DinaNews 4, February 2003
You are reading DinaNews, an informal newsletter that appears once a year. It supplies information on future events, comments on issues in informatics and other matters of interest to Dina people. Starting with this issue, DinaNews also prints the annual report of Dina activiteis in the preceding calender year: thus the "Dina Annual Report" will no more appear as a seperate publication.
Informatics and Techniquel in Agriculture 2003
Time: 27-28 February 2003
Place: Fuglsø Center, Mors
Chief Organizer: Iver Thyse
Arranged by: Dina, DaMet and DSIJ
According to plans, this issue of DinaNews will appear just as the Dina Annual Meeting is about to begin. We wish all participants in the event a profitable and animated meeting.
Dina Calendar 2003
Network Committee meeting
Dina Workshop - QTL mapping and marker assisted selection
Dina Workshop - Decision support and farmers
Dina/DaNet/DSIJ Annual Meeting 2003
DaNet Workshop - Intelligent technologies for future farming
DaNet Workshop - Gas and odour emission from livestock buildings
Dina Workshop - Principles and perspectives in evaluation of diagnostic rests
Dina Workshop - Mobile Internet
Network Committee Meeting
Nordic PhD Summer School - Reasoning under Uncertainty in Agriculture: Bayesian Networks and Graphical Models
Dina Workshop - Dispersal models with agriculture applications
Dina Workshop - Analysis of Phylogeny and Reticulate Evolution
Most of the events are dealt with in more detail elsewhere in this issue. See www.dina.dk/calendar for updated info.
Teaching information technology in the agricultural sciences
By Peter Sestoft
Only 15-20 years ago it was hard to do anything useful with a computer without writing a program for it. This situation has changed radically with the emergence of modern graphical user interfaces and, not the least, of spreadsheets. Nowadays, anybody leaving highschool can use a computer to calculate averages, draw graphs, sort data, and create colourful tables with a neat layout.
The widespread acceptance of computers would seem an excellent basis for providing students in the agricultural sciences with hard technological skills, such as programming skills. But the opposite has happened. Neither students nor study boards seem to find such skills important, judging from the number of participants at KVL's courses in data processing and programming.
In a way, this is quite understandable - after all, the job appears to get done without any programming, so why bother. But data processing tools are often used in a poor and misguided way, and it poses a serious threat to our candidates' chances of coping with new technology. Below find my grounds for these allegations.
Spreadsheets, such as the dominating Microsoft Excel, are OK for producing bar charts, pie charts and 2D plots. But they were designed for business use, not for presenting research, and they are useless for 3D and other more advanced graphs.
The tools that they replace (SAS) and many open source tools (gnuplot, R) do far better but are neglected because they have a more complicated user interfaces - and are harder to learn.
In addition, some of the technology is poor. For instance, Excel can add trendlines to graphs, based on multiple linear regression which seems to be implemented by highly unstable numerical algorithms so that the error can become very large.
Much better procedures have been known for decades and are used in more serious tools such as R, SAS and Matlab. But how would students of forestry, economy, agronomy and food science know? Nobody told them. We ought to do that.
Today most advanced equipment, whether in the office, lab, field, or greenhouse, has a built-in computer, and soon it will be connected to wireless networks. This permits the collection of vast amounts of data which in turn creates a need for processing these data. It would be extremely valuable if the people who know what the data mean were also able to imagine ways to collect, process and exploit these data.
Now, KVL's candidates should, in general, hardly devote their career to writing programs. But without a basic understanding of computation, how can they distinguish marketing hype from real technology in the Next Great Computer Thing? If the future decision makers or researchers have a weak technological basis, they will make illinformed or shortsighted decisions, to the detriment of our economy and our knowledge.
Agricultural scientists should note that concepts from computing and discrete mathematics (hierarchical state machines; graph theory) are increasingly being used to study and describe bio-logical systems such as regulatory networks.
It is also revealing that the frontier in bioinformatics is headed by physicists, maybe because they master the mix of mathematics, statistics and computer programming needed solve the computa-tional problems in biology.
