2021 Journal news
Let it snow – Antarctica, frozen legal state
Antarctica is a mysterious continent, we have barely scratched its icy surface in terms of exploration and within this frozen realm, there are unimagined resources that remain untapped. The continent lies without state, nations stake claims to chunks of it but its legal status is frozen like its vast wildernesses. Now, a new paper in the International Journal of Technology, Policy and Management suggests an approach based on the anarcho-capitalist and heterodox-economist philosophy of Murray Newton Rothbard (1926-1995) that could allow the international community to assign equitable but limited property rights to Antarctica.
Of course, having a framework for the carving up of a continent might be perceived as a modern form of imperialism. Rothbard argued that all services provided by the "monopoly system of the corporate state" could be done far more effectively by private enterprise, he even argued that the state is "the organization of robbery systematized and writ large". How the notion of assigning state ownership to portions of Antarctica sits with such a view may well require its own standalone philosophy.
José Antonio Peña-Ramos of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at the Universidad Autónoma de Chile in Providencia, Chile and Dmitri Amirov-Belova of the Pablo de Olavide University in Sevilla, Spain, explain that due to its isolated location and perhaps its extreme temperatures and climatic conditions, there is no indigenous population or government. This contrasts starkly with the Arctic in the north, of course. They point out that several nations have territorial claims on the continent – Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom. There are several thousand people each year who spend time on the continent for scientific and other purposes.
The team offers much food for thought for those concerned for the future of Antarctica. Primarily, they suggest that a non-state-centric view of international relations may be needed to answer the questions we must act about this frozen continent.
Peña-Ramos, J.A. and Amirov-Belova, D. (2021) 'A Rothbardian approach for the assignment of property rights on the Antarctica continent', Int. J. Technology, Policy and Management, Vol. 21, No. 4, pp.333–343.
Analysing online social networking
A comprehensive review of the various approaches to social networking user behaviour analysis is reported in the International Journal of Computer Applications in Technology by a team from India. Pramod Bide and Sudhir Dhage of the Computer Engineering Department at the Sardar Patel Institute of Technology in Mumbai, Maharashtra, explain that various approaches can be used for gender prediction, the identification of malicious users, real-time user preference determination, and emotion detection.
Online social networks have been with us for many years now and they each have their pros and cons for their billions of users. For researchers and other observers they are a major source of data that can be used to glean insights into human behaviour and the interactions and responses of users to others and to commercial, political, and other concerns that hope to engage with those users. As such, numerous analytical approaches have been tested that might extract insights from the various online social networks, each with its own successes and failures.
The team explains that hybrid techniques and ones that can be used to analyse behaviour between networks can be the most powerful tools. The results that such approaches are able to glean about the networks' users can be useful to marketing departments, political campaigners, advocacy groups, and many other so-called "stakeholders" looking to make the most of the online world to fulfill their own agendas.
The team concedes that the vast majority of analytical tools focus on text-based updates on social networks, but some can take images and videos into consideration too, and even audio in some instances. Indeed, they suggest that the next step will be to survey tools that focus specifically on audio-visual content.
Bide, P. and Dhage, S. (2021) 'Comprehensive survey of user behaviour analysis on social networking sites', Int. J. Computer Applications in Technology, Vol. 66, No. 1, pp.1–18.
Predicting COVID-19 infection spikes
A comparison of two approaches to the popular moving average forecasting method in time series analysis could allow researchers to make more accurate predictions of COVID-19 infections in the short term. Details are published in the International Journal of Management and Decision Making.
Seng Hansun of the Informatics Department at Universitas Multimedia Nusantara in Tangerang, Indonesia, Vincent Charles of the School of Management at the University of Bradford, Tatiana Gherman of the Faculty of Business and Law at the University of Northampton, UK, and Vijayakumar Varadarajan of the School of Computer Science and Engineering at The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, discuss the weighted exponential moving average (WEMA) and the Hull moving average (HMA). WEMA was first introduced in 2013 and is now widely used, but suffers from lags. To overcome this issue, the team has developed a novel zero-lag Hull-WEMA method that combines HMA and WEMA.
As a proof of principle, of this new hybridised approach, the team has used COVID-19 time-series data from ten different countries with the highest number of cases on the last observed date. Their results show that the new model has much greater accuracy than HMA and WEMA used separately. Indeed, the team's success points to the possibility of a general "white-box" forecasting method that could be used to make short-term predictions about how the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in a given region will change.
Given the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and how quickly healthcare systems can be overcome by sudden spikes in infection rates and sickness, an accurate forecasting method should allow providers and the authorities to make better calls on what staffing levels and equipment will be needed over a short time-frame in order to cope with those spikes and to free up resources when the model predictions that the number of infections are set to fall.
The team concludes that their work allows them to "join the recent research efforts made by the community of researchers to assist governments, policymakers, and other relevant stakeholders by providing forecasts that can be used as a tool towards making better decisions and taking appropriate actions to contain or curb the spread of the coronavirus."
Hansun, S., Charles, V., Gherman, T. and Varadarajan, V. (2022) 'Hull-WEMA: a novel zero-lag approach in the moving average family, with an application to COVID-19', Int. J. Management and Decision Making, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp.92–112.
Predicting political flux from emotional Twitter updates
Predictive analytics on social media has become an important tool and research in the International Journal of Data Mining, Modelling and Management looks at how it might be used to extract emotional context from the information-rich data streams on the micro-blogging platform Twitter.
Satish Srinivasan and Ruchika Chari of the School of Graduate Professional Studies at Penn State Great Valley in Malvern, Pennsylvania and Abhishek Tripathi of the School of Business at The College of New Jersey, in Ewing, USA, suggest that large-scale data mining might be used not only to trap emotions at the individual user level but across large groups of users.
Training a naïve Bayes multinomial system and using random forest classifiers on different training datasets can be used to extract an emotional classification for tweets related to a particular topic. The team has successfully demonstrated proof of principle using Twitter updates associated with the 2016 US presidential elections. With this approach, they were able to classify Twitter updates, so-called "tweets" according to one of four basic emotion types: anger, happiness, sadness, and surprise. They were then able to portray the flux in the emotional landscape during this disruptive and divisive period of modern American history.
The analysis of this particular data set shows how Twitter users were generally happier with Clinton earlier in the campaign but as election day approached there was a gradual increase in happiness with Trump's candidature and a dwindling of "surprise" associated with the details of his campaign. The result, of course, is history, but the algorithms wielded by the team corroborate the reality we saw and, of course, may well be applied to a future scenario to make predictions about an outcome based on the classified emotions inherent in Twitter updates pertaining to that scenario.
Srinivasan, S.M., Chari, R. and Tripathi, A. (2021) 'Modelling and visualising emotions in Twitter feeds', Int. J. Data Mining, Modelling and Management, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp.337–350.
Energy trees and energy ships
Wind and solar power must be maximised if we are to make the transition to global renewable energy by the middle of the century. That is the assertion of Max Platzer of AeroHydro Research and Technology Associates in Pebble Beach, California, USA, writing in the International Journal Sustainable Aviation. Hybrid wind-solar power-generation technology could be one key to this aspiration without requiring us to use more land resources or disturbing the wider environment. An energy tree would add a third dimension to solar panels and wind turbines. Additionally, the "energy ship" concept would allow us to exploit vast wind resources across our oceans as well as extract carbon dioxide from seawater to produce renewable aviation fuel.
Despite many diverse efforts to home in on a solution to the problems of climate change, no consensus on how we might address the issues has been found. A switch from fossil fuels is seen as an important transition, provided we can preclude net carbon emissions.
"The possibility of irreversible climate change onset within the next 30 years requires an 'all hands on deck' approach to transition to almost complete emission-free power generation," writes Platzer. To that end, we need energy technologies that can be implemented around the world easily as well as methods to produce fuels that are ultimately carbon neutral. The energy ship concept would be for the time being an interim solution given that the fuels it produces would still be burnt and thus release captured carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.
Platzer, M.F. (2021) 'On the transition to global renewable energy by mid-century', Int. J. Sustainable Aviation, Vol. 7, No. 4, pp.285–292.
Commodities and cryptocurrencies in the time of COVID-19
What relationships might we extract from an examination of the changes in values of cryptocurrencies and commodities before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. New work published in the International Journal of Business Performance Management, looks at the relationship and causality between cryptocurrencies, commodities, currencies, indexes and web search results over this period. The team demonstrated that they could model the effects with up to 95% accuracy for the price of the cryptocurrencies they examined – Bitcoin and Ethereum. Moreover, they obtained strong evidence that web search traffic correlates with the prices of those two cryptocurrencies while the price of gold affects Bitcoin and the value of the Euro affects Ethereum. The web is perhaps the main source of information with respect to cryptocyurrency investments so this is perhaps not surprising.
Deni Memic, Mohamed Noor, and Saif Almehairi of the Higher Colleges of Technology at Academic City, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Selma Skaljic-Memic of the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Sarajevo, used high-frequency data for prices of the cryptocurrencies Bitcoin and Ehtereum and two "traditional" commodities Crude Oil WTI futures and Gold futures. In addition, they examined the Euro versus US Dollar and the Euro versus Swiss Franc exchange rates, and an equity index represented by the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Google Trends data gave them a measure of search results on the worldwide web pertinent to the cryptocurrencies of interest.
"Our goal was to observe the relationship and causality between cryptocurrencies on one, and commodities, currencies, equity indexes and web search results on the other side," the team writes. It was quickly apparent that the average prices of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and gold during the COVID-19 period of 2020 were all above their historical averages, suggesting that investors turned to those "safe havens" or defensive assets in the pandemic crisis. However, somewhat surprising is that Bitcoin too was at an above average price during this period despite its reputation as a riskier investment option than stocks and gold. The team found that all assets with the exception of crude oil offered positive returns in the period before COVID-19 but most assets gave significant negative returns during the COVID-19 period studied. Volatility was very high during this period.
Conventional assets have been the subject of much research for many years. The advent of cryptocurrencies adds another branch to what academics and practitioners alike need to focus on to understand the broader financial markets and the shifting world of investment. The emergence of a pandemic offered opportunities for some and retrospective analysis could be used to guide predictions and responses in finance to subsequent crises.
Memic, D., Skaljic-Memic, S. and Almehairi, M.N.S.M.N.S. (2022) 'Relationship and causality between cryptocurrencies, commodities, currencies, indexes and web search results during and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic', Int. J. Business Performance Management, Vol. 23, Nos. 1/2, pp.99–117.
Forgiveness and wellbeing at work
A new theoretical contribution to the research literature published in the International Journal of Business Excellence looks at workplace "forgiveness" and employee wellbeing and happiness. The analysis of the various factors linking forgiveness to wellbeing and the role gender plays was carried out by Rinki Dahiya of the Indian Institute of Management Sirmaur, in Himachal Pradesh, India. It leads the author to offer some useful guidance for managers hoping to boost employee morale, happiness and nurture wellbeing.
The concept of positive organisational behaviour has emerged in recent years as a component of understanding how to improve business practices with a focus on the wellbeing of the employees of the business in question. Over the years, researchers have thus looked at psychological wellbeing, spiritual wellbeing, subjective wellbeing, physical wellbeing, and prosocial behaviour in various environments and contexts. Moreover, recent research has homed in on the idea that determinants of life satisfaction can be seen in the context of optimism, humour, forgiveness, and finding meaning in life. The present paper looks at how forgiveness relates to happiness and wellbeing.
Dahiya found that forgiveness at work act is a predictor of happiness and also gender has a role as a moderator in this regard. The "findings suggest a need for psychological interventions to foster forgiveness and cultivate happiness in the organisational context," she writes.
Organisations might increase mistake tolerance and introduce earlier interventions when needed as well as promoting forgiveness in the workplace in order to cultivate happiness. If managers and supervisors can create a more forgiving work environment, then employee wellbeing should improve to the benefit of the workforce as a whole and to the organisation's goals, and ultimately its outputs and profit margins.
Dahiya, R. (2021) 'Refusing to forgive is your own loss: relationship between forgiveness and employee happiness', Int. J. Business Excellence, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp.261–276.
New normal nudged us online
The various national and local lockdowns put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic forced many people to re-evaluate the way they lived and worked. Research published in the International Journal of Web Based Communities looks at how different activities were relocated to the virtual world during lockdown and how this affected people's wellbeing and their social interactions.
Iryna Sekret of StartinForun International in Turkey explains how her ethnographic study is based on observations of changes in the realms of education and business during the COVID-19 lockdown around the world. Given the paradigm shift in our attitudes and behaviour that have been wrought by the pandemic, the world community is unlikely to ever return to the way things once were. The "new normal" is here to stay. Sekret's analysis provides new pointers to how teaching and commerce might be revitalised in the online environment.
There are some distinctions to be seen between the world of reporting of events and changes in the research literature and how the media represented the new normal, of course. Sekret details the shift from classroom teaching and bricks-and-mortar business to the online models. However, it is difficult to make predictions as to how the new normal will evolve, she concedes. We are yet to fully reflect on our experience of almost two years of living with the pandemic and its impact on our social lives, education, and business.
Regardless of how it is reported, 2020 marked a turning point for a large proportion of the world's population, if not all of it. Social media communities and other online communication platforms have been with us for many years. But, in the last couple of years, they have extended their reach to people who previously never entered such virtual spaces. They have given many of those people a new dimension in which to live their lives in ways some may well have never previously imagined existed and for those who knew about them all along have expanded way beyond even their imagination. This new study offers a template for how we might study the changes that have taken place and offer some clues as to how new strategies can be used to adjust our lives and behaviour in this pandemic and any future crises that nudge us into the online environment and out of the offline world.
Sekret, I. (2021) 'Societal transformations through web-based communities during and after the global lockdown from an ethnographic perspective', Int. J. Web Based Communities, Vol. 17, No. 4, pp.247–261.
Social entrepreneurs in a pandemic
Research in Bangladesh reported in the International Journal of Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation suggests that social entrepreneurship increased there during the COVID-19 pandemic. Areas that benefited from this activity were primarily in food, healthcare, employment, and education, the team writes. They suggest that managers should focus on these four sectors when we are faced with the next major crisis.
Entrepreneurs by definition create and endeavour to profit from novel business ventures, there is a well-known element of innovation associated with entrepreneurship. Commonly, those who are successful evaluate an emerging set of circumstances that might require a novel response, service or product and plan, act on those plans, and re-evaluate their impact and the whole process and ultimately offer something that the consumers want or need.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, social distancing, the closure of business, and, of course, the very sickness and deaths wrought by the disease, there has been, for many, little opportunity for entrepreneurship. For others, however, they have risen to the enormous challenges the pandemic has presented. Moreover, given the problems so many people have faced during the pandemic, the notion of more altruistic endeavours have come to the fore. The social entrepreneur who hopes to solve a societal problem by offering a novel product or service is the champion needed in many areas of society where the focus is solving the problem rather than worrying about profit margins and the fiscal bottom line.
Work by others in 2020 had already shown how active and swift social entrepreneurs could be in a time of crisis. The new work from S.M. Sadrul Huda of the North South University, and Syeda Raisa Maliha of Re-think, Re-search, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, demonstrates how in the midst of a crisis our inner humanity emerges. The team delves into the details of some extraordinary entrepreneurial activities in Bangladesh carried out by social entrepreneurs as we live through the pandemic. Among the entrepreneurial endeavours are efforts to provide protective gear and food to the poor, employment opportunities for rickshaw pullers, free online education, free laptops for students, shopping and home delivery of groceries, supplying oxygen cylinders, as well as the use of various digital tools and services such as PeaceMaker Studio, iFarmer, and Shuttle.
Huda, S.M.S. and Maliha, S.R. (2021) 'Rise of social entrepreneurship during COVID-19 pandemic', Int. J. Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp.63–71.
Wine: new and old vs emerging and established
The vanguard of emerging winemakers
For decades the primary division in the world of wine was between the "Old World" of European wines and the "New World" of North America, Australia ND New Zealand, South Africa, and elsewhere. There is a need to update this for the modern age where emerging nations are creating products to compete in the global market with the old vanguard.
Indeed, work published in the International Journal of Economics and Business Research, suggests that we should have a new division, not between old and new but between "developed" and "emerging" so that we can describe, analyse, and define wines with a 21st-century perspective rather than one borne of the colonial thinking of history.
Emiliano Villanueva of Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, Connecticut, USA, and Gustavo Ferro of the Universidad del CEMA in Buenos Aires, Argentina, point out that for much of the past two millennia, wine was a European product. European imperial expansionism took the grape to the far corners of the globe, planting vines, and making vintners across the so-called new world. By 2006, production from the three original large-scale wine-making nations, France, Italy, and Spain, finally fell below 50 percent of the world market. As new world producers increased their market share and new old-world producers also made inroads. However, emerging nations have also been growing grapes and making wine for many years now, and their share of the market is increasing too.
The old versus new classification carries with it the bias of European colonialism and given globalisation and the rapid development of many nations with a penchant for wine, such as Chile and Argentina, a new system is needed. A new system that offers a demarcation between the wine production of developed and emerging nations would be useful, but perhaps only for a short time. The very nature of emerging and developing nations is their inexorable changing fortunes and circumstances that will ultimately lead them to be just as "developed" as the notion of developed versus emerging can be. Moreover, with climate change, the Mediterranean nations are not even the only ones in Europe making a lot of wine with England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Sweden all taking their place in the market.
We no longer need the division between old and new worlds but the proposed division between developed and emerging nations will be a transient theme. Perhaps the best division should simply be between established and emerging winemakers. But even then, perhaps worrying about the label has always been a poor way to choose wine. Wine should be chosen for its characteristics and fundamentally whether it is good or bad.
Villanueva, E.C. and Ferro, G. (2022) 'An update of the worlds of wine: the emerging countries' influence', Int. J. Economics and Business Research, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp.113–129.
Nebulous knowledge management
Knowledge management is one of those nebulous phrases that means different things to different people. Multiplicity of meaning and ambiguity of definition leads to much debate among those involved in organisational life charged with planning strategy, managing information, and in other areas broadly related to the term. A new bibliographic survey published in the International Journal of Knowledge Management Studies reveals why there is no consensus on the meaning of this term and looks outward with a new definition that might be adopted widely.
Technical terms and jargon can become meaningless in organisational use where there is no objective definition. Moreover, with use there is abuse and one organisation's definition may well conflict with that of another, so where research across disciplines and organisations is carried out a buzzword or technical phrase used in one context may be invalid in another. Ambiguity and confusion arise and the research literature becomes sullied and distorted by subjectivity.
