DinaNews 3, February 2002
Appearing twice a year, this newsletter supplies information on future events and comments on issues in informatics and other matters of interest to Dina people.
Informatics and Techniques in Agriculture
Time: 28 February - 1 March 2002
Place: Fuglsø Center, Mols Bjerge
Chief Organizer: Iver Thysen
Arranged by: Dina, DaNet and DSIJ
Expanded from two half days into one-and-a-half days, this year's meeting aims at presenting a broad selection of topics within the interest spheres of the three organisations behind it.
The first day starts with general introductions by Niels Duedahl, TDC and Jens C. Refsgaard, GEUS, to the first two of the three themes that form the basis of the afternoon's parallel sessions, respectively:
In the evening, the well-known IT prophet Ole Grünbaum, once a leading figure in the Danish '68 riot, will speak on 'Techno fetichism - and the Dream of a Frictionless Society'.
- Online Cooperation
- Natural Resources, and
- Agricultural Technology.
On the second day, the meeting concludes with lectures by Iver Thysen, DJF, Lis Alban, The National Pig Committee, Lars Gjøl Christensen, KVL, and Søren Brunak, DTU, followed by a short discussion.
Registration / Information online - or contact
Carina Jensen, Dina KVL
Telephone (+45) 3528 2366
Note that the meeting will be held in Danish.
Dina Calendar 2002
31/1 - 1/2 2002
Dina Workshop: QTL Networks
28/2 - 1-3 2002
Dina/DaNet/DSIJ Annual Meeting 2002
Model-Based Decision Support Systems
18/4 - 19/4 2002
Data Series and Kalman Filtering
28/7 - 9/8 2002
Nordic PhD Summer School
26/10 - 28/10 2002
AFITA Conference, Beijing
Spatial Statistics in Agriculture
5/12 - 6/12 2002
Biology needs IT
A few years ago, a biologist's main tools were: binoculars, a microscope, a notebook and a pencil. He still uses a notebook, but today it is an electronic one, and the binoculars and microscope are collecting dust – the biologist spends more time in his office at the computer, and less time in his laboratory or in the field.
As the tools have changed, so has the scientific approach. Biology has become less descriptive and more analytical: it attempts not only to explain how things look or work, but also why they do so, often in an evolutionary context.
The demands on the scientist have changed accordingly. Still a skilled biologist, he now also has to be an effortless user of modern information technology. However, this double goal is not easily achieved. Field biologists rarely have a good analytical background; and theoretical ecologists are short of field experience. So, should the former be forced into the classroom and the latter into the field? Or should biologists specialise?
Here we touch on a classical evolutionary dilemma: when does it pay for a species to be a generalist, and when a specialist? A stable environment and strong competition favour the specialists, while generalists are superior under the opposite conditions. The fact that competition for jobs among biologists is intense, and will be so for some time, speaks for a specialist strategy. In other words, biologists do not have to be experts in mathematics, statistics or computer science, but they must be able to communicate and collaborate with specialists in these fields.
The big challenge is how this objective is to be achieved. Communication is a two-way process: the biologist must explain his problem to a non-biologist who then has to solve it and report back to the biologist in a language he understands. Any com- munication error can lead to serious mistakes, so to ensure that the signal-noise ratio is maximized, both parties have to be trained to understand each other.
Biology students often resent being dragged through basic statistics and mathematics, while statisticians and mathematicians do not invest similar efforts in biology. Therefore, biologists tend to put the blame for misunderstandings on the other side. They may be right in a few cases, but hardly always; under any circumstances it points to communication being the key factor.
A possible solution could be to offer basic biology courses to students in mathematics and statistics, so as to encourage their interest in the area. Some students might even be tempted to ‘change sides' and combine studies in IT with biology. As hard to admit as it is, some very notable contributors to biology have a background in physics, mathematics and statistics, while examples of the opposite are scarce.
Many biological problems are too complex to be solved by biologists alone; they require a close multidisciplinary collaboration. I am sure that many IT specialists will find such a collaboration both interesting and challenging. It requires, however, that they take an active part in all phases of a research programme instead of just serving as consultants when biologists run into problems they cannot solve by themselves.
Gösta Nachman is associate professor at Dept. of Zoology, Copenhagen University. He took part in the round table discussion on Biology and Informatics arranged by Dina at Research Center Foulum, Sep. 24, 2002 - read more on the following page.
Round table discussion on biology and informatics
On September 24, 2001 Dina organised a round table discussion at Research Center Foulum on the need for PhD courses in informatics for biologists - with 35 participants representing informatics at the universities as well as theoretical and applied biological research.
Motivated by the growing interface between biology and informatics, the meeting focused on the teaching of PhD students, with the aim of providing an overview of
- existing teaching practice,
- needs and challenges,
- possible future cooperation.