I propose the following goals for the IT education in the agricultural sciences:
Finally: although it is important to draw examples and motivation from forestry, agronomy, etc., IT teaching must not be integrated too closely with the applied fields: it makes it harder to focus on principles rather than on immediate applicability.
- It should enable candidates to follow the development of IT throughout their working life. Noone knows what computing will be like in year 2030 - except that it will be quite different from today. And there will be much more of it.
- Therefore, teaching IT should not only have an immediate practical value, as seems to be the expectation in 2003. It should also take the necessary time and work to present and discuss principles and theories.
- The teaching of IT should exploit the close relationship with mathematics and statistics. Many computational problems are motivated by applications in statistics and the solutions are explained by reference to mathematics.
Peter Sestoft has been associate professor in computer science at KVL since 1995, and at the IT University of Copenhagen since 1999. In the autumn of 2002 he was appointed professor mso in information technology.
What is DaNet?
By Svend Christensen
DaNet is a network for engineering and technology related to agriculture, established in 2000 by scientists, advisors and business people from all over Denmark. Most activities within DaNet are open for everybody, including people and institutions abroad.
The network includes people at the following institutions and companies:
Center for Agro Technology
Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences
Dept. of Agricultural Engineering
Dept. of Agricultural Systems
Dept. of Animal Health and Welfare
Dept. of Crop Physiology and Soil Science
Dept. of Crop Protection
Dept. of Horticulture
Dept. of Plant Biology
Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University
Dept. of Animal Science and Animal Health
Dept. of Agricultural Sciences
Technical University of Denmark
Informatics and Mathematical Modelling
Department of Mechanical Engineering
University of Southern Denmark
Technical Microbiology Group
Danish Veterinary Institute
Danish Research Institute of Food Economics
Organisations and companies:
The Danish Agricultural Advisory Centre
National Committee for Pig Production
Dept. of Plant Production
Dronningborg Industries a/s
Hardi International A/S
Aim of DaNet
The main aim of DaNet is to stimulate collaboration between scientists, students, advisors and business people on research, development and education within engineering and technology related to agriculture. DaNet therefore arrange international workshops, PhD courses and facilitates a Project Forum.
A committee with representatives from the member institutions supervises DaNet. The committee meets at least once a year to exchange information, stimulate collaboration and make decisions about workshops, PhD courses etc. The committee appoints a head who calls for meetings, edits the homepage and runs the joint activities.
How to join DaNet
To join DaNet, you can (1) participate in a workshop, (2) participate in a PhD course (these have educational requirements), (3) registrer to the mailing list for information about arrangements, or (4) join the Project Forum.
Scientific courses 2003
DaNet organises scientific courses for PhD students, engineers and researchers. The 2003 courses are given in cooperation with Dina Research School and are listed in the school's 'Plans for 2003' elsewhere in this issue.
Thematic workshops 2003
DaNet invites business people, scientists, advisors, innovative farmers and decision-makers to workshops about innovative agriculture. In 2003 the following workshops are organised:
· Intelligent technologies for future farm-ing, 27 March 2003
· Gas and odour emission from livestock buildings, 6 June 2003.
The largest ongoing DaNet project is the development of an autonomous platform and information system for crop and weed monitoring (API).
Six new projects were started in DaNet in Nov. 2002 under the research program 'Sustainable technology in Agriculture' funded by The Danish Agricultural and Veterinary Research Council, the Danish Technical Research Council and the Direc-torate for Food, Fisheries and Agri Busi-ness. The titles of the six projects are:
· Robotic weeding robot
· Biosensors for quantification of plant diseases and pests in the field
· Autonomous spatial-temporal crop and soil surveying (ACROSS)
· Intelligent Sensor for Autonomous Cleaning in livestock buildings (ISAC)
· Absorption in water droplets of odours, ammonia and dust from livestock buildings
· Early identification of production diseases in diary cows in high-tech barns.
DaNet is financed by the participating institutions, the Danish Agricultural and Veterinary Research Council, the Danish Technical Research Council and the Directorate for Food, Fisheries and Agri Business.
For more information about DaNet's workshops, courses etc., readers are refered to www.agrsci.dk/jbt/danet.
Dina Annual Report 2002
Author: Webmaster. Updated: March 2003.