Fábio Corrêa of FUMEC University in Brazil, and colleagues, explain how when isolated technical terms are simplified, their full meaning is often lost and so when two or more such terms are then brought together, the neologism that is born is also oversimplified and so can have even less meaning or be wholly ambiguous. The phrase knowledge management suffers from this simplification phenomenon.
Knowledge can be a true and justified belief, a set of experiences, values, contextual information and insights, a personal abstraction of an experience. Management is synonymous with administration but is also about the execution of roles and the fulfillment of objectives in many different spheres. Bring the two together and the phrase is diffuse, to say the least. The researchers' through their survey of the literature suggest that we need to take a step back from the phrase and define more subjectively its components in order to allow ourselves to redefine in a more objective, rather than wholly subjective, manner the phrase. By taking such an approach it might then be possible to reach a consensus on exactly what we mean by "knowledge management".
Corrêa, F., Paula, C.P.A.d., Carvalho, D.B.F. and Anastácio, M.F. (2022) 'Why is there no consensus on what knowledge management is?', Int. J. Knowledge Management Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp.90–109.
Detecting the malicious broadcast receivers
How might we enhance the detection of malware on the Android operating system commonly used to run mobile phones and tablets? Research published in the International Journal of Information Privacy, Security and Integrity looks to the concept of broadcaster receivers as one possible answer to that question.
Halil Bisgin of the University of Michigan-Flint, in Flint, Rachael Havens of AVL Test Systems Inc., in Plymouth, Michigan, Vincent Nwobodo of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, in Rockville, Maryland, USA, and Fadi Mohsen of the University of Groningen in The Netherlands, explain that the Android operating system has a large share of the mobile market and as such is a target for malware creators and other third parties who would manipulate the system for personal gain.
There are numerous malware detection methods employed on the Android system that monitor permission requests to the AndroidManifest.xml file. However, one aspect of the workings of malicious apps that has not been considered in detail is the exploitation of the Android broadcast receivers (ABR). ABRs are used heavily by malware and might well correlate with permissions granted to such unwanted apps. Monitoring access to ABRs could improve the accuracy of malware detection without needing to use disproportionate amounts of computer resources in the device as may well be the case with other malware detection approaches.
Each year there are billions of instances of mobile apps installed on devices around the globe. They represent a vast market and business opportunity for legitimate companies but also for the criminal world. The amount of malware increases year by year and as with every aspect of security involves security companies always playing catch-up with the creators of malware.
The team explains that malware detection based on the behaviour of software on a device is very effective but uses a lot of the device's resources. In contrast, signature-based solutions are light on resource usage but do not necessarily detect all malware. The team's focus has been on the component that lets apps register to listen to system events such as when a text message is received, calls are made, etc. This component, the team says, is vital in detecting malicious behaviour in an app. The team explains that correlation values suggest that malware shows slightly stronger ties between the actions it registers to listen to and the permissions it requests and this characteristic can be exploited to reveal the presence of malware.
Bisgin, H., Mohsen, F., Nwobodo, V. and Havens, R. (2021) 'Enhancing malware detection in Android application by incorporating broadcast receivers', Int. J. Information Privacy, Security and Integrity, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp.36–68.
Making your website stickier
A competitor is usually just one click away, so how to companies make their websites stickier and so retain their potential buyers and persuade them to make a purchase? Writing in the International Journal of Technology Marketing, a team from India has investigated the role of customer values, satisfaction, trust, and habits and how those characteristics related to their sticking with a given website.
Terjani Goyal of the Institute of Rural Management in Jaipur and Kirti Dutta of Rishihood University in Haryana, found that trust is the biggest mediator of a website's stickiness. First and foremost, if a putative customer does not trust the company nor the website on which they land, then they are not likely to stay for long and will surf off to a rival post haste. The team suggests that by managing the factors that determine customer trust as best they can, a company can enhance satisfaction and help form new habits with visitors that leads to them buying from the website rather than their sticking with a competitor.
Online shopping has become a major part of commerce and was essential for many people during the periods of COVID-19 lockdowns and self-isolation. The team writes that there is a concept of website stickiness that is partly driven by a user's fear of venturing on to a new site to buy the goods and services they have purchased from trusted sources previously. The paradigm for garnering new business is for a previously unused site to somehow make its site sticky to new users who land on it from a search engine, word-of-mouth recommendation or marketing and advertising campaigns. Once a new habit is thus formed, customers will stick with that website for subsequent purchases.
Indeed, the new research shows that "online retailers need to work for not only customer satisfaction but also build trust as these ultimately lead to formation of habit and once a customer is habitual of purchasing from the same website, they will not look for product or price information." This implies that once a company has the trust of new customers and the website is sticky, they can push their profit margin by nudging prices higher without fear of losing those newly loyal customers. The key is to get those new customers in the first place.
The researchers add that the companies "need to be true to the product that they are offering and the information that they are sharing so that they can build customer trust and more important the customer's habit of returning to their website for all their purchase needs."
Goyal, T. and Dutta, K. (2021) 'Website stickiness: role of customer value, satisfaction, trust and habit', Int. J. Technology Marketing, Vol. 15, No. 4, pp.426–447.
A little trouble in big data
Statistics based on so-called "big data" may not always be as reliable as we might hope, according to a study published in the International Journal of Healthcare Technology and Management. The research analysed a manageable subset of time-stamped dynamic information from the internet pertinent to COVID-19 infections. Study author Kenneth David Strang of W3-Research in Saint Thomas in US Virgin Islands writes that the results were "surprising" and revealed some limitations to conventional statistical techniques. Strang's work suggests that using general analytics tools for healthcare big data may not be reliable.
Strang points out that while the study is pertinent to our understanding and approach to big data in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it has broader implications for how big data is analysed using statistical tools and whether there needs to be a paradigm shift in our approach and seemingly conflicting ideas that big data can be handled just as we do any other scientific data or whether such scientific evidence warrants a different approach entirely simply by virtue of the scale of that evidence manifest in big data.
"More research will certainly be needed to verify these reliability problems with healthcare big data since only the coronavirus case study was used here," says Strang. He points out that the nature of big data and a researcher's access to such vast repositories and the processing power needed to analyse them may offer inherent limitations and how much new information and insight can be readily extracted. Moreover, it is difficult to run checks to prove that any such analysis is valid simply because of the scale of the data and those limitations. Strang offers a hypothetical approach that might allow such validation by using a control data set for a given experiment that is not itself "big" data.
It is almost an aside of the study's findings regarding our approach to big data that Strang was able to demonstrate that there were some "fascinating potential relationships between foreign property ownership in Australia near the two biggest cities, with links to China, and thereby, potential vulnerabilities to future pandemic outbreaks."
Strang, K.D. (2021) 'General analytics limitations with coronavirus healthcare big data', Int. J. Healthcare Technology and Management, Vol. 18, Nos. 3/4, pp.153–167.
Phinding and philtering the phish
Most of us will have received a scam email that looks like it has come from our bank or an online store or other company or organization. They can look genuine but usually hidden within are malicious links that once clicked take you to a third-party server that either steals login details you enter or drops malware on your device. These are phishing emails. The deliberate misspelling of "fish" with a "ph" is related etymologically to the term "phreak" which is an abbreviated portmanteau from the 1960s meaning "phone freak" and alluding to a person who hacked phone systems for pleasure or personal gain.
Some phishing emails may have poor grammar and spelling are rarely perfect or the layout may be askew and not exactly what one would expect from a legitimate organization. Such phishing attacks are relatively easy to spot, but the close-to-perfect ones may well not be and protective systems on one's device are then needed to avoid the user being duped into clicking a malicious link.
Writing in the International Journal of Information Privacy, Security and Integrity a team from China has developed a deep learning-based framework that might be used to detect phishing websites. Huanhuan Wang, Debin Cheng, and Hui Peng of the Fifth Electronic Research Institute of Ministry of Industry and Information Technology in Guangzhou, China, explain how their framework can extract descriptive and statistical features from a website and then determine whether these features are indicative of a phishing website. The detection of such sites could then be used in online security research and perhaps even be incorporated into browsers to protect unwary users from being phished.
The team has tested their system against two databases, one containing the website address (uniform resource locators, URLs) of 10000 legitimate and otherwise benign sites and 13000 URLs found in the PhishTank public dataset of sites that have previously been themselves hooked and identified as malicious. The team has demonstrated a detection accuracy of almost 99 percent, which they say is a significant improvement on earlier phish detection methods. The approach they have taken might also point to new areas of research in this area and the development and optimization of detection systems that can be incorporated into security systems for mobile and desktop devices.
Wang, H., Cheng, D. and Peng, H. (2021) 'Phishing website detection method based on CNAIR framework', Int. J. Information Privacy, Security and Integrity, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp.18–35.
Developing a liquid radio antenna
Solid, metal antennae have been the standard in a wide range of technologies for decades, including a wide variety of radio communications and scanning such as radar. However, research into the concept of liquid antennae was discussed in the 1990s. A liquid antenna would comprise a lightweight and perhaps collapsible container that could be erected into the appropriate shape and filled with a suitable liquid. Water, saltwater, ionic liquids, and other substances have been investigated over the years.
New work in the International Journal of Ultra Wideband Communications and Systems offers a novel design of a conical structure for a liquid antenna that can operate effectively across a wide frequency range. The antenna is compact and cost effective the team reports as well as offering a simple way to reconfigure it for different applications, something that is not easy with a solid metal antenna. Conical antennae are usually the form required for radio-frequency broadcast.
S. Roopa and E. Kiran Kumar of the Siddaganga Institute of Technology Tumakuru, in Karnataka, India, have demonstrated proof of principle for their new type of liquid antenna using pure water, seawater, and glycerin as the liquid component. The device can achieve voltage standing wave ratio of 1 to 2 over a frequency range of 300 to 850 megahertz, the team reports. They add that the gain achieved in experimental results was 2 dBi, which is comparable with their simulations in which the gain is around 1.9 dBi. The operating frequency is adjusted by changing the height of liquid within the cone.
The team concludes that their proposed antenna is simple, low cost, and covers a wide range of frequencies, which can be tuned easily. The radio emission from the antenna is omnidirectional and the fact that it is transparent gives it an additional attractive design feature for the development of wireless applications. In addition, the antenna is 30 to 40 percent shorter than its equivalent metal antenna.
Roopa, S. and Kiran Kumar, E. (2021) 'Analysis of conical liquid antenna for wide range of frequencies', Int. J. Ultra Wideband Communications and Systems, Vol. 4, Nos. 3/4, pp.197–204.
Understanding the hive mind
Crowdsourcing is a method of problem solving that taps the intellectual potential and skills of a large number of people simultaneously, commonly by using the tools of social media and the internet. New research published in the International Journal of Ad Hoc and Ubiquitous Computing has investigated this phenomenon from the perspective of the various influencing factors and incentive strategies used to make crowdsourcing work the most effectively.
Xu Zhang, Zhanglin Peng, Qiang Zhang, Xiaonong Lu, and Hao Song of the School of Management at Hefei University of Technology in China, explain how crowdsourcing has been used in many different settings by companies, organizations, and innovators around the world. For instance, it has been used to guide the development of new products, it has been used in citizen science and data collection, to provide fodder for machine learning applications, the testing of new software (often referred to alpha and beta testing, it has even been used in political rallying and in the creative world to nudge performers and producers in a particular artistic direction or to specific places.
The team writes how crowdsourcing was defined in 2006 by Jeff Howe as "the act of taking a task that is traditionally performed by an employee and outsourcing it to a large and undefined crowd of individuals through an open call."
The team has reviewed the research literature in this field and found that there are numerous factors influencing the behaviour of individuals in the "crowd", including enjoyment and fun, monetary reward, peer recognition, skill improvement, self-marketing, a sense of belonging, work autonomy, altruism, and task complexity.
Their work offers related behavioural theories to explain the relationship between those influencing factors and how the crowd behaves when presented with a particular problem to be solved. They highlight the incentive strategies that might be used, from the perspective of both the requester and also the available crowdsourcing platforms. Finally, they discuss the current directions being taken by research and highlight new avenues that might be taken to allow the field to mature.
Zhang, X., Peng, Z., Zhang, Q., Lu, X. and Song, H. (2021) 'User participation behaviour in crowdsourcing initiatives: influencing factors, related theories and incentive strategies', Int. J. Ad Hoc and Ubiquitous Computing, Vol. 38, Nos. 1/2/3, pp.30–44.
COVID's effects on control room operators
Critical workers across many different sectors and industries from healthcare and education to manufacturing and retail have faced tough times during the many months of the COVID-19 pandemic. New research in the International Journal of Human Factors and Ergonomics, considers the plight of control room operators in the oil, gas, and petrochemical industry and the psychological fatigue many such workers have faced during the pandemic.
Budiyanto Soinangun, Ivan Novendri, Jaka Matsana, Fergyanto E. Gunawan, Muhammad Asrol, and A.A.N. Perwira Redi of the Industrial Engineering Department at Bina Nusantara University in Jakarta, Indonesia, explain how within the petrochemical industry sites have to be kept running continuously and so rely on employees working shifts. However, the emergence of a novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, in late 2019, and the pandemic that arose, meant measures such as social distancing, lockdowns, quarantines, and self-isolation had to be instigated in many parts of the world to slow the spread of the disease. There were significant problems as a result for many sectors, particularly those industries which must be "always-on".
The team recognised that in such an industry the pandemic may well have serious psychological effects on its workers. As such, they undertook research to measure sleep quality and quantity, cognitive performance, and fatigue incidents among petrochemical workers and associated accidents.
The results show that many control room operators got less sleep during the pandemic and the sleep they experienced was of a lower quality than before COVID-19. The researchers also found that cognitive performance was lower as indicated by an almost 15% increase in the number of alarms triggered on average than prior to the pandemic. Companies that adapted to the so-called "new normal" of the pandemic world saw a gradual fall in the number of incidents and accidents over time, however, as they implemented new control and monitoring measures.
As to the psychological wellbeing of workers, there is a need to implement new measures for them too. Measures that monitor well-being as well as offering counselling with an expert independent third party would improve the situation for over-stressed workers suffering from poor sleep and mental health problems. In addition, companies should offer their workers access to physical exercise equipment, the team suggests.
Soinangun, B., Novendri, I., Matsana, J., Gunawan, F.E., Asrol, M. and Redi, A.A.N.P. (2021) 'The impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the psychological fatigue of control room operators in oil, gas and petrochemical industry', Int. J. Human Factors and Ergonomics, Vol. 8, No. 4, pp.393–407.
Mindfulness can help you work better in the cold and wet
Mindfulness can be used by people who work in extremely cold and wet environments to tolerate low temperatures better and so carry out tasks that require motor skills more effectively, according to research published in the International Journal of Human Factors and Ergonomics.
Commonly, sudden exposure to extreme cold, particularly in wet conditions or following submersion in water, can lead to a cold-shock response. This affects the person's cardiovascular system, metabolism, and leads to changes in breathing and subsequently hypothermia, which is a serious risk to life. Finding ways to inhibit the cold-shock response could be a lifesaver and so methods for improving cold tolerance and endurance to exposure to cold water are important for workers who need to spend time in cold, wet environments or underwater.
Mindfulness can be described as the practice of deliberately focusing one's attention on the present moment without evaluation. It is an important component of many spiritual and philosophical approaches to life allowing practitioners. It allows people to concentrate on a particular experience or task in a positive way avoiding the distractions of their natural emotional responses and thought processes that normally arise in a given situation and which can interfere with the experience or task in negative ways. Mindfulness is not just another word for meditation rather it is an approach to focus and concentration that can help people cope or work better in many situations. It can also allow them to enjoy and appreciate their life's experiences in a clearer way than if they do not focus on the given situation. There is growing clinical evidence that mindfulness can have physical and mental health benefits.
Kaitlin Mugford Heather Barry, Michael King, and Heather Carnahan of Memorial University in St. John's NL, Canada, and Gal Ziv of The Academic College at Wingate, Netanya, Israel, investigated whether listening to a mindful passage being read could improve a person's motor performance and cold tolerance in a low-temperature environment. Cold exposure for the participants involved holding their hand in water at a temperature of 2 Celsius while they listened to a mindfulness passage being read. The control group did not have the reading.
After this training period, the team then tested each group of participants for their ability to ensure a cold exposure. They were also tested with a grooved pegboard and knot untying. Both groups performed similarly in the motor tests. However, members of the mindfulness group were able to tolerate exposure to cold much longer than the other participants.
Mugford, K., Barry, H., King, M., Ziv, G. and Carnahan, H. (2021) 'The effects of mindfulness and repeated cold exposure on cold tolerance and motor skill performance', Int. J. Human Factors and Ergonomics, Vol. 8, No. 4, pp.408–420.
The following is the mindfulness passage read to one group of participants:
Please submerge your hand in the water. We will start with a few deep breaths as you experience your first exposure to this water. Breathe in through the nose… out through the mouth. Keep breathing deep into your abdomen. In. Out. Don't divert your attention from the cold. Be mindful of the cold and accept it. Although it may feel uncomfortable or painful, just keep breathing. In through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to steady your breath. Focus on accepting the sensations that your body is experiencing. Know that what you are feeling is only temporary and it is okay to feel some discomfort. Allow these sensations to happen without reacting to them. Keep your attention on your breath and accept the sensations you are experiencing. Breathe in… and out. Think about the fact that because this is only temporary, you can do this. Remind yourself it is okay.
Emergency management of the pandemic potential of poultry pathogens
Research published in the International Journal of Emergency Management asserts that infectious animal diseases, such as foot and mouth disease and avian influenza, are a significant and perennial problem in the South Korean winter. These diseases affect food production and so food security but also pose a risk to human health when people are in close proximity to such diseases especially when a pathogen mutates into a strain that has pandemic potential.
Kyoo-Man Ha of the Department of Emergency Management at Inje University in Gimhae City, South Korea, explains how better stakeholder management is possible and that this could lead to improved oversight and control of such infectious diseases. Ultimately, there needs to be a shift from an ad hoc approach to emergency disease management, Ha suggests.
Numerous factors, including climate change, globalisation, and bird migration, are involved in the pattern of outbreaks of infectious animal diseases around the world. Some diseases appear on an annual basis and there is in some parts of the world a lack of urgency regarding outbreaks. This lethargy is problematic in that new strains of common pathogens could at any time lead to far greater incidence of disease and so the loss of livestock and poultry. Moreover, neglecting the management of such pathogens might lead to the wider spread of such diseases and the chance emergence of a novel pathogen that leads to human disease.