A fruitful discussion took place; participants essentially agreed that modern biology calls for a strengthening of informatics in the biological programmes, and that there is already an acute need for new PhD courses. However financing such 'service courses' is difficult because they do not contribute to merit the teachers as scientists.
Among the conclusions were: 1. The event provided a welcome overview of the area in Denmark; 2. there is a need for synergy between biology and informatics; 3. there is a need for easier access to information on existing PhD courses and related activities.
Following the meeting, Dina considered creating an information forum using internet and mailing lists, aiming also at detecting needs of new courses/initiatives. Due to lack of resourses the plan was discontinued.
Minutes in Danish at: http://www.dina.dk/Internal-Info/Rundbordssamtale/.
Priority Research Areas
Below is a survey of planned workshops and other activities in the five Dina "priority research areas".
Spatial Statistics in Agriculture
Morten Larsen, Dina KVL; N.N.
Dina workshop Tentative date: 1 Nov. 2002:
The theme of the workshop has not yet been determined.
Information Technology and Agricultural Engineering
Anders P. Ravn, Dina Aalborg; Niels K. Poulsen, Dina DTU.
The activities of this priority area are being transferred to DaNet, a new network in agricultural technology. See http://www.agrsci.dk/jbt/DANET/index.shtml
Internet-based Advisory Systems in Agriculture
Jens Peter Hansen, Dina Skejby; Ellen Juel Nielsen, Dina FSL.
Besides the ongoing activity in LandbrugsInfo, Dina Skejby will, in 2002, be in charge of the project "Visualised Virtual Network Collaboration" under the scheme "Det digitale Nordjylland".
Model-based Decision Support Systems in Agriculture
Erik Jørgensen, Dina DJF; Allan Leck Jensen, Dina DJF; Nils Toft, Dina KVL.
Dina Workshop 20 March 2002
Sequential Monitoring: Controlling Error Rates
Bioinformatics and Quantitative Genetics
Mogens Sandø Lund, Dina DJF; Gunter Backes, Dina Risø; Henrik Christensen, Dina KVL.
A workshop has already been held 31 Jan. - 1 Feb. Another one will be organised later in 2002; it will focus on algorithms and software packages for phylogenic investigation and will be structured on investigations performed below ("typing") or above the species level (phylogeny).
New expert at the Research School
From January 2002, Rasmus Waagepetersen, Dina Aalborg has replaced Henrik Stryhn as Dina Research School's expert in statistics.
Erik Jørgensen, Dina DJF has been appointed temporary deputy head (assistant manager) of the Research School.
Dina Research School:
WORKSHOPS AND SUMMER SCHOOL 2002
18 - 19 April 2002
Workshop: Data series and Kalman filtering (in Danish).
Häme Polytechnic, Mustiala Faculty of Agriculture, Finland 28 July - 9 August 2002
Summer School: "Design of Data Generation - Experimental Design"
David Ford, USA
Klaus Hinkelmann, USA
Emlyn Williams, Australia
Lauri Jauhiainen, Finland
Hannu Rita, Finland
Arranged by: Dina/Nordic Informatics Network in the Agricultural Sciences.
5-6 December 2002
Workshop: Hybrid Systems (in Danish).
Widening the net
Dear reader - While you are reading these lines in the printed version of DinaNews, you are probably sitting comfortably leaned back in your chair, taking a break from the work at your computer which occupies you for most of your day. Although you are used to having the Internet within arm's length, you may still from time to time wonder about how fast and easily the net can provide you with answers to all sorts of questions.
Those of us who try so eagerly to provide farmers with the blessings of the Internet must face a different reality: farmers do not have a computer within reach during their working day. They do, however, have a mobile phone in their pocket, and a mobile phone can be reached from the Internet by an SMS. This is why we have, in 2001, widened access to Pl@nteInfo to include SMS.
SMS stands for "short message service", and the word ‘short' is painfully precise in a situation where you want to convey useful information in 160 characters able to be read on a very small screen. The art of being brief presents a true challenge.
Technically, it seemed easy to send SMS messages from the Internet server: compose the message in an e-mail, include the mobile number in the address and use the mobile net provider's free service to transform the e-mail into an SMS. However, complaints from the Pl@nteInfo subscribers made us realise once again that there is no such thing as a free lunch: it could take hours, even days, before the SMS came through, and thus the value of an updated weather forecast was somewhat reduced. So we had to purchase an SMS server and spend a few weeks on developing software to be able to send messages directly to the subscribers.
The benefit we gained was that it became possible to ask for a weather forecast by sending an SMS to us. Without really having planned it, we found ourselves at the forefront of widening the net to the thriving mobile world. Learn about our SMS applications at www.planteinfo.dk, and watch us in 2002 as we step out to enlarge our SMS offers. The crowd cries out for more!
DinaNews is issued at KVL, Copenhagen. Editor: Mogens Flensted-Jensen (resp.) Assistant Editor: Poul Einer Hansen.
Author:Webmaster. Updated: February 2002.