Whether you’re researching scholarly texts for a dissertation, industry facts and figures for a work presentation, or simply hunting for a bargain online, the ability to seek out and effectively use relevant information is a fantastic life skill.

There are some simple techniques you can follow to make sure that your research is relevant, high quality, and doesn’t take an age to find the information you need. Whatever research task is facing you, these tips should help to make the process smoother, easier and more productive.

Keep An Open Mind

Open-mindedness is crucial to good research. If you go into your research task having already decided what you want the result to be, this can prevent you from considering other options and using them to help you come to a more accurate conclusion.

You also face the problem of what’s known as confirmation bias, which is the idea that people pay more attention to information that agrees with their own original ideas. If, for example, you’re searching for alcohol rehab centers in Florida but already have a choice in mind, you’ll be less likely to pay attention to the other options that are available to you. If you’re able to begin your research task with an open mind, you’ll be more likely to come to an accurate conclusion.

Learn To Make The Most Of Search Engines

Search engines are a valuable tool for doing research, but it’s possible to get a bit lost in the huge amounts of information that a general search can return. One way to cut down the irrelevant results which may crop up from a general search term is to put quotation marks around the phrase you’re searching on. This makes the search engine look for sites which contain that specific term, rather than a combination of some or all of the individual words.

Another tool offered by search engines, particularly Google, is the ability to search only on one particular type of site. Google has search options for books, academic texts, news, shopping, images and a whole host of other categories. These can be particularly useful if you know what type of information you’re looking for.

Take A Systematic Approach To Your Research

One of the main problems facing researchers, particularly in the Internet age, is the sheer volume of information available. It can be tricky to keep track of everything you’ve researched if you don’t create an organized system for storing the information once you find it. Doing the best research in the world is no use if you cannot effectively catalogue, access, and use the information afterwards. Try a spreadsheet or database to keep all your information in order.

Once you know how to research effectively, you can make your work easier and find higher quality information. Taking the time in improving your research ability will always pay off.

How to Write Survey Questions

How do you write survey questions? This article provides four useful tips on how to write survey questions that work.

In generating any kind of web survey or other research resource that targets a specific audience, it’s important to know how to structure the individual questions on that survey so that they do the job correctly. Here are some of the most common tips that experts provide on how to write survey questions that work:

Write for the Right Audience

One essential tip is to always consider the specific audience for a survey question and write accordingly. For example, a survey on what garment shoppers want would not write questions that are off base in terms of that specific audience. Instead of writing a survey question that just asks for all-ages’ input on a type of clothing that is for a specific age, the writer should approach a certain demographic subset.

For instance, a survey question on sports clothing for women would not just ask for random style information, but would address the specific uses of this clothing with questions like “What types of sports clothing supports your specific workout goals?” or “What kind of material do you want in athletic clothing?”

Make sure to clarify your questions without sounding too wordy. This survey does a great job at explaining exactly what they want the user to do.

Write With Specific Products in Mind

survey

In addition to getting the right target audience, survey questions should also address the use of specific items that the survey intended to do market research on. Having a list of the products can help a writer develop the survey questions accordingly.

For example, someone writing a survey on the cost of sports vehicle ownership might want to have a list of Mustang parts or other gear. The list will enable the customer to be specific about the part he really needs. This becomes useful information to parts sellers or manufacturers.

Make It Narrow

Survey questions that are too broad will not address the key answers that writers are looking for. Using the above example, instead of just asking about all car systems, the survey writer could narrow it down to just one system by asking questions like “What accessories and products best support engine maintenance?” or “What kind of power steering fluid works best for you?”

Ask for an Action

Another main point in writing survey questions is to direct readers and respondents towards some sort of particular action. Survey questions like those mentioned above can have this effect. For other kinds of specific actions, survey writers might want to include questions like “What types of products have you used in the past?” or “Where will you likely go for your products in the future?”

Including all of these of critical considerations will help make survey questions relevant and bring in the results that are needed by the company.