Ha suggests that all of the stakeholders putatively affected by the impact of foot and mouth disease and avian influenza must play their role in the South Korean farming landscape to address the perennial problems of these diseases. First, central government must coordinate the 18 Korean ministries. Secondly, local governments must consider the local risks, politics, culture, and emergency management. Thirdly, farms need to be redesigned to give livestock and poultry more space. The fourth group of stakeholders, scientists must focus on research and development. And the fifth group, visitors must be aware of disease outbreaks and the hazards.
Ha, K-M. (2021) 'Management of infectious animal diseases: the Korean experience', Int. J. Emergency Management, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp.1–16.
Now we're cooking in the sun
Much of the developed world is focused on the conversion of natural resources, such as sunlight, wind, the turning of the tides, waves, and other phenomena into electrical power. However, conversions require sophisticated equipment to allow a device to harness energy from the sun or the wind, for instance, and generate a usable current that can then be used to power another device or charge a battery. Moreover, any energy conversion comes with inherent losses at each stage of the process, which reduces overall efficiency.
Sometimes, a more effective approach to garnering a sustainable energy supply is simply to tap the energy source directly as is the case with rooftop water-heating systems. Similarly, there is no need to convert sunlight into electricity to power a cooker if the sunlight is bright and strong enough to be focused with a parabolic reflector on any food that is to be cooked.
As such, solar cooking is very much a viable zero-carbon and low-pollution option where gas heating or electricity supply is not necessarily available and burning wood would be the usual option in that place. Unfortunately, in rural India, firewood and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cooking are widespread and both can lead to alarming levels of indoor pollution as well as producing large amounts of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. More than three-quarters of households use firewood in rural India and just under one in ten use LPG.
Writing in the International Journal of Global Warming, a team from the Renewable Energy Center at Manipal Academy of Higher Education in Manipal, Karnataka, India, explain their design of a novel solar cooking – a thermosyphon heat transport device. Their system works far more efficiently than a simple closed thermosyphon. Coupled with a hob-top parabolic dish reflector, the new design allows highly efficient solar-powered cooking and if adopted widely might bite into millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted by cooking with firewood or LPG.
Of course, such a solar-powered cooking system can only be active during daylight hours when the sun's intensity is sufficient to generate enough heat in the pan.
Varun, K., Arunachala, U.C. and Manjunath, M.S. (2021) 'Role of solar indoor cooker with natural circulation in mitigation of carbon emissions', Int. J. Global Warming, Vol. 25, Nos. 3/4, pp.440–460.
Let's get physical
Physical activity and diet are inextricably linked to health and life expectancy. The subtleties of the connections emerge from scientific research regularly and new messages for public health do change from time to time as a result. New work published in the International Journal of Behavioural and Healthcare Research has investigated the potential of an optimal range for physical activity- and diet-related habits. This cut-off point could be used to determine the effectiveness of fitness and lifestyle programmes in clinical and healthcare settings.
Nadja Walter of the Institute of Sport Psychology and Physical Education at Leipzig University, Germany, explains that developing good activity and dietary habits is important to health and wellbeing. Clinicians and healthcare workers hoping to advise people in this regard often use the Self-Report Habit Index (SRHI). Unfortunately, current practice does not embed a pre-defined cut-off value and so there is no way to measure how effective that index is when a health programme is in place.
In attempting to define such a cut-off, Walter has discovered that SHRI scores and optimal levels are different for physical activity as opposed to dietary habits. "The present study is among the first to systematically investigate the strength of daily or weekly physical activity and diet habits using the SRHI, and to calculate an optimal range," Walter writes. The findings could be used practically in intervention studies aimed at helping people develop healthy eating and activity habits. "Against this background, discussions of frequency and physical activity habits should be pursued further," she adds.
She adds that the optimal ranges she has defined might also be used in behaviour-change programmes other than those concerned with physical activity and diet, such as reducing unhealthy behaviour such as smoking, alcohol consumption, drug use, and addressing eating disorders.
Walter, N. (2021) 'Determining habits in physical activity and diet', Int. J. Behavioural and Healthcare Research, Vol. 7, No. 4, pp.289–303.
If we couch scientific misconduct as social misconduct the wider effects can be seen more clearly
We all live and work in a scientific world, even those who perceive their realm to be within the arts and humanities. At no time is this more apparent than at the height of a global pandemic. The impact of science on our lives and the environment are profound given that the technology wrought by our scientific understanding of the world around us can be used in a positive way or abused. As such, science is deeply embedded in our society.
Writing in the International Journal of Sustainable Development, Juliette Rouchier of the Université Paris-Dauphine, France, argues that the notion of scientific misconduct, once seemingly distant from our everyday lives, is in fact far more relevant and is, in reality, social misconduct. The consequences of such misconduct however it might be labelled are therefore critically important to society.
Rouchier points out that scientists might imagine they benefit from an "aura of neutrality and reason". In this sense, they can express their negative personal opinions in public as if those opinions are somehow relevant constructed knowledge. This can have serious consequences when an issue being discussed is as important as pollution, which has a significant political component that somehow lies outside the scientific realm. This is despite the fact that the technologies involved and their effects require a fundamental scientific understanding without which the technologies would not exist, our picture of the environment and the effects of pollution, and the new technologies to address the problem would not exist.
Fake news and misinformation emerging from the realm of science must be seen as a social problem and addressed as such. If falsehoods are being spread by individuals for political, economic, or other gain, then those disseminating such lies must be seen as being involved in scientific conduct of a most serious nature. The public needs to trust science, its processes and the knowledge it generates. Without that trust, the nuance of what is meant by a scientific theory is lost and those who take an anti-scientific stance on many topics is reinforced to the detriment of us all and to the detriment of the world in which we live.
Rouchier, J. (2021) 'Scientific misconduct as social misconduct', Int. J. Sustainable Development, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp.141–154.
Online tools power students and young jobseekers in a pandemic
During the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing and lockdown measures have been implemented at various times and to different degrees in order to protect people from the spread of the coronavirus. These measures have meant that young students and jobseekers have been pushed towards a digital world of learning and work in unprecedented ways. There is varying evidence of the pros and cons of this situation and the impact on young people.
Digital platforms became essential during the pandemic across many walks of life not least education. Kuldeep Jayaswal and D.K. Palwalia of Rajasthan Technical University in Kota, India, go further and suggest that part of the role is in societal "healing". Moreover, the pandemic has boosted our ability to get more out of these digital platforms in unprecedented ways that had not been touched on in the pre-pandemic world.
Of course, the tragedy of the pandemic is widespread illness and death from which we cannot escape. There have also been massive detrimental effects on society, economics, and the environment too. The new normal has however wrought new approaches and creativity in education and work that may emerge as positives in the post-pandemic world. Moreover, the lessons we have learned will hopefully come into play when must face the next inevitable global crisis.
Jayaswal, K. and Palwalia, D.K. (2021) 'Healing from COVID-19 through digital platforms: exploring the influences of this pandemic on students and jobseekers in India', Int. J. Smart Technology and Learning, Vol. 2, No. 4, pp.235–249.
Leading buyers by using scent marketing for a more emotional purchase
Our sense of smell is an incredibly powerful target for marketing of everything from baked goods to new cars. Research published in the International Journal of Technology Transfer and Commercialisation has looked at how brand recognition are linked to human emotions and behaviour in a retail setting when deliberately placed ambient odours are present.
Rupa Rathee and Pallavi Rajain of the Deenbandhu Chhotu Ram University of Science and Technology in Haryana, India, used non-probability sampling to analyse the results from a questionnaire. The basic conclusion is that emotion and behaviour are well correlated with brand recognition associated with an odour. Moreover, scent marketing positively affects purchasing behaviour especially when an emotional component is present.
Marketing often talks about attracting eyeballs, to advertising, displays, and products. However modern consumers have grown jaded and cynical and are not so easily distracted by the visual. However, the new research hints at a different strategy where potential buyers if they cannot be drawn by a visual feast to a purchase might instead be led by the nose. Other researchers have previously noted how scent marketing can draw a customer to a product and at the same time influence their perception, judgement, and behaviour, in ways that conventional marketing cannot.
The key to exploiting this notion of scent marketing will be to create a brand memory effect associated with a particular odour, the team's research suggests. The use of scent must be appealing rather than appalling given just how strong the connection between olfaction and emotion can be. The findings are, one might say, nothing to be sniffed at.
Rathee, R. and Rajain, P. (2021) 'Pleasant aromatic experiences through use of scent marketing', Int. J. Technology Transfer and Commercialisation, Vol. 18, No. 3, pp.320–333.
Governments need to pay attention to ensure their citizens safety during a pandemic
A new study in the International Journal of Behavioural and Healthcare Research, looks at how the citizens of two different countries responded to and complied with the rules of the "new normal" that their respective governments enforced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Md. Mahbubar Rahman of the University of Rajshahi in Bangladesh, Rafikul Islam of the International Islamic University Malaysia in Selangor, Malaysia, and Md. Shahed Mahmud of the Mawlana Bhashani Science and Technology University, in Tangail, Bangladesh, explain that nations around the globe responded to the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the ensuing COVID-19 pandemic in very different ways. Their success in controlling the spread of the virus was therefore very different.
How well citizens complied with the rules and regulations also varied considerably from country to country and so too the impact of the virus on each nation and its citizens. The present research looks at the perception of citizens in Bangladesh and Malaysia and their compliance with those rules in their respective nations. Fundamentally, the team found that it must be the job of the government to ensure that their citizens comply fully with the safety rules during a pandemic to prevent the wider spread of the disease and consequent morbidity and mortality associated with infection.
The research focused on the national responses during the first wave of the pandemic following the identification of the disease in late 2019 and its spread through the first half of 2020. The subsequent period when a lot more was known about how the disease spreads, its effects, how it might be treated, and the development of vaccines put the world on a different footing when the second wave of infections arose. Governments and citizens must learn the lessons the pandemic and our response to it have offered us nevertheless. This will be no truer than when another emergent virus appears and brings us a putative new pandemic.
Rahman, M.M., Islam, R. and Mahmud, M.S. (2021) 'Spread of COVID-19 and citizens' behaviour: a comparison of importance-compliance analyses among Bangladeshis and Malaysians', Int. J. Behavioural and Healthcare Research, Vol. 7, No. 4, pp.264–288.
Find out how an antibiotic acts as an antiviral hitting the COVID-19 virus with a three-pronged attack
New research published in the International Journal of Computational Biology and Drug Design describes a novel lipopeptide antibiotic that can inhibit the replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. The compound, known as Kannurin, interferes with RNA-dependent-RNA polymerase activation and function, the researchers explain.
H. Shabeer Ali of the Division of Molecular Parasitology and Immunology at the CSIR-Central Drug Research Institute, in Lucknow, Uttarpradesh, India, and P. Prajosh and K. Sreejith of the Department of Biotechnology and Microbiology at Kannur University, in Kerala, and M. Divya Lakshmanan of the Molecular Biology Division at the Yenepoya Research Centre at Yenepoya (Deemed to be University), in Deralakatte, Mangalore, explain that the key component non-structural protein 12, nsp12, of the coronavirus is a primary target for pharmaceutical intervention in the treatment of COVID-19.
The team has undertaken computer-based, in silico, experiments with the known broad-spectrum antibiotic Kannurin against the virus. They explain that the cyclic form of this drug interacts with the amino acid residues Phe 407, Leu 544, and Lys 511 which are present in the "finger" subdomain of the nsp12 protein. It is this interaction, which blocks the natural binding of nsp7 and nsp8 cofactors and so inhibits and ultimately inactivates viral activity and replication.
An additional mode of action related to that exploited by the well-known antiviral, Remdesivir, was also identified by the team for the lipopeptide. The second mechanism involves an interaction with the amino acid residue Arg 555 in the viral protein's "palm" subdomain cavity and the linear form of Kannurin. A double mode of action could well offer a more potent attack on the virus. Importantly, from the point of view of antiviral mechanisms, Kannurin is not acting as an analogue of a natural nucleotide to carry out its blocking task. Indeed, Kannurin also has surfactant properties and can perturb cell membranes, which means it can interfere with the initial viral attachment to the body's cells and so block entry, so this drug, in effect has a three-pronged attack on the virus.
"We propose that biomolecules such as lipopeptides offer enormous structure modification possibilities to make them suitable therapeutic candidates especially in the context of a pandemic like COVID-19," the team writes. As such, this approach could help us address the pandemic threat when yet another novel coronavirus emerges and medicine needs new pharmaceutical treatments ahead of the development of a suitable and widely available vaccine. The present drug, Kannurin, is the prototype for this approach.
Shabeer Ali, H., Prajosh, P., Sreejith, K. and Divya Lakshmanan, M. (2021) 'Conformers of a novel lipopeptide antibiotic, Kannurin inhibits SARS-Cov2 replication via interfering with RNA-dependent-RNA polymerase activation and function', Int. J. Computational Biology and Drug Design, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp.251–260.
The patently obvious need to protect COVID-19 vaccine intellectual property
Kelli Larson of the School of Business, Law and Entrepreneurship at Swinburne University of Technology in Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia, discusses the role of patents in the context of COVID-19 vaccines in the International Journal of Intellectual Property Management.
Given that the emergent virus SARS-CoV-2, which led to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, was only identified in detail in the year 2020, it is a remarkable feat of science and technology that several vaccines against this disease were developed, tested and deployed within a few months. At the time of writing, there were significant gaps in that deployment, particularly in the developing world, but for many nations widespread uptake and vaccination have taken place.
Larson points out that, nevertheless, the development of such vaccines demonstrates what can be achieved by humanity given sufficient incentive, funding and investment focus on science and technology. She adds that the requisite intellectual property laws drive the economic imperative for the necessary innovation. Within the ecosystem of intellectual property law, lies the patent system. This system protects the inventors from rivals simply copying and selling their products as their own and over the coming years predictions of multibillion-dollar turnover for the COVID-19 vaccines are predicted for those companies at the forefront of the effort in this aspect of addressing the pandemic.
While a given patent is created to protect the inventor, it also has an important role to play in driving innovation among other researchers and inventors who might wish to create a rival product and can be inspired by the details given in the original patent. Of course, simply copying a product would be in breach of a patent, but given sufficient clues as to the nature of the original invention new avenues of exploration can be opened up that will ultimately lead to such rival products within a very short time given sufficient investment and ingenuity. As Larson further explains:
"The valuable information disclosed in a patent specification allows for the public dissemination of knowledge to occur, allowing others to learn from current inventions and to build from them to create new and potentially life-saving innovations."
Larson, K. (2021) 'COVID-19 vaccines and the role of patents', Int. J. Intellectual Property Management, Vol. 11, No. 4, pp.486–491.
Making augmented books a reality
Printed books and electronic books have been read in parallel for many years now. However, a new approach that can combine the best of both worlds is being developed by researchers at the University of Surrey in the form of an a-book, an augmented printed book. The team provides details of their approach to the printed word and how it can be adapted to the digital world in the Journal of Design Research.
The so-called "paperless office" predicted from the very earliest times of the digital age has not, despite the advent of the internet, the emergence of smart devices, and countless other "online" and "onscreen" tools and systems, led us into a world where the printed word has been usurped by modern technology. Indeed, many people still prefer to read from paper products rather than from a screen. As such the paper and the digital world happily exist side by side. However, digital tools have many useful characteristics that are simply not achievable in the world of the printed word, at least until the printed world is augmented.
Emily Corrigan-Kavanagh, Haiyue Yuan, and Miroslaw Bober of the Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing (CVSSP) working with David Frohlich of the Digital World Research Centre (DWRC) explain how they have developed an advanced process for designing a-books that contain multimedia links that can be presented on a nearby device such as a smartphone or tablet. They concede that the concept of augmented paper is not new. However, they add that their approach facilitates mass-market use by using industry-standard publishing software to generate the a-book. A regular smartphone can then be used to scan the printed page for links and play the appropriate digital media.
"The Next Generation Paper process could provide an accessible means of creating a-books, allowing new capabilities in designing for and supporting immersive multimedia reading experiences through emergent multimodal interactions," the team writes. Early experiments with the workflows used by travel and tourism book publishers offer a positive reflection on how a-books might be developed for that niche, but vast, market, where readers might benefit from access from their printed book to up-to-date information and videos pertinent to their destination as well as reviews and advice on exploration, eating, and entertainment there. Of course, the concept of an a-book could be extended to almost any feasible topic or subject matter one might find in a conventional book.
Corrigan-Kavanagh, E., Frohlich, D., Yuan, H. and Bober, M. (2020) 'Designing for the next generation of augmented books', J. Design Research, Vol. 18, Nos. 5/6, pp.356–374.
World wide woof
Researchers in India have demonstrated how a convolution neural network can be used to identify dog breeds from photographs. Writing in the International Journal of Swarm Intelligence, the team explains how they have trained their algorithm with more than 15 million images of dogs and used a model that could carry out 22,000 different object classifications on those good resolution images. The system can then correctly identify which of 133 breeds is represented by a new photograph of a dog presented to it with 98 percent accuracy.
The critical difference between the approach taken by Amit Kumar Jakhar and Mrityunjay SinghJaypee of the University of Information Technology in Solan, and Anjani Kumar Shukla of the Bundelkhand Institute of Engineering and Technology, in Jhansi, is that rather than building a recognition system from scratch, the team has pre-trained their model using a vast database.
There is a growing need for the classification and annotation of digital images with a view to improving their curation for a wide range of purposes. A quick way to identify and classify an object in a given image could be used in industry, education, law enforcement, medicine, science, and many other areas. As such, many research teams the world over are investigating different approaches that involve machine learning and what is perhaps whimsically known as artificial intelligence to identify and categorise visual content in an image.
As a demonstration of the power of such systems being able to pick out a specific dog breed with high accuracy from a photograph given the diversity of dogs bodes well for the evolution of this area of research where even more subtle distinctions between similar objects might need to be made.
"In the future, deep learning will create other deep learning models on its own and deep learning models will write codes and surpass human coding capabilities as well and its scope can be extended in medical sciences by analysing the images by deep convolution neural network," the team concludes.
Jakhar, A.K., Singh, M. and Shukla, A.K. (2021) 'Dog breed classification using convolution neural network', Int. J. Swarm Intelligence, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp.130–142.
The frost report
Machine learning can be used to forecast when a geographical region might have a ground frost, according to new work published in the International Journal of Reasoning-based Intelligent Systems. Weather forecasting for a specific phenomenon, such as frosts, is important for farmers, horticulturists, and others who need to know whether there will be a likely risk to crops, such as fruit trees and vines as well as to produce temporarily stored outside. Similarly, road safety might be improved given better forecasts of the likelihood of frost or ice on the roads.
Liya Ding, Yosuke Tamura, Kosuke Noborio, and Kazuki Shibuya of Meiji University in Kawasaki, Japan, have in previous work investigated the cause and effect that inevitably lead to a frost where minute-level data from sensors can be fed to an algorithm and return an accurate forecast. In the current paper, they discuss further their methods for modelling the formation of frost. Among these methods are causal and associative models. They also propose a framework for a hybrid system that can provide a short-term frost forecast over several hours and demonstrate how it might be used to predict whether a region will experience a frost several days in the future.
There are essentially two types of frost. There is frozen dew (water frost). This occurs when water vapour from the atmosphere condenses as dew on a surface, such as a leaf when the temperature drops below the dew point but above water's freezing point, but the leaf surface temperature then falls below freezing cause the dew to solidify. The second type of frost is depositional frost (white frost) which forms when the surface temperature is initially below freezing and so rather than condensing on a surface and subsequently freezing, water from the atmosphere deposits as a solid on the surface.
Air temperature is usually used as a simple predictor, the team points out, but the spatial resolution of data that might be obtained is not always sufficiently high especially in remote farms. Moreover, temperature is not the only factor that influences whether or not a frost forms. Other parameters such as humidity, wind speed and direction, cloud cover, also have an influence. Ultimately, whether or not a frost occurs can be seen to be an accumulation of factors preceding a given time. Machine learning tools with their ability to assimilate and process data of various sorts and through an algorithm find a likely answer to a given question could offer a more timely forecast.
The team's new model can offer a minute-by-minute forecast of frost with a 1 to 3 hour alarm to warn anyone who needs advance warning of frost.
Ding, L., Tamura, Y., Noborio, K. and Shibuya, K. (2021) 'Frost forecast – a practice of machine learning from data', Int. J. Reasoning-based Intelligent Systems, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp.191–203.
Fuzzy diagnosis of COVID-19
Fuzzy logic can be used to quickly and accurately identify the tell-tale signs of COVID-19 in lung scans and X-rays of patients suspected of having the disease, according to new work published International Journal of Intelligent Information and Database Systems.
Fariha Noor, Md. Rashad Tanjim, Muhammad Jawadur Rahim, Md. Naimul Islam Suvon, Faria Karim Porna, Shabbir Ahmed, Md. Abdullah Al Kaioum, and Rashedur M. Rahman of North South University, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, explain that image processing is crucial in many areas of scientific and medical investigation. This is no truer than with respect to determining whether a patient presents with COVID-19, no infection, or unrelated viral pneumonia.
The team has used two approaches to segmenting images – fuzzy c-means, and k-means clustering. This allowed them to map out the key features of computerized tomography (CT) images and X-rays from known patients with a diagnosis and then use the data to train a convolutional neural network to identify the characteristics in new images presented to it. As they hoped, the approach worked much better with segmented images than with raw images. Moreover, both CT and X-ray images gave good results. The team adds that they could improve accuracy still further when they also applied fuzzy edge detection to the images.
The team adds that there is plenty of room for improvement in the accuracy of the approach but suggests that optimization and the classification of greater numbers of images will allow this to happen quickly. For any convolutional neural network, the more classified data, i.e. known images with which it is trained, the better in terms of boosting accuracy and reducing the likelihood of false positive or false negative results from the diagnostic. The researchers also suggest that the same approach might also be used to classify other diseases.
In conventional Boolean logic, a variable can only be binary, toggling between 0 and 1, false or true. In fuzzy logic, invented in the mid-1960s, there is a suggestion that a result can be on a spectrum, and so have a non-integral value lying between 0 and 1. The allusion being that an output can lie somewhere between completely false and completely true. Now, this is not to suggest that a disease diagnosis might be a half-truth. Rather, where there is ambiguity in the data or results, in this case, CT or X-ray images, a secure decision can be made by a neural network, for instance, about the nature of each segment of the image being associated with infection or otherwise. When multiple segments are then investigated, a more likely diagnosis of negative or positive can be gleaned from the images based on how well the system has been trained with definitive images.
Noor, F., Tanjim, M.R., Rahim, M.J., Suvon, M.N.I., Porna, F.K., Ahmed, S., Al Kaioum, M.A. and Rahman, R.M. (2021) 'Application of fuzzy logic on CT-scan images of COVID-19 patients', Int. J. Intelligent Information and Database Systems, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp.333–348.
Wine for table six
An analysis of almost 30000 different wines shows that wine judges give higher scores to wines made with less well-known varieties of grape. Details of the study are reported in the International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Small Business.
Florine Livat and Hervé Remaud of the Kedge Business School in Talence, France, have investigated the decisions regarding various wines by judges looking at several attributes, including region of origin, colour, still versus sparkling, and so on, but with a particular focus on the grape variety. The team considered the outcomes of International Wine and Spirit Competitions over the period 2013 to 2016.
"On average, wines made from the top ten varietal grapes are graded lower than wines made from other, less frequently used, grapes," the team writes. They add that "Wines of the new world and those produced under a certification of origin rule are given greater scores."
The team offers an explanation for their findings in that wine judges tend to be expert in the various grapes used to make the more well-known wines, such as merlots and chardonnays whereas they have fewer reference points for grapes such as treixadura or adakaras and so are more generous in judging such wines as there is less knowledge about what makes a good wine with such grapes.
With their finding in mind, the researchers suggest that wine producers ought to focus on using less well-known grape varieties as this could increase their chances of obtaining a higher score and medals, which would, ultimately give them greater kudos as a winemaker and help them sell more wine. In addition, the wine judges are perhaps inadvertently motivating wine amateurs and buyers to experiment and so discover wines that one might consider less mainstream. Given that almost 60% of the wines produced in the world are made from the ten most popular grape varieties, there is plenty of scope for novelty and innovation in this age-old realm.
"As part of the authenticity and craft trend, wine producers would gain to develop as part of their portfolio one or two wines made with indigenous varieties and submit them to trade shows," the team adds, such wines stand a better chance of coming away with an award. The research would also suggest that "a wine producer would save time and resources to not submit a wine made with popular grape varieties if not located in a typical wine region for such varieties" as there is likely to be fierce competition and positive judging would be skewed away from awarding high scores to such varieties anyway, as the research shows.
Livat, F. and Remaud, H. (2021) 'Do wine judges give higher scores to wines made with less-known grape varieties?', Int. J. Entrepreneurship and Small Business, Vol. 44, No. 2, pp.106–117.
Social student skills
Social networks provide a platform for political, social, business, and leisure activities and an opportunity for those with expertise in computer science to create novel businesses. New work published in the International Journal of Continuing Engineering Education and Life-Long Learning, looks at how a course might be developed for computer engineering students that will equip them with the skills to handle and manipulate the various platforms. Such a capstone course* might also be designed to empower them to generate new business opportunities, develop useful applications, or simply prepare for the job market in this arena.
Social networks have come to dominate the wide digital world that is often whimsically referred to as "cyberspace". Billions of people use at least one social network in their day-to-day lives. Indeed, the author of the current paper, Mohammad Fraiwan of the Department of Computer Engineering, Jordan University of Science and Technology, writes that there are well over three billion uses of social networks. That figure is growing all the time it seems and given that the world population is fast approaching 8 billion that represents a substantial proportion. With traditional and online media already utilizing social networks as a source of "news" and "comment", there are many ways in which a knowledgeable expert in this realm might create and exploit business opportunities.
Fraiwan describes and demonstrates the successes of a capstone course for undergraduate students that not only exposes these students to the plethora of social networks, but also makes it possible for them to collect and analyse data from these networks and propose useful applications. He points out that while computer engineering is intrinsically tied to studying and solving real-life problems, many courses are embedded in a staid and out-moded didactic tradition.
There is, therefore, a growing and pressing need for the student of today to be tutored and guided in practical emerging fields to ready them for the job market they will face when they graduate. Fundamentally, a new style of course that brings real-life problems into the classroom and guides the students in how to solve those problems will prepare them to be problem solvers in the outside world in a way that more conventional courses cannot.
* A capstone course is usually defined as a period of study and a project undertaken towards the end of a larger period of education to "cap" off the work that has been built up to that point, analogous to the final stones or brocks laid atop a wall, the capstones.
Fraiwan, M. (2021) 'Introducing a capstone course on social networks', Int. J. Continuing Engineering Education and Life-Long Learning, Vol. 31, No. 4, pp.485–500.
IoT security in a smart city
Can we build smart cities that utilise a network of Internet of Things (IoT) devices that are interconnected and protected in such a way that they can resist malicious attacks from third parties? Writing in the International Journal of Web and Grid Services, an international team looks at how topology can be used to make a robust scale-free system with attack resistance.
The researchers suggest that the emergence of the IoT has led to an exponential increase in devices and applications running on them that leaves many systems vulnerable to attack where unwitting users and even those running such systems are unaware of the exploits and loopholes at a single point that might be used to gain access or disrupt whole networks and systems. The team has looked at how Enhanced Angle Sum Operation ROSE (EASO-ROSE), Enhanced ROSE, Adaptive Genetic Algorithm (AGA), and Cluster Adaptive Genetic Algorithm (CAGA) might be used as protection at the scale-free smart city level of the IoT.
Given that many aspects of the IoT are critical components in healthcare, industry, transport, and defence, there is an ongoing and pressing need to ensure they are protected in a robust way against attack. Indeed, failure at a power station or hospital could be life threatening, for instance. The problem is that IoT networks have myriad components and absorb, generate, and process vast amounts of data. Coupled with multiple input and output points there are many ways in which they might be attacked. In addition, the reduction in complexity of utilizing a scale-free system in preference to a small-world model for networking at once adds to the security concerns as well as making them more resilient in some ways.
The team has simulated a smart city and assessed two models of protection. Each has its pros and cons, as one would expect. The team shows that their proposed Enhanced ROSE and EASO-ROSE outperform conventional ROSE and simulating annealing. The CAGA and AGA approaches in turn perform better than conventional simulating annealing and hill-climbing approaches in terms of results. They work by guiding the system topology towards a global optimal solution.
Qureshi, T.N., Javaid, N., Almogren, A., Abubaker, Z., Almajed, H. and Mohiuddin, I. (2021) 'Attack resistance-based topology robustness of scale-free internet of things for smart cities', Int. J. Web and Grid Services, Vol. 17, No. 4, pp.343–370.
Sailing free in the Blue Pacific
A powerful discourse is breaking on the shores of the islands of the Pacific as the nations within this vast region use the language of the Blue Pacific to express their solidarity with each other as well as their sovereignty, especially in the face of climate change.
Margaret Jolly of the School of Culture, History and Language in the College of Asia and the Pacific at The Australian National University in Canberra, suggests that in this discourse there exists a toxic legacy, that of colonialism and capitalism. Moreover, to this day, the people of the region must grapple with the problems those two oppressors have wrought – a massively polluted ocean with a huge burden of plastic waste, nuclear contamination, and the warming and acidification of the ocean associated with climate change.
Writing in the International Journal of Society Systems Science, Jolly explores this cruel ongoing paradox with which the people of the Pacific region must continue to live. She points out that "the global inequalities and divisions created by a colonising capitalism and the burgeoning power and hubris of fossil-fuelled political economies are both cause and consequence of all [the problems the people face]." In the face of these ongoing crises, the people of the Pacific are seeking to redress the balance, reduce inequalities with the regions that once colonised, and resist the onslaught of continued pollution.
Anthropogenic climate change means so-called "natural" driven by human activity and pollution are becoming more commonplace and all the people of the Pacific are likely to be affected detrimentally regardless of whether the ocean laps at their doors or the live inland and at higher altitude. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch also, is perhaps the all too visible evidence of plastic pollution representing a shifting region the size of the Australian territory of Queensland.
The idyllic imaginings of the backpacker seeking oceanic utopia may never have represented reality at any point in history, but the modern waste streams that are the rivers that empty into the Pacific Ocean are the more obvious sign that all is not well.
Efforts are being made, thankfully, to address the problems of the Blue Pacific. But, adds Jolly, the people of this enormous and diverse region must forge "forceful and creative coalitions across divisions and inequalities" in their struggle to create a shared future that frees itself from the colonial capitalist legacy that anchors it unwittingly close to a figurative rocky shore rather than allowing it to sail free as it should.
Jolly, M. (2021) 'Blue Pacific, polluted ocean', Int. J. Society Systems Science, Vol. 13, No. 3, pp.241–257.
What price influence?
Social media influencers can wield considerable power when it comes to advocating for brands and even causes specifically with the niche that is their following on a given platform. Among the various platforms, Instagram, is one of the most influential with many of its most popular users driving sociopolitical opinion and nudging consumers towards particular products and services.
Helen Inseng Duh and Thabile Thabethe of the Marketing Department at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, have investigated the attributes that seem to endow the most influential users of the Instagram platform with their particular power to drive opinion. They have gathered data on 330 "millennials" from diverse backgrounds studying at the university to see whether there are any correlations with social and cultural background or whether it is the characteristics of the influencers themselves that push their popularity and persuasiveness.
Writing in the International Journal of Internet Marketing and Advertising, the team has found that trustworthiness, familiarity, similarity, and likeability were significant drivers of brand engagement. However, the likeability of an influencer perhaps paradoxically was a negative driver of brand engagement. Moreover, it seems that expertise and the attractiveness of the influencer had little effect on brand engagement.
The attention of consumers is constantly pulled in different directions by all kinds of marketing distractions on a wide range of devices in the wider world through advertising hoardings and traditional media and sales approaches in shopping centres and beyond. Given this scenario, it is intriguing that a personality on social media, whether an established celebrity, such as an actor, musician, sporting hero, or a new kind of celebrity, made famous by a given platform, can have any direct influence at all, but this is very much the case. Marketers are exploiting this influence widely just as they have done other media over the years. It is critical to their success in achieving their sales goals that they understand what it is about the so-called influencers that drive engagement with the products and services being marketed and how this affects brand recognition and ultimately purchasing decisions.
The bottom line in the study is that the biggest factor regarding the impact a given influencer has on brand engagement is whether or not they are familiar not whether they are attractive, likeable or an expert in a given niche. Ultimately, to achieve the greatest success when targeting millennials with influencer marketing, marketers need to simply choose familiar and moderately likable social influencers to communicate and endorse their brands, the team suggests.
Duh, H.I. and Thabethe, T. (2021) 'Attributes of Instagram influencers impacting consumer brand engagement', Int. J. Internet Marketing and Advertising, Vol. 15, Nos. 5/6, pp.477–497.
Shedding light on cyclist safety
How do we keep older cyclists safe on our roads? That's the question researchers in The Netherlands hope to answer in a paper published in the International Journal of Human Factors and Ergonomics. In it, the team has carried out an evaluation study of a light communication system for bicycles that could improve visibility to other road users.
Frank Westerhuis and Dick de Waard of the University of Groningen, and Carola Engbers, Rosemary Dubbeldam, and Hans Rietman of Roessingh Research and Development in Enschede, and also at the neighbouring University of Twente, suggest that older cyclists are at risk because of low-speed interactions, stopping, (dis)mounting, and potentially misjudging riding speeds. A lighting system that alerted other road users to a cyclist's riding speed, braking, and turning intentions, has now been developed to improve safety for older cyclists. Tests on the system were perceived positively by volunteers using and observing the system, the team reports.
Cycling is a rather common mode of transport across The Netherlands and in many other parts of the world. Researchers have previously suggested that it not only improves personal health but also has environmental benefits, not least because of an obvious reduction in pollution. With an aging population in many regions and continued good health for many, the number of older cyclists on the roads continues to rise. Of course, older people are often susceptible to physical and cognitive problems that might increase their accident risk while cycling. As such, there is a pressing need to improve safety for this cohort of cyclists.
Dedicated light signals, as are already obligatory on motorbikes, that show rider's turning and braking behaviour would be useful to all other road users including fellow cyclists. Indicator controls on the bicycle's handlebars would also reduce the need or the older cyclists to take their hands from said handlebars to indication their turning intention as is the norm and so reduce the risk of the cyclist losing their balance ahead and during a turn.
The team points out that in many jurisdictions, such light indicators would have to be accommodated by the limitations of current law regarding blinking lights on bicycles, which are often illegal. Such a progression could be readily made to improve safety and reduce accidents for a growing number of cyclists.
Westerhuis, F., Engbers, C., Dubbeldam, R., Rietman, H. and de Waard, D. (2021) 'Enlightening cyclists: an evaluation study of a bicycle light communication system aimed to support older cyclists in traffic interactions', Int. J. Human Factors and Ergonomics, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp.294–317
Learning the lessons of inequity in COVID-19
Research published in the International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education takes a US perspective on the COVID-19 crisis and the inequalities that disadvantaged and marginalized populations have experienced during the pandemic. Tonia Warnecke of Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, considers healthcare access and provision, the digital divide, remote work, national crisis management, the paycheck protection program, worker safety, the gig economy, and unemployment in this context.
Every crisis is different and affects people in very different ways at the local, national, and international levels. However, a major pandemic caused by a potentially lethal pathogen, as is the COVID-19 pandemic, affects disadvantaged and marginalized populations much more than those in a privileged position around the globe. Warnecke suggests that the disparities in the USA are caused by many people not having access to remote working arrangements, the technological divide, a lack of access to good quality health and education, and longstanding racial and gender inequities.
"Crisis management and response can either reduce or exacerbate impacts on different groups," Warnecke suggests. She adds that her study highlights lessons that society must learn from the experience of the current pandemic to allow us to reframe decision-making processes for greater inclusivity. This would hopefully stand us in good stead to face a future pandemic. Unfortunately, history shows us that many of the public health lessons that might have been learned during other crises, such as the 1918 flu pandemic, the Great Recession, and the 1997 Asian crisis, were cast aside once the crisis was over. This had a detrimental and lasting effect on millions of people.
To avoid new inequities emerging once we have moved through the current pandemic crisis, lessons surrounding non-pharmaceutical interventions, consumer protection, and supply chain resilience must be understood and acted on urgently at the earliest stage of the next major crisis.
"The equity gaps are large and diverse in the USA, with only some highlighted here, but many opportunities remain to reframe economic decision-making and risk management processes to be more inclusive of marginalized and less advantaged groups," writes Warnecke.
Warnecke, T. (2021) 'The COVID-19 crisis and (in)equity: what lessons can we learn?', Int. J. Pluralism and Economics Education, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp.8-13.
Remote learning in a pandemic
For many years advocates of e-learning and online approaches to education touted the many benefits. Ultimately, however, it was the emergence of a novel coronavirus that gave us the COVID-19 pandemic that made e-learning an essential rather than a luxury for many students the world over. Research published in the International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning, looks at how school and university closures, lockdowns, quarantines, and the urgent need to quash the virus, have pushed us into a world of online and e-learning as never before.
Mohammed Akour, Hiba Al Sghaier, and Yazan Al Shboul of Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan and Mamdouh Alenezi of the Prince Sultan University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, make the obvious point that students are the focus of education but this is often overlooked in the rush to recruit students, fulfill curriculum obligations, and achieve targets. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to major changes in our outlook and approach, however, and students are now more properly the focus once again. As such, educators need to consider the way in which remote learning has affected their students over the months since the pandemic arose and to see how e-learning might be implemented for the benefit of future students after the pandemic and ahead of the almost inevitable next emergent pathogen.
The team writes that while the pandemic has pushed us into an unprecedented educational position, "E-learning can be an opportunity for teachers, students, and university administrators to stay connected; a tool to guarantee continuous learning; and a means to provide psychosocial support until students can go back to university." They point out that the success of e-learning approaches to education are obviously highly dependent on access to appropriate technology – a computer, tablet, and, of course, the internet, the role it plays is only as effective as the educators make it and the response of students. "Transitioning to e-learning requires time and preparation for both students and teachers," the team adds, "as well as from a technological standpoint."
In the current study, a survey of students revealed a somewhat negative attitude towards e-learning at this point in education history. The main cause, the team suggests, lies in the urgency with which the pandemic forced us to adopt e-learning and the lack of preparation, despite many years of development of the tools and technologies on which educators and students have now relied for almost two years. There are, as it were lessons to be learned, regarding the implementation of e-learning that will hopefully allow educators to help their students in the future should we once again come to a time of lockdowns, school closures, and self-isolation.
Akour, M., Alenezi, M., Al Sghaier, H. and Al Shboul, Y. (2021) 'The COVID-19 pandemic: when e-learning becomes mandatory not complementary', Int. J. Technology Enhanced Learning, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp.429–439.
The wicked gaze of tourists in a pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected lives the world over in unimaginable ways. Society has been disrupted massively as have the economies of nations as travel and commerce were restricted by various measures to try and control the spread of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes the disease. The tourism industry and all its dependents has suffered immeasurably. Now, writing in the International Journal of Human Rights and Constitutional Studies, cultural theorist Maximiliano Korstanje of the Department of Economics at the University of Palermo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, discusses the figure of the "undesired guest" and our right to travel. Tourism is not a modern phenomenon and underpins culture in many parts of the world. However, tourism cannot exist without tourists, and specifically the "tourist gaze", a term coined by British sociologist John Urry.
In the new normal, how do we reconcile the need for tourism and tourists, who were previously seen as agents of economic prosperity and wealth but are now perceived as putative carriers of a lethal virus. We might talk of controlling borders, COVID-19 testing, and vaccine passports, but we are in a world of high-risk decision making. The pandemic is pushing us towards a new paradigm in recreational travel, which may well never revert to the old, familiar opportunities that many people enjoyed in the boom years after World War II and well into the 21st Century.
At a fundamental philosophical level, are we to perceive the opportunity to travel as a human right, is the hospitality that might be offered a right too? Has the emergence of a novel and lethal coronavirus not changed all of this? It could be that our "right" to travel is largely an invention of the late 20th Century. Moreover, for many millions of people whether they have a right to travel or not is irrelevant because they live in a state of extreme poverty or under highly restrictive totalitarian regimes, or where resources and opportunity limit every aspect of their lives, tourism does not feature on their life agenda in any way. That said, education and opportunity in the developing world might allow them to dream of such a lifestyle.
It is a moot point. "Tourists who were historically marked as ambassadors of civilisation are now labelled as carriers of a lethal virus," writes Korstanje. They are now undesired guests, their tourist gaze is now a "wicked gaze".
Korstanje, M.E. (2021) 'The COVID-19 and the figure of the undesired guest: the right to travel in scrutiny', Int. J. Human Rights and Constitutional Studies, Vol. 8, No. 4, pp.336–349.
A right to music
Music is an incredibly powerful part of what it means to be human, but should it be a human right? Should the human right to music be bundled with the right to freedom of expression, the right to culture, the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and alongside the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples and the right to self-determination? New work published in the International Journal of Human Rights and Constitutional Studies seeks to answer these questions.
Peter Kirchschlaeger of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Lucerne in Switzerland suggests that there is a strong ethical justification for making music a human right. Once an ethical grounding is in place, a legal right might eventually flow from this.
Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 states that "Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits." There has recently been a call for a formal acknowledgement of the 'composite' right to music at least through jurisprudence and in practice.
"For a right to be transformed into positive law, a political opinion-forming and decision-making process is necessary leading to the political conclusion of the need for the human right to music," writes Kirchschlaeger.
Ultimately, a human right to music might embody the following ethos: "The human right to music protects the freedom of expression in the form of music; the freedom to participate in music and to enjoy music; the freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to play, perform or listen to music as form to manifest his or her religion or belief in teaching, practice, and worship; music as a dimension of the Rights of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples; and music as a dimension of the Right to Self-Determination."
Kirchschlaeger, P.G. (2021) 'A human right to music – an ethical justification', Int. J. Human Rights and Constitutional Studies, Vol. 8, No. 4, pp.284–297.
Economics between crises
Wars and geological disasters aside, two major crises have affected world economies acutely so far this century – the international financial crisis that peaked around 2010 and the COVID-19 pandemic which emerged a decade later. Research in the International Journal of Teaching and Case Studies, has looked at how governance and gross domestic product (GDP) during the period 2010 to 2019 affected the level of venture capital investment after the financial crises and before the pandemic.
Sebastian Schaefer, Felix Ashu, and Michael Neubert of the ISM International School of Management in Paris, France, suggest in their paper that politicians, investors, and entrepreneurs need to have a clearer understanding of the factors that affect total venture capital investments, without it they cannot facilitate economic growth. The received wisdom is that developed and well-governed countries attract greater investment, but there is a dearth of research evidence to support this assumption quantitatively.
As such, the team has looked at the period 2010 to 2019 and looked at how governance indicators are correlated with GDP across 25 developed European nations. By choosing this period the findings might be to some degree independent of the two major factors that affected global economics before and after the period in question and so could offer a general finding. A multiple regression analysis allowed them to extract new insights but also revealed a mix of effects between countries and so generalisations are difficult to make. Moreover, the team could explain the mixed findings of earlier work better through their own analysis. However, they do offer that overall "a certain minimal level of political governance has an impact on venture capital investments."
The team proposes that future work will need to increase the sample size and cluster countries into groups. This, they suggest, might allow them to come to more general conclusions regarding each variable considered and the effect it has on venture capital investments.
Schaefer, S., Ashu, F. and Neubert, M. (2021) 'The impact of GDP and governance on venture capital investments for the period 2010–2019 (after the financial crisis and before the Covid-19 pandemic)', Int. J. Teaching and Case Studies, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp.219–232.
Strategic corporate social responsibility
Corporate social responsibility is vital to our future development as it will control many of the excesses and mistakes that might otherwise be made by businesses around the world. However, having an appropriate and active strategy in this realm can also boost a company's competitiveness. New research published in the International Journal of Sustainable Strategic Management, looks at how a business might more effectively develop such a strategy to the benefit of us all and to the benefit of its bottom line.
Sarah Margaretha Jastram and Zara Berberyan of the Hamburg School of Business Administration in Germany, point out that there are many well-documented advantages to strategic corporate social responsibility. Despite this, however, they point out that there is a dearth of coherent models to guide managements towards developing such a strategy. Moreover, there are many practices in this realm that are not strategic. As such, the team has developed – based on fifteen years of experience – what they refer to as a well-grounded framework based on specific analytical tools that can help with the effective formulation and assessment of corporate social responsibility.
Such a framework will preclude diffuse and non-targeted investments in corporate social responsibility that would otherwise not lead to the desired benefits to society and the business itself. A strategic approach can, the team suggests, guide core business choices and so substantially strengthen competitive positioning as well as reaping the wider rewards of taking a stance on corporate social responsibility.
"With this practical framework, we aim to encourage firms to formulate more competitive corporate social responsibility strategies comprising more innovative and unique approaches," the team writes.
Jastram, S.M. and Berberyan, Z. (2021) 'How to develop a corporate social responsibility strategy', Int. J. Sustainable Strategic Management, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp.51–62.
Entrepreneurial co-working spaces
New research published in the International Journal of Entrepreneurial Venturing suggests that co-working spaces can benefit entrepreneurs that make use of them by boosting social capital.
Victor Cabral of the Centre for Applied Research on Economics & Management at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, in the Netherlands, draws on previous work from various social science disciplines to build a conceptual model reveals the links between co-working spaces, social capital, and performance benefits. Through interviews with nineteen entrepreneurs using three co-working spaces, the research reveals the many benefits in terms of networking and other aspects of business that might be wrought by the use of such spaces.
An entrepreneur's personal network is perhaps one of their most important assets allowing them to make connections with other entrepreneurs, investors, experts, and potential employees that would simply not be possible were they somehow to operate in isolation. As such, interventions that create new connections or strengthen the bridges between known contacts should almost always lead to benefits for all of those within the network.
Co-working spaces have become increasingly common in cities around the world, sometimes spring up on science and business parks, which are in themselves often perceived as a kind of meta-coworking space offering connectivity at the company level and with academia in many cases. "Co-working seems to be a response to the rise of start-ups and self-employed workers who want to work in social settings, and also reflects the shift towards flexible work approaches by firms in modern knowledge economies," Cabral explains.
At the time of writing, we are in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Given social distancing measures and lockdowns that have been used since early 2020 to limit the spread of the disease, it is likely that the use of co-working spaces for many has been reduced during this period as more and more people have been forced to remote working and online conferencing and such. However, we can but hope that humanity will overcome this pandemic and we will move forward into a world where restrictions are no longer necessary and the notion of co-working spaces can come to the fore once again.
"This study confirms that co-working spaces are suitable places that ignite social interaction, stimulate the exchange of knowledge, and provide leads to new opportunities," Cabral writes, confirming the positive outlook for co-working spaces for entrepreneurs in the new normal.
Cabral, V. (2021) 'Coworking spaces: places that stimulate social capital for entrepreneurs', Int. J. Entrepreneurial Venturing, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp.404–424.
The safety of women is high on the social agenda with molestation, sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, and murder, being recognised increasingly. Researchers from India have reviewed the state-of-the-art surrounding technological safety solutions and highlighted gaps and limitations in the International Journal of Adaptive and Innovative Systems.
Priyanka Kohli and Kawaljeet Singh of Punjabi University in Patiala (Pb), India, explain how an intelligent system that uses concepts from the realm of data science might be used in a mobile phone that can send an alert for help if a person is in a threatening environment. Conversely, machine learning based logistic regression might be used to alert a person to a particular place representing just such a threatening environment.
The empowerment of women underpins the development of a modern society. Inequity and violence against women cannot be allowed to persist in such a community. Of course, the empowerment of women involves educating men, but information and communication technologies have a role to play in driving us towards equity, the review suggests. This may well be even more fruitful a notion in the context of the smart city.
Although a lot of women's safety systems are already available, a more sophisticated system still needs to be developed that helps to make women feel safe when they are alone or in difficulty, the team writes. A mobile system with intelligent modes may help them out of troubling situations, consisting of modules to bring police, medical or other emergency assistance, call a friend or family member, or a combination of help, they add.
The details of a suggested smart system from the team itself would not only offer the ability to offer alerts and warnings but could be used to record evidence in a given situation. Such a system could, as social equity evolves, offer women, and others, a useful technological safety net of sorts.
Kohli, P. and Singh, K. (2021) 'Intelligent system for women's safety using data science', Int. J. Adaptive and Innovative Systems, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp.25–42.
Brazil's nuclear industry option
The mid-1950s saw the advent of nuclear industries with the first radiological research centre in Brazil and today the country has four research reactors and two nuclear power reactors in operation as well as eleven fuel cycle facilities. Researchers writing in the International Journal of Nuclear Energy Science and Technology, explain that nuclear power represents about 3 percent of output but this in no way represents the full potential of nuclear in the country. This is particularly poignant given that Brazil has the seventh largest reservoirs of the nuclear starting material, uranium.
One of the obstacles that the team of Vitor Fernandes de Almeida, Luciana Sampaio Ribeiro, Edilaine Ferreira da Silva, Anna Flávia de Freitas Valiante Peluso, Nathália Silva de Medeiros, and Amir Zacarias Mesquita of the Brazilian Nuclear Energy Commission (CNEN) in Minas Gerais, see in changing this situation is that the general population has little comprehension of the nuclear industry, which, of course, is the case in many other parts of the world. As such approval when sought is often met with misunderstandings and misconceptions.
Given that the nuclear industries could have an important role to play in addressing climate change as well as their ongoing role in medically important radiopharmaceuticals and diagnostics, there is a pressing need to understand the level of understanding among the public to allow the nuclear industries in Brazil to mature further. Greater understanding of such issues usually leads to greater approval and the team's evidence suggests that this is the case in the situation. However, the perceived negatives often receive greater attention in the media and on social media than the benefits of the nuclear industries, often being equated with weaponry and environmental harms.
The team suggests that clear and accessible information about the benefits and the limitations of the nuclear industries is needed if the general public is to accept the paradigm. Opening up visitor centres for adults, improving educational input, as well as endeavouring to drive a positive message across social media could all be done to benefit the nuclear industry and reduce unwarranted prejudice without compromising integrity and being accepting of the limitations.
"Public acceptance of nuclear power and radiation applications are important for the government, the major stakeholder of the industry because consensus is required to drive actions," the team writes.
de Almeida, V.F., Ribeiro, L.S., da Silva, E.F., de Freitas Valiante Peluso, A.F., de Medeiros, N.S. and Mesquita, A.Z. (2020) 'The current public acceptance in Brazil of nuclear science and technology for peaceful purposes', Int. J. Nuclear Energy Science and Technology, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp.328–338.
Predicting and controlling dioxins
Dioxins are a group of toxic and persistent environmental pollutants. These compounds are formed through a variety of processes but commonly through incomplete combustion of organic matter. Levels are usually monitored in industrial settings for safety reasons using offline laboratory analyses that are carried out periodically. New work published in the International Journal of System Control and Information Processing offers an emission concentration estimate from soft measurements that utilises a deep forest regression algorithm.
Such an approach could offer a better approach to dioxin monitoring allowing a profile of emission concentrations to be seen almost in real-time in a way that periodic monitoring cannot. As such, this might allow optimal control of the processes to reduce the risk of noxious emissions. The team has validated the predictions made by the trained algorithm with data from a typical industrial process, municipal solid waste incineration, which is well known as an important potential source of dioxins in many places. Their approach provides a rather accurate prediction based on input parameters for the known data from an incinerator.
Municipal solid waste is increasing by up to ten percent annually across the globe. Moreover, given that practical recycling is not possible in many of the world's cities at any meaningful level, waste incineration represents one of the only pragmatic ways of addressing this growing problem. But, the issue of pollution must also be addressed if incineration is not to cause more problems than it solves. Of course, the heat generated by municipal waste incineration can itself be put to good use in heating local buildings or generating electricity.
Jian, T., Heng, X., Junfei, Q. and Zihao, G. (2021) 'Soft measurement of dioxin emission concentration based on deep forest regression algorithm', Int. J. System Control and Information Processing, Vol. 3, No. 3, pp.208–228.
COVID-19 dynamics across India
New research published in the International Journal of Indian Culture and Business Management, has looked at the non-pharmautical interventions that were used during the lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rohit Sindhwani, Venkataramanaiah Saddikuti, and Omkarprasad S. Vaidya of the Indian Institute of Management Lucknow, explain that the exponential thread of a potentially lethal infectious disease requires a strong response from those in authority if the impact is to be limited in any way. The team has modelled the response and effects of the pandemic on ten of the worst affected states in India to see if there are any state-specific dynamics. The modelling gives them a dynamic reproductive number for the virus and its spread. Such dynamics might offer clues as to how best to deal with re-emerging waves of infection or the development of a future pandemic. Importantly, the team's study reveals the importance of understanding the heterogeneities that exist between different places, which can help to highlight what measures are useful and what measures fail.
At the time the work was undertaken, the strongest message that is offered is that in terms of non-pharmaceutical interventions, regular personal testing and self isolation, social distancing, and ongoing personal hygiene measures, such as wearing a face covering and hand-washing should be continued. Critically, it is important to identify super-spreaders and to counter the impact they might have on the development of new waves of infection.
Given that India is the second most populous country in the world, it is important for a huge number of people that science understands very clearly how pandemics unroll across the sub-continent. There are, of course, implications for its citizens, its near neighbours, and the whole world.
Sindhwani, R., Saddikuti, V. and Vaidya, O.S. (2021) 'Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Indian states during lockdown: incorporating heterogeneity and non-pharmaceutical interventions', Int. J. Indian Culture and Business Management, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp.490–521.
Up-converting for Super SloMo video
Research published in the International Journal of Computational Vision and Robotics, points to several approaches that might be used to up-convert Super SloMo video files with deep learning offering improvements in final quality. The methods described offer a way to convert a video with a lower number of frames per second to be converted to one with a higher number of frames per second.
Minseop Kim and Haechul Choi of the Hanbat National University in Daejeon, Republic of Korea explain how a training data set can be used to gain optimal results with Super SloMo boosting signal-to-noise ratio significantly. Super SloMo is a deep learning-based frame rate up-conversion (FRUC) method proposed by graphics hardware company NVIDIA. The current team's approach works with this and can preclude flickering effects when displaying video that does not match the quality of the display itself by creating frames between frames using the techniques of artificial intelligence. This allows a more natural up-conversion to be carried out whereas earlier approaches can successfully reduce flicker but look unnatural. The new approach avoids the negative impact that can be seen when a bad motion vector is used to add frames.
The team trained the system with thousands of videos showing various moving objects of different sizes. The large objects dataset contained more than 50000 images of basketball, soccer, volleyball, marathons, and vehicles. The dataset with small moving objects contained more than 50000 images of golf, badminton, table tennis, and tennis. A similar-sized dataset of both large and small objects was also used.
"The results of training by object size shows that the performance was improved in terms of peak signal-to-noise ratio (PSNR) and the mean of the structural similarity index (MSSIM) in most cases when the training set and the validation set had similar properties," the team reports. Specifically, "The experimental results show that the two proposed methods improved the peak signal-to-noise ratio and the mean of the structural similarity index by 0.11 dB and 0.033% with the specialised training set and by 0.37 dB and 0.077% via adjusting the reconstruction and warping loss parameters, respectively," the team writes.
Kim, M. and Choi, H. (2021) 'A high-quality frame rate up-conversion technique for Super SloMo', Int. J. Computational Vision and Robotics, Vol. 11, No. 5, pp.512–525.
Culture and social media
Research published in the International Journal of Internet Marketing and Advertising has looked at how cultural differences affect behaviour on social media. Myron Guftométros and João Guerreiro Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, in Lisbon, Portugal, focused on what is perhaps the most well-known and well-populated online social network, Facebook. They used an organic approach to assimilate data from 6750 posts from 225 different Facebook brand pages across fifteen different countries.
The team categorized the engagement metrics such as the number of likes, shares and comments and the various versions of "likes" such as love, wow, and funny that can be used to tag an update. They then used Hofstede's cultural dimensions to analyse the data. The team found several interesting differences that could be explained by Hofstede's dimensions. For instance, countries that are considered low in individualism and/or high in power distance, share posts more than commenting on them. They also found that the use of the "funny" or "wow" emoticon responses instead of a standard "like" also related to higher scores on individualism.
Despite the reach of Facebook and other social media systems, globalisation and interconnectedness, people still retain and favour their own cultural values in different regions and across different groups within those regions. However, ongoing studies are still needed to discern whether the effects of globalisation are blurring cultural distinctions or not particularly in update and commenting activity on social media. The authors write that their work appears to be the first published based on real-world organically gathered data in the form of engagement metrics to analyse cultural differences.
The next step will be to look at cultural differences surrounding smaller, local companies, and also to extend the analysis of metrics to other applications, such as the microblogging site Twitter and the photo- and video-oriented Instagram. The researchers also find that their study poses several more questions that future research might answer: Does "loving" a post instead of "liking" it mean that there is a stronger brand relationship? Also, they ask, does responding with the "funny" or "wow" emoticon mean that customers are more engaged and interested in the posts? Of course, the bigger question is to learn whether these fleeting online sentiments actually reveal anything at all about a user or customer's actual feelings towards a given brand.
Guftométros, M. and Guerreiro, J. (2021) 'The effects of cultural differences on social media behaviour', Int. J. Internet Marketing and Advertising, Vol. 15, No. 4, pp.412–428.
The COVID-19 response
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic governments, corporations and private companies, as well as not-for-profit organisations have tried to support public health in many different ways. A new report in the International Journal of Indian Culture and Business Management, has looked at what strategies appear to have worked in coping with this disease.
Amina Omrane of the ECSTRA Research Center at IHEC Carthage, University of Sfax, in Tunisia and Sudin Bag of Vidyasagar University in West Bengal, India, found that digital tools and technologies coupled with specific cultural responses have helped us face the pandemic in many ways. Their detailed findings point to how corporate management, government and state officials, as well as entrepreneurs, might learn from the current crisis how best to cope with the ongoing problems it brings as well as how we might successfully cope with a similar crisis in the future.
In late 2019, human health, security, and safety took a turn for the worse with the emergence of a novel and potentially lethal airborne coronavirus dubbed SARS-CoV-2, which causes a disease labeled COVID-19, as we all know. In March 2020, the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic, which has proven to be the worst for many decades in terms of people affected and the number of deaths around the world that it has wrought.
There have been many different responses to the disease in different parts of the world, such as telecommuting mandates, lockdowns, and border controls, some more successful in some places than others. At the time of writing, we now have several vaccines available to some parts of the world population. There has also been significant blowback from those concerned with the societal and economic impact as opposed to the direct public health effects. Irrespective of the politic of such discussions, the pandemic has wreaked havoc in most parts of the world affecting everyone in one way or another. At the time of writing, the WHO reports that more than 4.6 million people have died of this disease.
There is now a pressing need to move forward with research in the biomedical, social, and business sciences to help us cope with the current ongoing problems we face and to ready ourselves for a future pandemic even before this one is over.
Omrane, A. and Bag, S. (2021) 'Which strategies are appropriate for the fight against the worldwide coronavirus crisis?', Int. J. Indian Culture and Business Management, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp.416–430.
Busting the problem of cloud cover
The downside to solar power is that it's not always sunny and so grid operators have to compensate for energy drops by bringing alternative generation sources online. New research in the International Journal of Powertrains, looks at how short-term forecast of sunshine using satellite images could offer one tool to help power companies maintain a steady supply.
A. Shobana Devi of the Sathyabama Institute of Science and Technology, in Chennai, India and colleagues explain how solar irradiance forecasting currently represents a major challenge to companies hoping to integrate solar energy resources into the existing structures of energy supply. Fundamentally, it is the vagaries of changing cloud cover that compromise the power output of solar panels. However, it might be possible to compensate for the problem if there were a way to predict cloud movements within a fifteen to ninety-minute window throughout the day.
The team has developed an approach using the long short-term memory (LSTM) technique and tested it against known satellite imagery and the power output of a 250-megawatt solar plant to show that the predictions can be sufficiently accurate to allow grid operators to balance power output from solar and other sources. Their tests demonstrate that this approach is more accurate than other methods when tested against cloud cover data accumulated over a seven-month period. Statistical regression models allow them to assess the efficacy of the various models tested.
"The results of experiments verify and affirm that over current techniques, our suggested algorithms can considerably enhance the precision of cloud monitoring and solar energy estimation," the team writes. They add that "This predictive solar power data in the smart grid can be used efficiently for grid operation (load tracking) and energy management system."
Devi, A.S., Maragatham, G., Boopathi, K. and Prabu, M.R. (2021) 'Short-term solar power forecasting using satellite images', Int. J. Powertrains, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp.125–142.
AI for employee retention
Machine learning might be able to predict which employees within an organisation are readying themselves to leave the company for whatever reason. Research published in the International Journal of Data Science, explains how employee turnover costs organisations billions of dollars annually. Finding ways to improve employee retention might be guided effectively if there were a way to spot the trends in employee intentions ahead of their making any decision to move to a new position within another organisation, for example.
Owen Hall of the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, USA, points out that, as one might expect, engagement, job satisfaction, experience, and compensation are four of the most obvious factors that point to an employee's decision to leave when any combination of those factors fails to align with that person's aspirations and expectations with regard to their career and prospects.
Employee retention is a perennial issue for those working in human resource management. This has become even more acute during the COVID-19 where normal life and work practices have been changed beyond recognition in many areas of employment. Increased competition, more customer demands, and intensified recruiting and onboarding challenges, have never been of greater concern, it might be said.
Within HR, the understanding of employee turnover has generally been done in retrospect, perhaps long after specific employees have already moved on. A proactive stance is needed, which is where Hall suggests machine learning might be able to assist. "Machine learning can be used to both identify employees that are planning to leave and design specific implementation amelioration strategies," writes Hall.
Machine learning can do this with much less bias than might be experienced with human assessment of the situation as it unfolds in terms of employee intentions. Of course, engaging senior leadership is then required to mitigate against the loss of experienced and useful employees to opportunities elsewhere. Hall explains that "The results of a machine learning analysis featuring extreme gradient boost trees and neural nets of a representative employee database yielded classification accuracy levels on the order of 90%."
Hall, O.P. (2021) 'Managing employee turnover: machine learning to the rescue', Int. J. Data Science, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp.57–82.
Baking greener bread after COVID
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not squander the clean energy gains that were made through reduced human activity and economic downturn during the periods of lockdown and beyond. That is the message from recent research published in the International Journal of Global Warming.
Fatemeh Nadi of the Department of Agricultural Machinery Mechanics at the Islamic Azad University, in Azadshahr, Iran, and Mustafa Özilgen of the Department of Food Engineering at Yeditepe University, in Istanbul, Turkey, explain how during the ongoing pandemic, prices across the energy sector were pushed down by reduced demand.
As such, there may well have been a shortfall in investment into renewable energy projects in the short term during the current period and after the pandemic, they add. That said, at the time of writing this Research Highlight, there is already growing signs that point to price hikes across the energy sector as nations relieve restrictions and endeavour to unlock their economies once more.
The team has looked at one particular energy-intensive sector in Iran – bakeries. The Iranian baked goods industry is among the most energy-intensive in that sector across the globe with bread production amounting to an annual 15 million tonnes.
The team has developed three different scenarios that could lead to a 45% reduction in energy consumption across bakeries, a rate that amounts to well over 100 megajoules per tonne of produce per annum. Their approaches involving adopting wind power and biogas use in baking and in the growing of wheat and flour milling before that. They also suggest a potential greening of the sector amounting to a 70% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. They add that waste products and waste bread might be fed back into the production cycle for bioethanol for making requisite transportation greener too.
To conclude, the team writes how "Sustainability of the baking industry may be improved substantially through implementing three different scenarios: improving the flour production process from farm to factory, replacing fossil fuels with their renewable counterparts, and producing ethanol from the leftover bread." They add that "Such an improvement may be a major attempt toward protecting the clean energy gains of the pre-pandemic era."
Nadi, F. and Özilgen, M. (2021) 'Effects of COVID-19 on energy savings and emission reduction: a case study', Int. J. Global Warming, Vol. 25, No. 1, pp.38–57.
Hazardous goods in the smart city
The transportation of hazardous materials through densely populated areas, such as cities, is a necessary part of modern life, but comes with risks of spills and leaks, explosions, environmental issues, and public health concerns. New research in the International Journal of Simulation and Process Modelling, has used a transportation management simulation to look at problems that might arise in moving hazardous materials within a city when traffic congestion is common.
Luiz Antonio Reis, Sergio Luiz Pereira, Eduardo Mario Dias, and Maria Lídia Rebello Pinho Dias Scoton of the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo in Brazil explain how their simulation can be used to reduce risk and find optimal routes for the transport of hazardous materials. By suggesting ways that traffic might be better managed overall in a city, they also demonstrated how to improve city life. The advanced simulation system makes a huge contribution to reducing traffic jams and their consequences on fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, the team writes.
The team points out that Brazil's National Transport Confederation says that road transport is responsible for 61% of cargo transportation, and practically all of the dangerous cargo transportation in the country's urban areas. "Thus, the greater the control and standardisation of operating procedures for this type of transport, the better and safer it will be for society," the team writes.
As city infrastructure and control mature and we can begin to talk about "smart" cities, there is a pressing need to address the issues of real-world logistics and transportation which can succumb to the whims of real-world traffic and drivers and the incidents and accidents that plague them. To make use of the output from their simulation there is thus a need for greater control and traffic awareness and management in the urban environment.
Obviously, registered vehicles with hazardous cargos will be tracked continuously, but private and even commercial traffic will not other than through the closed-circuit television network and monitoring present on many roads and perhaps drone or helicopter surveillance of traffic congestion as it arises. As such, there need to be stronger connections formed between different stakeholder departments who might then share timely information and using the team's model be able to respond quickly to help avoid congestion issues and potential accidents involving, primarily, the hazardous cargos, but also the wider traffic base in a city.
Reis, L.A., Pereira, S.L., Dias, E.M. and Scoton, M.L.R.P.D. (2021) 'Traffic jam prediction using hazardous material transportation management simulation', Int. J. Simulation and Process Modelling, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp.256–269.
Getting around the smart city
Smart cities will not be truly smart until they have sustainable transport systems. New work published in the International Journal of Shipping and Transport Logistics has used fuzzy logic to look at the options.
Chenghua Wang of the School of Public Affairs at Chongqing University, in Chongqing, China, and colleagues Oscar Sanjuán Martínez and Rubén González Crespo of the School of Engineering and Technology at the Universidad Internacional de La Rioja in Spain, suggest that current expansion of transportation is having an increasingly detrimental effect on environment at the local and global levels as well as reducing the quality of life for many people. They suggest that governments and those running our cities must invest in clean, safe, efficient, economic, and sustainable transport networks to address this growing problem. This is even more pressing given the demands of the citizens living and working in technologically rich cities, which we might refer to as smart cities.
The problem facing policy makers, planners, and stakeholders in transportation is how to define what is meant by sustainable transport and how to select the appropriate systems to fulfill the demands of such a system.
The current team has introduced what they refer to as an improved hybrid fuzzy logic system (IHFLS) for the generation of aggregate values for the sustainable evaluation of hybrid fuzzy logic to allow the decisions to be made more effectively. In the first step, they define the sustainability evaluation criteria for transport. In step two, experts provide language ratings against selected criteria for potential alternatives. Finally, the IHFLS generates aggregate results for the evaluation of sustainability and the choice of the best alternatives. The approach allows the social, economic, and environmental considerations, to be balanced equitably, viably, and in a way that stakeholders can bear. Optimally, all of these criteria will mesh together to enable a sustainable solution to be found for a given city.
Wang, C., Sanjuán Martínez, O. and González Crespo, R. (2021) 'Improved hybrid fuzzy logic system for evaluating sustainable transportation systems in smart cities', Int. J. Shipping and Transport Logistics, Vol. 13, No. 5, pp.554–568.
Detecting forged video evidence
Video evidence is commonly used to prove what happened during an event. However, with the emergence and rapid development of CGI (computer-generated images), deep fakes, and video manipulation, there is a pressing need for tools to detect forgeries that would otherwise undermine the value of video evidence.
A review in the International Journal of Electronic Security and Digital Forensics has taken a look at the state-of-the-art in video forgery detection with a particular focus on how those tools might be used to ensure evidence in a criminal investigation has not been compromised or is not a forgery. Punam Sunil Raskar and Sanjeevani Kiran Shah of Savitribai Phule Pune University, in Pune, Maharashtra, India, explain how they have categorised forgery detection tools into four distinct domains within digital forensics.
The first domain involves those tools that can help those investigating so-called "copy move attacks" (CMA). In a CMA, part of an image is cloned (selected, copied, and pasted) on to another area of the image, still or moving. It may be used to render invisible something that is incriminating or identifying in the image. A CMA might also be used to duplicate a part of an image in a suggestive manner for nefarious purposes. The second domain represents tools that can scrutinise a video and detecting tampering based on motion estimation techniques. The third area uses the principle of optical flow to identify problems with a moving object in a video suggestive of something having been faked. The fourth section looks at the specific issues that arise in extracting information from a compressed video.
It is the latter area of research on compressed video evidence that is yet to mature fully although the researchers suggest that their review points to numerous routes that might be taken in developing all of the areas of digital forensics for video evidence.
Raskar, P.S. and Shah, S.K. (2021) 'Methods for forgery detection in digital forensics', Int. J. Electronic Security and Digital Forensics, Vol. 13, No. 5, pp.528–547.
Lockdown or downturn
The social media network, Twitter, has been at the heart of many a public debate not least the national and international response to the COVID-19 pandemic. New research from the USA published in the International Journal of Business and Systems Research, has examined public opinion on "lockdowns" and "reopening for the economy" during the first summer of the pandemic as revealed by more than a million unique Twitter updates about COVID-19.
Sina Shokoohyar and Julianne Dang of Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Hossein Rikhtehgar Berenji of Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, classified 1.3 million Twitter updates, whimsically known to users of the microblogging website and application as "tweets". Their classification divided updates into three camps. The first, were in favour of removing lockdown restrictions to allow the US economy to "reopen". The second category had those updates aligned with continuing lockdown restrictions for the sake of public health. The third category were neutral tweets offering facts rather than opinion.
Rather than using logistic regression, decision tree, random forest, neutral network or multinomial naïve Bayes, the team turned to a gradient boosting classifier algorithm, which they demonstrate had an accuracy of 88% and so outperformed those other classifiers in their research.
The fundamental conclusion from the analysis is that there were significantly more tweets in favour of reopening the economy rather than persisting with lockdown measures, such as ongoing educational and business closures and stay-at-home orders and that this opinion became increasingly prominent as time passed during the early stages of the pandemic lockdowns. The team suggests that the perceived and real socioeconomic impact of lockdowns on stock markets, gross domestic product (GDP), unemployment rates, and rates of household consumption were drivers for the offered opinions of many Twitter users.
Of course, lockdowns led to an increase in social media activity and so this in itself partly underpins the increase in tweets offering an opinion on lockdown, public health, and the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19.
"Perhaps one of the most surprising side effects of the outbreak is the increase in US residents' engagement in expressing their opinion on social media," the team writes. "People from all walks of life are suddenly reading statistical analyses and epidemiology charts and sharing them as if they were popular music videos or comedy memes," the researchers add.
There are implications for policymakers of this study, the team suggests. Twitter and other social media can be used to extract public opinion quite widely and so reveal how public attitudes to any given policy or regulation might change in an emergency situation such as a global pandemic.
The team adds that "Analysing these tweets can shorten the time to observe the consequences of the pandemic, and can facilitate faster response by policymakers." Whether or not policymakers should be chasing public opinion in a crisis of this sort is perhaps a different matter when there are direct implications for public health to be weighed against long-term implications for the economy and ultimately its effects on public wellbeing and public health.
Shokoohyar, S., Rikhtehgar Berenji, H. and Dang, J. (2021) 'Exploring the heated debate over reopening for economy or continuing lockdown for public health safety concerns about COVID-19 in Twitter', Int. J. Business and Systems Research, Vol. 15, No. 5, pp.650–672.
Virtual hospital tour
Panoramic photography can be coupled with virtual reality to allow patients and others to take a virtual tour of their hospital ahead of a procedure to allow them to familiarise themselves with their temporary surroundings and to reduce any anxiety they may have about entering an unfamiliar environment at a potentially stressful time in their lives. The reality-based VR panorama tour is discussed in detail in the International Journal of Innovation and Learning.
Adhistya Erna Permanasari, Dian Anggriawan Hidayat, Sunu Wibirama, and Intan Sulistyaningrum of the Sakkinah Department of Electrical and Information Engineering at the Universitas Gadjah Mada, in Yogyakarta, and Dayang Rohaya Awang Rambli of the Computer and Information Science Department at Universiti Teknonologi PETRONAS in Perak, Indonesia, explain how information technology has an important role to play in socialising institutions such as hospitals as public services.
Educational establishments, museums and libraries, and companies have used VR successfully to share their offering with their respective stakeholders. A 360-degree panoramic experience opens up an unfamiliar realm as well as allowing the developers to showcase their buildings, displays, and products without the user needing to pay an initial real-world visit. A VR simulation can be augmented with textual and other cues generated by the software to guide the user on their tour in a way that is perhaps not possible with a real tour of an establishment. A user might also be able to retrace their steps, take another look at a particular aspect of the tour, and even visit areas that are usually off-limits to the public.
The current work uses a veterinary hospital as a test case for a panoramic VR tour with textual cues for users to learn about the site and be guided through the tour. The team validated the user experience and the value of the textual cues using the Wilcoxon test, showing experience to be above average and in the excellent range.
Permanasari, A.E., Hidayat, D.A., Wibirama, S., Sakkinah, I.S. and Rambli, D.R.A. (2021) 'Development of a hospital virtual tour with virtual reality-based panorama', Int. J. Innovation and Learning, Vol. 30, No. 2, pp.119–131.
Fishbone ash blowing free to treat landfill
The precipitation of the mineral struvite (magnesium ammonium phosphate) precipitation is proven chemistry for the pre-treatment of landfill leachate. New work in the International Journal of Environment and Waste Management suggests that sustainable sources of the requisite phosphorus are urgently needed and posits that ash from waste fishbones could be such a source.
M. Darwish, M.H. Puteh, and A. Aris of the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in Johor and A. Abdul Kadir of the Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia, also in Johor, are investigating the possibilities.
"One of the major environmental problems related to solid waste management is the landfill leachate," the team writes. "Leachates generated from municipal landfills are high strength waste streams that contain high concentrations of many pollutants, such as ammonium nitrogen, organic matter, and heavy metals," they add. The researchers point out that landfill leachate can be processed using anaerobic biological treatment but this is only efficient if the ammonia content of the leachate can be reduced as ammonia is toxic to the microbes needed for this type of treatment.
The team explains how phosphorus-rich fishbone ash can be mixed with magnesium oxide before adding to landfill leachate. The two components react with noxious and odorous nitrogen compounds in the leachate, which form the "ammonium" part of the struvite which then comes out of solution as a solid material that can then be processed further safely.
The researcher's tests with this approach to struvite precipitation show that it works well when compared with conventional phosphorus and magnesium starting materials for this kind of cleanup of noxious leachate from landfill. They were able to demonstrate some 70 percent removal of ammonium nitrogen from sample leachate with their approach. "Compared to previous works, the application of Mg-P mixture to actual landfill leachate is competitive, taking into consideration the achieved side advantages," the team concludes.
Darwish, M., Puteh, M.H., Aris, A. and Abdul Kadir, A. (2021) 'Utilisation of fish waste bones ash for struvite precipitation in actual landfill leachate', Int. J. Environment and Waste Management, Vol. 28, No. 2, pp.209–218.
Ultrasonic social distancing
Social distancing has been a critical component of the world's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea being that keeping physical apart from other people will reduce the risk of a person spreading the respiratory virus to someone else. It is just one component of our response, which also includes wearing face coverings, frequent hand sanitisation, and obtaining a vaccine against the virus.
Such measures would not seem unfamiliar to past generations who lived through pandemics. However, the technology we have today that was simply unimaginable at the time of the 1918-1920 influenza pandemic means we can make our response even more effective. New research in the International Journal of Sensor Networks discusses the potential of ultrasonic sensors to help people keep a safe distance from others when social distancing is deemed necessary in a pandemic situation.
Mohit Ghai and Ruchi Gupta of the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering at ADGITM, IP University in Delhi, India, describe a small, portable sensor-alarm device based on an Arduino system. Arduino is an open-source hardware and software system that can be used to quickly build single-board microcontrollers and microcontroller kits with a variety of inexpensive applications. There is scope to add Wi-Fi capability and other networking functionality to a device too.
The team's Arduino device has an ultrasonic sensor that continuously probes the space around a person and is triggered when another person enters one's personal space within a pre-determined threshold distance set according to social distancing rules. The system is not dissimilar to the parking sensors with which many vehicles are fitted and so could give a timely indication to the user that they have moved too close to another person unwittingly or alert them when another person moves nearer to them in a shopping queue or other setting, for instance.
Given how often people misjudge distances between themselves and others especially in busy environments, a portable alarm system of this sort could be a boon to those hoping to ensure social distancing is maintained to help reduce the risk of spreading infection.
Ghai, M. and Gupta, R. (2021) 'Ultrasonic sensor based social distancing device', Int. J. Sensor Networks, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp.139–145.
Artificial intelligence answers COVID questions
A chatbot that is based on an artificial neural network that can carry out natural language processing (NLP) is being developed by researchers in India. The team describes how the chatbot can be programmed to answer questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Details are to be found in the International Journal of Intelligent Engineering Informatics.
Vishal Tiwari, Lokesh Kumar Verma, Pulkit Sharma, Rachna Jain, and Preeti Nagrath of Bharati Vidyapeeth's College of Engineering in New Delhi, explain that the emergence of a novel coronavirus – SARS-CoV-2 – and the ensuing pandemic it caused has led to a lot of concern the world over. The team hopes to allay some of the fears of the unknown aspects of this pandemic by offering people a way to explore knowledge about the disease and the pandemic through a chatbot approach.
The team points out that artificial intelligence (AI) is already playing an important role in fighting the disease but it could also be used to counter misinformation and fill a person's knowledge gaps when issues arise. Current AI technology and one of its talents, NLP, have advanced significantly in recent years not only in terms of the accuracy with which a piece of text might be processed and its meaning extracted, but also in the speed with which it can be done. It is not a decade since an NLP search engine tool might have taken several minutes to process a natural question from a user, but today the technology can extract semantics from a piece of text in less than a second, if not faster.
The team points out that that there has been evolution in this area where NLP and neural networks converge. This confluence of AI technologies has taken the science along a different route to the benefit of the systems being developed, it having overcome many of the problems that the original approaches had encountered in so doing.
The application of this new and rapidly evolving technology in the current pandemic might help slow the spread of misinformation among laypeople confused by mixed messages from the media, activist groups, and social media. Moreover, by offering clear and accurate answers to a person's questions it could lessen the toll on mental health and stress by reducing the information burden. The team adds that the same technology might be extended to the medical realm itself for the detection of symptoms and the provision of information regarding the spread of disease and how to reduce the risk of infection.
Tiwari, V., Verma, L.K., Sharma, P., Jain, R. and Nagrath, P. (2021) 'Neural network and NLP based chatbot for answering COVID-19 queries', Int. J. Intelligent Engineering Informatics, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp.161–175.
A virtual appointment with your doctor
Many people do not have access to good-quality healthcare provision either because of the limited availability of resources or the distances involved in travelling to and from healthcare centres. A review in the International Journal Electronic Healthcare has considered the state-of-the-art in internet and communications technology in this context and how consultations with a physician might be carried out virtually rather than face-to-face to revolutionise access for millions of people in the developing world and in poor settings.
Gopireddy Murali Mohan Reddy and Priyanka Gollapalli of Evidencian Research Associates, Srinivas Gunda and Prasad Kompalli of Novocura Tech Health Services, all based in Bangalore, India, have surveyed the peer-reviewed scientific literature concerning virtual healthcare models and present a critique for all stakeholders in their paper.
The idea of a virtual consultation with one's physician or other healthcare worker is not a novel concept, phone consultations and even video calls have been used for many years. What has changed, perhaps driven by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing and other safety measures to counter this viral disease, is there is now significantly more widespread understanding and acceptance of the requisite technology.
Universal health coverage by 2030 was an ambitious goal embodied in the global priorities as part of our sustainable development goals around the world. However, half of the world's population still has only poor access to essential health services if any at all. The World Health Organisation reiterated this goal in a statement in 2019 demanding "universal health coverage for everyone, everywhere."
Unfortunately, the poverty gap between nations and within nations seems to be scuppering those plans and that goal remains in some ways as distant today as it seemed when it was first stated, despite the WHO's aspirations…with one caveat – the virtualisation of medical services that might offer healthcare provision given access to technology even if direct access to healthcare workers is not possible.
The advent of the internet and ability to digitally transfer various kinds of information has opened the door for telemedicine and e-health, the team writes. The increasing availability of mobile phones and high-speed internet access allows the real-time transfer of audio, video, images, and other information. Personalised healthcare access in the form of a virtual consultation with one's physician or other clinician is now possible for many people and that access is growing as the technology becomes more widely available.
The team's review of the state-of-the-art in this area draws from them an optimistic perspective – it would not be imprudent to suggest a digital revolution in healthcare is about to make important changes the world over, they suggest. In light of this optimism, the team suggests that now is the time for those running the healthcare systems and the technologists to work together to maximise adoption and address the challenges rather than dithering about whether it should be done or not. Moreover, now is the time for tests and trials to be carried out to ensure safety and privacy are exemplary for the ultimate benefit of the patient.
Reddy, G.M.M., Gunda, S., Kompalli, P., Gollapalli, P. and Sevagamoorthy, A. (2021) 'Virtual doctor consultation, potential to revolutionise healthcare access in resource poor settings: opportunities and challenges', Int. J. Electronic Healthcare, Vol. 11, No. 3, pp.271–287.
Masking about emotional labour
We are emotional beings and this matters deeply in our personal lives but also in our working lives, perhaps nowhere more so than in the face-to-face service industries. New research in the International Journal of Quality and Innovation, has looked at the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on what is commonly referred to as "emotional labour performance", the workplace management of emotions that are integral to a worker's performance.
Niamh Lafferty and Sarah MacCurtain of the Kemmy Business School at the University of Limerick in Castletroy, Limerick, Ireland, and Patricia Mannix McNamara of the School of Education there, explain that the emergence of a global pandemic caused by an airborne virus meant that the public and workers alike have been for many months now obliged to wear a face covering, a protective mask, to reduce the risk of spreading the disease and to some extent catching it.
"By the nature of emotional labour, employees rely on both the ability to read service users' emotions and the ability to express appropriate emotional displays in response," the team writes. "In simpler times, employees could assess non-verbal expressions of emotion through facial recognition and respond with facially recognisable emotions evidenced in expressions such as a smile or one of concern," they add.
A face covering obviously precludes the normal appreciation of visual cues, such as smiles and frowns that we expect of our interactions with other people. This "new normal" has led to significant modifications to the interactions between service users and the people providing a service.
The new normal represents uncertainty and struggle for so many people. There are major challenges that have arisen in the time since we first recognised the pandemic nature of the virus formally known as SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, COVID-19. However, from the perspective of those researching emotional labour, the widespread wearing of face coverings actually presents a new research opportunity to better understand the interactions between provider and user in ways that are not possible when facial expressions are wholly visible to each party in such an interaction.
"This mask-wearing time provides an exceptional opportunity to test [the] relevance, significance, and impact [of emotional labour] in a way that previously could never have been achieved," the team writes.
Lafferty, N., MacCurtain, S. and McNamara, P.M. (2021) 'Donning the mask: the impact of Covid-19 on emotional labour performance', Int. J. Quality and Innovation, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp.141–157.
Computers search for Huntington's disease drug candidates
Huntington's disease, previously known as Huntington's chorea, is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder. It has a strong genetic component and is considered to be an inherited disease, although one in ten cases is due to an uninherited genetic mutation.
The genetic source of the disease lies in the huntingtin [sic] gene (HTT). We all have two copies of this gene and it codes for the huntingtin protein (Htt). The protein is essential for development and for the body's nerve cells to function. However, the healthy gene has a repeated section but in Huntington's disease this repeat is extended beyond a threshold and the resulting proteins are dysfunctional and damage nerve cells giving rise to the symptoms of the disease.
Initially, the condition leads to problems with mood and cognition and progresses to physical disabilities such as involuntary movements and an inability to talk. Ultimately, dementia and increased physical disability, represent the end stages, although the cause of death is often pneumonia triggered by difficulty in clearing fluid from the lungs and aspiration of food.
Symptoms usually begin at between the ages of 20 and 50 and life expectancy depends on age of onset, but is rarely more than 20 years from the time of the appearance of initial symptoms. There are no known cures and those in the later stages of the disease require full-time care.
Writing in the International Journal of Computational Biology and Drug Design, a research team from India, describes a promising new computer-based approach to the development of putative drugs that could one day offer hope a pharmaceutical intervention in Huntington's disease. Sachin Kumar of the Department of Bioinformatics, Janta Vedic College in Baraut, Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh and colleagues have looked at the two proteins responsible for the symptoms of Huntington's disease, Mutant Huntingtin protein (HTT) and HTT-interacting protein 1 (HIP-1) as potential targets for a drug-based therapy. They have taken known computer models of these proteins and examined how well a range of small molecule compounds can fit into, or "dock" with, the active site of the proteins. A compound, or "ligand", that can dock with a protein's active site can often block the activity of said protein or preclude the entry of the natural molecule that would otherwise trigger an action in the protein if it docks with the active site.
The team has identified four ligands from their in silico experiments with eleven initial candidates. The candidates were chosen as they are modified versions of known pharmaceuticals – tetrabenazine, baclofen, austedo and deutetrabenazine, Haloperidol, and GSK356278. Of the eleven, four were found to dock well with the protein target and so might be tested further as possible drug candidates for Huntington's disease. The team adds that as our understanding of how mutant HTT causes cellular toxicity in the first place progresses, there is a hope that drug candidates might be modified further to improve the way they might interrupt toxicity.
Kumar, S., Panwar, S., Sharma, M.K. and Sharma, M.K. (2021) 'Genes to drug: an in-silico approach to design a drug for Huntington disease (HD) in Homo sapiens', Int. J. Computational Biology and Drug Design, Vol. 14, No. 3, pp.190–201.
Social emotion detector
Seemingly, half the world population now uses social media to share their thoughts and to experience the thoughts of others. There is no topic left unrepresented by users from opinions about technology, politics, society, celebrities, sport, music, cinema, health, war, religion, sex and beyond. Nothing is taboo.
Extracting the collective emotional responses to social events from the local to the international scale from social media updates remains a goal of computer science and those it aims to assist in making use of the semantic and emotional data that might be extracted from social media.
An Italian team writing in the International Journal of Metadata, Semantics and Ontologies, discusses an approach to investigating emotional reactions to social events.
"Social media has become a fulcrum for sharing information on everyday-life events; people, companies, and organisations express opinions there," Danilo Cavaliere and Sabrina Senatore of the University of Salerno, in Fisciano explain. They add that studying and identifying different feelings and emotions, as represented by social network updates, such as so-called "tweets" on the microblogging platform known as Twitter requires handling big data and being able to understand the underlying emotional character of the updates in context.
The team has taken an approach that allows them to home in on a particular topic based on specific keywords, highlighted in tweets with a # symbol and commonly known as hashtags. They have built a glossary of emotions having extracted the semantics from a sample database of updates and refer to this as an "emotional concept ontology".
The team then demonstrates how their ontology can be used to train a database classification tool (Support Vector Machine) to "understand" the emotional character and content of new tweets with which an algorithm built on this training is presented. They have demonstrated proof of principle successfully with sample datasets even with complicated, multifaceted tweets.
Cavaliere, D. and Senatore, S. (2021) 'An ontology-driven perspective on the emotional human reactions to social events', Int. J. Metadata Semantics and Ontologies, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp.23–38.
Boxing in Wikipedia
The free, multilingual online encyclopedia known as Wikipedia has been with us for more than twenty years. Its content is contributed and curated by volunteer users through the Wikipedia community. The value of this vast repository of information could be even greater than the superficial access to facts and figures if the content followed a standardised approach. Writing in the International Journal of the Metadata, Semantics and Ontologies, a team from Brazil describes their analysis of Wikipedia and its structural characteristics.
Johny Moreira, Everaldo Costa Neto, and Luciano Barbosa Centro de Informática of the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco explain that main, core, content in Wikipedia does not follow a standard structure from entry to entry. However, they demonstrate how the "infoboxes" within each page do follow a standard structure. Unfortunately, only around one in every two Wikipedia entries carry an infobox.
As such, while the infoboxes might be a useful component of Wikipedia that could be addressed by automated data mining tools, given that only 54 percent of entries carry such a component, this could limit the usefulness of data mining, search engine augmentation, and database construction, at least until the user community adds standard infoboxes to the majority of the Wikipedia entries. Of course, there might be ways to extract standardised information from the entries that lack an infobox to create just such an entity. However, there are several different templates that have already been used to create infoboxes even within the same Wikipedia categories.
One might suggest that by its very nature Wikipedia is always a work in progress, but some work is of a more fundamental nature than the creation of content and perhaps a part of the community needs to be enlisted and directed to create infoboxes and standardise the infobox templates if at all possible.
The team explains that there is a lot of interest in the infobox data found in Wikipedia. The researchers have now analysed many aspects of this content with the aim of helping the Wikipedia community to "uncover some data limitations and to guide researchers and practitioners interested in performing tasks using this data."
Indeed, the team is itself working toward this goal in its own efforts: "Our next step for improving and extending the work presented here is to apply deep learning techniques for automatic measurement and classification of the quality of the defined infoboxes and articles in Wikipedia," the researchers conclude.
Moreira, J., Costa Neto, E. and Barbosa, L. (2021) 'Analysis of structured data on Wikipedia', Int. J. Metadata Semantics and Ontologies, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp.71–86.
Monitoring COVID-19 on the smart grid
Might smart grid technologies be used to monitor the spread of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen that causes COVID-19? Researchers in Morocco, writing in the International Journal of Security and Networks put the case.
From the first identification of an emergent virus in late 2019, through the pronouncement of its pandemic status in March 2020, and on through lockdowns, social distancing, vaccination programs and beyond, technology has underpinned our response. Artificial intelligence, the internet, information & communications technology, big data, the internet of things, as well as the vast resources of medical science and healthcare have provided the tools to cope with the pandemic. Of course, there are huge inequalities within nations and internationally. As such, there is a need to find ways to redirect a given technology to the needy in those places where other technology may be wholly inaccessible.
The smart grid could see the implementation of communication technologies through millions of electrical connections to the conventional power grid. Essentially, the potential of the smart grid is to connect everybody in a region who has a smart meter with an added platform to extend its functionality. This connectivity could go way beyond internet connectivity, which despite the received wisdom is not yet ubiquitous.
El Yazid Dari of Abdelmalek Essaadi University, Ahmed Bendahmane of Abdelmalek Essaadi University, both in Tetuan, and Mohamed Essaaidi of Mohamed V University in Rabat, explain how smart grid technology might be used to identify new clusters of COVID-19 cases as the pandemic continues. Remote monitoring might allow us to predict the spread of the virus and so apply a more localized response to a given region. With such information to hand, we could help protect the people who live there and perhaps even preclude the wider spread of the virus from a given cluster.
"Major symptoms related to COVID-19 can be telemonitored using smart grid technology such as temperature, dry cough, dyspnea, and pneumonia that a person can test, measure and verify at home without travelling to the hospital," the team writes. The results could be sent via the smart grid to the healthcare authorities. Additionally, the results from home test kits for asymptomatic infection might also be shared with those authorities for even broader remote monitoring.
Dari, E.Y., Bendahmane, A. and Essaaidi, M. (2021) 'A novel approach for COVID-19 outbreak spread monitoring and control using smart grid technology', Int. J. Security and Networks, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp.112–116.
Sniping the social bots
Researchers estimate that one in seven Twitter accounts may be nothing more than software "bots" rather than individuals or organisations using the microblogging platform in an organic manner. A thematic review of this situation is offered by a team from India in the International Journal of Internet Technology and Secured Transactions.
Rosario Gilmary, Akila Venkatesan, and Govindasamy Vaiyapuri of Pondicherry Engineering College explain how Twitter bots exploit the service's API (application programming interface) to carry out tasks such as "mentions", "likes", "retweets", and posting updates themselves often exploiting trending topics and "hashtags". Some bots are created for entirely innocent purposes by users but often the bots are created to artificially boost or denigrate the activity of other, legitimate accounts, to spread disinformation, propaganda and other problematic content, and even to spread malware through phishing links embedded in a tweet.
It is important for the service provider and users to be aware of the existence of malicious and unwanted Twitter bots and fake accounts. As such, a review is very timely and might help promote the development of tools to detect these bots. The team discusses in some detail the nature and characteristics of Twitter bots within the following categories based on their activity: fake followers, social spambots, content polluters, and cyborgs. Within the social spambot category, they also identify two other categories of bot: persuasive sockpuppets and progressive sockpuppets.
Within the social bot group, we see the widespread problem of misinformation and propaganda being spread by third parties with the malicious intent to influence unwitting users in their opinions and voting intention in political elections and referenda. It is these Twitter bots that have the potential to have the most lasting and negative effects on society especially when those controlling the bots are rogue actors and even state actors. The team reports that between 9 and 15 percent of Twitter accounts are estimated to be social bots. Worryingly, those who control these bots are well aware of the current detection techniques and evolve better camouflage for their activities in response to defensive measures taken by users and the service provider. It is perhaps an inappropriate cliché to describe the service provider attempts to detect bots and the adaptive bot evolution that is ongoing as a game of "cat and mouse", perhaps it is a game of "cat and bird" given the name of the service provider and its avian iconography. Either way, the current review points to new ways in which Twitter might identify bots on its system and block or remove them from the platform.
Gilmary, R., Venkatesan, A. and Vaiyapuri, G. (2021) 'Discovering social bots on Twitter: a thematic review', Int. J. Internet Technology and Secured Transactions, Vol. 11, No. 4, pp.369–395.
Genetic risk of COVID-19
An analysis of the DNA of thousands of people who have been infected with the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and shown a positive test for the disease it causes, COVID-19, shows that they have several DNA characteristics in common. The study, based on samples from the UK Biobank, is detailed in the International Journal of Data Mining and Bioinformatics and could offer up a way to genetically profile individuals for susceptibility to the disease.
Taewan Goo, Kyulhee Han, Catherine Apio, and Taesung Park of Seoul National University in South Korea carried out a genome-wide association study as well as gene-level association and pathway analyses with common and rare variants of the virus to reveal how certain genetic characteristics associated with some of the body's metabolic pathways are present in those who contracted the disease more often than in those who had not. Moreover, they identified other genetic characteristics, most notably, ones associated with cellular signalling that had not been associated with viral infection previously.
Follow-up work to investigate those pathways may well reveal important pathophysiological factors associated with infection with SARS-CoV-2 and subsequent COVID-19. It might also be used to identify people who are more susceptible to the ravages of the disease than others and so allow them to be advised on protecting themselves better.
As other researchers have suggested, understanding how human genetics influence infectious disease susceptibility might give us the opportunity for better understanding this illness and other emerging infectious diseases. It might also guide us to potential drug targets, risk stratification, and a better understanding of patient response to therapy and vaccination.
Goo, T., Han, K., Apio, C. and Park, T. (2021) 'Analysis of COVID-19 genetic risk susceptibility using UK Biobank SNP genotype data', Int. J. Data Mining and Bioinformatics, Vol. 25, Nos. 1/2, pp.1–16.
The idea of citizen science has been around for as long as science. There were always members of the public, often educated and moneyed, admittedly, who took their curiosity about the world to a higher level. In the digital era, one can pique one's curiosity in ways the amateur natural scientists might never have dreamed of. Admittedly, there is much yet to learn about the outside world, but a powerful computer in everyone's pocket has opened up investigative realms that were wholly inaccessible in a bygone age.
Writing in the International Journal of Transitions and Innovation Systems, a research team based in Italy and Kenya has looked at how lay people continue to be involved in knowledge generation and dissemination. They have analysed more than 80 research papers to uncover the role of citizen scientists in knowledge co-production.
Rocco Palumbo of the University Rome 'Tor Vergata', Rosalba Manna of the University 'Parthenope' of Naples, Italy, and Alexander Douglas of The Management University of Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, found that the citizen scientist's role depends critically on the degree of autonomy the person has and the type of relationship they establish with the "expert" scientists.
There is a spectrum of citizen science activity. At one end there are lay people who may assist with laborious or time-consuming tasks such as data collection and classification that require intelligence but a low level of expertise. At the other end of that spectrum, there are those with managerial and planning expertise who might work alongside scientists on a given project. In between, there are a whole range of activities and levels of expertise that might make an important contribution to a given citizen science project.
"The propensity of expert scientists and lay people to bring diverging inputs in knowledge co-production should be acknowledged and carefully addressed, in order to avoid drawbacks on the knowledge production ability of research institutions," the team writes. They add that the impact of citizen science projects needs to be assessed in detail with a view to understanding their economic and social benefits.
The team suggests that scientists themselves should be encouraged to consider lay people as a fundamental human resource to help them deal with the challenges raised by the likes of big data in the current scientific environment. The citizen scientist should for their part be given the benefit of recognition as a key stakeholder in the scientific process and the accumulation of knowledge gleaned from the projects with which they assist.
Palumbo, R., Manna, R. and Douglas, A. (2021) 'Toward a socially-distributed mode of knowledge production: framing the contribution of lay people to scientific research', Int. J. Transitions and Innovation Systems, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp.381–402.
The internet is almost ubiquitous and once one has access, one needs and wants always-on access. As with every technological advance there are those who will wish to exploit it and its users to malicious ends. Writing in the International Journal of Information and Computer Security, a team from the American University of Kuwait discusses the privacy issues and protective measures as they stand today.
Nooh Bany Muhammad and Aya Kandil suggest that without protections in place any user data is open to compromise and exploitation. There are many scenarios that might be considered, malware or manual hacks and social engineering might harvest or phish for a user's private data, whether that's their login username and password for various sites such as banks and online shopping. They might exploit the users' devices to spread malware further afield. There is also the problem of corporate espionage and national and international "actors" that might seek to compromise a citizen's right to privacy.
Technology shifts rapidly, the team suggests and might always be perceived as a game of "cat and mouse" in which users hoping to protect their privacy with antivirus and antimalware software are always attempting to stay ahead of the hackers and crackers. The team points out that "machine learning" or so-called "artificial intelligence" may represent the latest potent means to protect a device and thus its user's privacy, allowing us to thwart even zero-day malware attacks that spread before the antivirus software can be updated.
Of course, we ourselves allow our privacy to be compromised perhaps unwittingly by accepting the terms and conditions of apps and software that we grant extensive permissions to on our smartphones and laptops. Many of the companies running such apps are interconnected, share data with advertisers for the sake of selling advertising, and even share data, for a fee with corporate entities and governments. Nothing much is private in that world. Users must educate themselves as to how their data might be compromised on a daily basis and in deciding how much they want to share, adopt the necessary tools to protect themselves from prying eyes.
Those who shout against privacy and suggest that a person only needs protection if they have something to hide might consider their own position of their personal health data, tax records, family photos, and browsing history were to be exposed in public. As author Joseph Heller wrote in his novel Catch-22 – "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you."
Muhammad, N.B. and Kandil, A. (2021) 'Information protection of end users on the web: privacy issues and measures', Int. J. Information and Computer Security, Vol. 15, No. 4, pp.357–372.
Forgotten Magic Redone
Research published in the International Journal of Technology Marketing has lessons for companies that wish to get the most out of their social media presence in selling to customers in the post-covid era.
Maria Venensia Sarita Putri, Farras Ramadhan, Kemri Agustine Dameria Simangunsong, and Willy Gunadi of the Bina Nusantara University in Daerah, Indonesia, explain how social media have become prominent tools for consumers searching for information, perhaps even far beyond the conventional search engines. How social media influences customer purchase decisions is an important point to address in understanding the future world of marketing especially in the wake of the paradigm shifts in lifestyle that has emerged from the covid pandemic for so many people.
The team explains that social media is inextricably linked to online shopping. Consumers can be far more involved through opinion, commentary, and suggestions than they ever were in the era before what we came to know as Web 2.0 and certainly far more than the way they were when all shopping was based in bricks-and-mortar stores, marketplaces, and perhaps mail order via advertisements in print publications.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, for many consumers in developed and developing nations, online shopping became more important than ever before and for some the only way to make purchases in times of lockdown. During the pandemic, online activity has increased across social media and many online shopping platforms are reporting increased sales over the last 18 months or so.
There may be some degree of reversal as nations work their way through the pandemic, but from the current perspective, online shopping platforms and social media are here to stay. As such, marketers need to understand the behaviour of their putative customers in these realms in more detail, which is where the current study can provide new insights that will be pertinent in the post-pandemic world. Intriguingly, the team has found that "Even if all of [our] data gives a supporting result towards performance expectancy, effort expectancy, and hedonic motivation, the effect clearly contradicts social influence, habit, and informativeness." It will be critical in future marketing studies in this realm to determine why that is and how it might play out in online shopping in the coming months and years.
Putri, M.V.S., Ramadhan, F., Simangunsong, K.A.D. and Gunadi, W. (2021) 'The influence of social media platforms on the customer purchase intention post COVID-19 outbreaks', Int. J. Technology Marketing, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp.82–100.
The age-old internet
While much of the discussion about internet usage and abusage focuses on young people and in particular the so-called "digital natives", those people born after the internet and more specifically the world wide web had become commonplace, there is a growing and ageing population of frequent and experienced users who benefit considerably from access to online resources just as much as the youngsters.
Research in The Philippines published in the International Journal of Web Based Communities, discusses the use of online communities by the "silver surfer" generation and the gaps and opportunities that exist.
Ryan Ebardo and Merlin Suarez of De La Salle University in Manila, explain how "Older adults are thriving online and it is paramount for research to present the recent directions of scholarly works to depict the everyday digital lives of this specific social cluster." The team has carried out a systematic review of the pertinent research literature and identified twenty important papers that could be used to glean insights into the motivations of older internet users as well as to ascertain what problems they are facing if any and what prospects might exist for improving their online experiences.
The team found that the prime movers among older internet users to join online communities and to be active in those communities are engagement and enjoyment, there are also known cognitive benefits. Fundamentally, the team has found that "online communities are living spaces where older adults interact, socialise and acquire support."
The team adds that not only might a more systematic study of the use of online communities by older people help guide other members of digital society it could also feed into studies of older people at different stages of their lives – retirement, in assisted living, through partner bereavement and other life-changing states.
"In studying the impact of online communities based on social media on older adults, society will be more attuned to the complexities brought forth by late life," the team concludes.
Ebardo, R.A. and Suarez, M.T.C. (2021) 'Older adults and online communities: recent findings, gaps and opportunities', Int. J. Web Based Communities, Vol. 17, No. 3, pp.200–216.
There are many reasons why someone might wish to know the precise camera that was used to take a digital photo – whether for criminal or fraud investigation, copyright and provenance, and perhaps even for archival purposes. Work published in the International Journal of Computational Vision and Robotics, provides a novel feature-based approach for such an identification using photo-response non-uniformity (PRNU) noise.
Megha Borole and Satish Kolhe of the School of Computer Sciences at Kavayitri Bahinabai Chaudhari North Maharashtra University in Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India, explain how the pattern of noise in a digital image can act as a "fingerprint" unique to a particular camera. It can even be used to distinguish between the same make and model of camera with the same lens. "PRNU noise exhibits a different noise pattern for each image sensor and if numerous pictures are taken of a similar scene it remains around same," the team explains.
The team explains that, somewhat paradoxically, they begin by applying a "denoising" procedure to the digital photo of interest. The filter allows them to reveal the PRNU noise pattern. This output is distinct from generic photographic noise and is, the team explains represented by the pixel intensities known as the Hu set of invariant moments. These invariants persist under image scaling, translation, and rotation, unlike many other characteristics of a digital photograph which may be lost when the photo is manipulated. The next step is to feed these features into a fuzzy min-max neural network (FMNN) that has been trained and classified with known digital cameras beforehand.
The team has demonstrated proof of principle for the approach with seven camera groups and showed that they could identify the specific camera used to take a photo of the same scene as all the others more than nine times out of ten on average. Given that in any real-world situation there may well be other evidence to point to a specific camera in many kinds of investigation where its identity needs to be known. The next step will be to improve the behaviour of the neural network by reducing the impact of inherent random noise.
Borole, M. and Kolhe, S.R. (2021) 'A feature-based approach for digital camera identification using photo-response non-uniformity noise', Int. J. Computational Vision and Robotics, Vol. 11, No. 4, pp.374–384.
Digitally driving web sales
An analysis of web sales data from the top 100 US online retailers shows that digital sales channels including direct website visits, display ads, e-mail marketing, organic search, paid search, referrals, and social media all play an important role in driving sales. The details of the findings published in the International Journal of Electronic Marketing and Retailing, point to certain sales channels as being more effective in some contexts and so could guide those companies with limited resources to the most appropriate approach to driving web sales effectively. The team carried out their hypothesis testing using a log-log model with a Box-Cox transformation, and the average ticket value is used as a control variable.
Ravi Narayanaswamy of the School of Business Administration at the University of South Carolina in Aiken and Richard Heiens of the Department of Business Administration at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, Bluffton, USA, open their paper with a quote from the American poet, Maya Angelou, who once famously said, "if you don't know where you've come from, you don't know where you're going." These words could very much apply to the online retail world, the team suggests. They explain that for online retailers, the route a user takes from entry point to shopping basket is a strong predictor of whether the user will ultimately complete the purchase. As such, understanding the path taken and the likely outcome for the vendor is important to guiding their sales and marketing strategy.
They give an obvious example of a user who accesses user feedback before completing their transaction compared with one who reaches the checkout point without any other interaction between browsing, choosing, and getting ready to pay. With the feedback detour, there is often greater resolve to make the purchase in the end. Conversely, a user that reaches the checkout directly may well be presented with unexpected purchase terms or fees and be dissuaded from committing to the sale.
The researchers have taken this notion much further to analyse the effect of the detailed route taken and the digital channels used to bring a customer from the point of browsing to the point of buying to allow them to predict how a seller might better guide their customers more effectively to closing a sale. In an age when bricks-and-mortar shopping is becoming less relevant, especially in the present COVID-19 pandemic era, companies need to understand their digital sales channels as clear a way as possible to drive sales.
Narayanaswamy, R. and Heiens, R.A. (2021) 'The impact of digital sales channels on web sales: evidence from the USA's largest online retailers', Int. J. Electronic Marketing and Retailing, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp.306–322.
Finding friends of friends on social media
A quick way to identify the "nth" friends of social media users based on spatial data mining of profiles and behaviour on a service such as Twitter is described in the International Journal of Advanced Intelligence Paradigms.
D. Gandhimathi of the Research and Development Center, Bharathiar University in Coimbatore and John Sanjeev Kumar of Thiagarajar College of Engineering in Madurai, India, explain that Twitter plays an important role in intentional social action. Thus cluster analysis of users based on likes and interests might reveal otherwise latent connections between users and so allow emergent trends to be spotted more effectively and predictions made about the behaviour and actions users might take. Such insights could be of interest to research scientists, companies and their marketing departments, not-for-profit organizations and charities, and perhaps government and law enforcement in many different contexts.
The team's unconventional quantitative analysis hooks into the geographical metadata of each user's Twitter updates, the geotag, where that is in place and not hidden by the user to provide even richer pickings for the data miners. The team explains that their main focus was on "recommender systems" that would engage a user's "nth" friends in a positive manner by understanding content-based or popularity-based aspects of behaviour and social action on Twitter. The team suggests that their approach could be developed into a useful recommender algorithm. However, it is also a useful tool for community discovery and for answering questions about the large-scale clustering of users.
Their tests of the approach show it to be relatively low cost in terms of computer resources needed and to provide more accurate results when compared to other approaches.
Gandhimathi, D. and Kumar, A.J.S. (2021) 'Prediction of Nth friends using spatial data mining in social networks', Int. J. Advanced Intelligence Paradigms, Vol. 19, Nos. 3/4, pp.410–421.
There is increasing pressure on society to test people in a timely manner for infection by the COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2, but physical testing takes time and effort and requires people to either have a test kit at home or to attend a test centre. The burden on testing equipment and infrastructure might be lessened if there were a simple non-physical way of screening people so that those who are very unlikely to be infected need not have a definitive physical test.
New work in the International Journal of Intelligent Information and Database Systems has turned to the concept of "fuzzy logic" to "test" people based on their symptoms to determine whether or not they have COVID-19 or not. This, of course, does not provide an answer as to whether a person is an asymptomatic carrier, but it would assist in helping a person or their healthcare worker decide on the next course of action based on their having this or another unrelated illness.
A fuzzy logic system (FLS) is an expert system that utilises the theory of fuzzy sets that Zadeh laid out in 1965. The application of fuzzy logic allows a probability to be calculated with looser rules than one might assume with a statistical analysis based on different available criteria. It can output a confidence level to a diagnosis with a degree of certainty versus uncertainty.
The team concedes that at this stage in the research, their fuzzy logic model based on publicly available databases and datasets is very much a prototype. There is no real way to distinguish the symptoms of COVID-19 from those of the common cold, pneumonia, or similar diseases based solely on reported symptoms. In order to boost the test's accuracy to a clinically useful level, additional symptomatic and epidemiological information about the patient's demographic and circumstances is now needed. This could then be fed into the fuzzy logic approach to adjust it based on probabilities. Moreover, in an area of high risk where there are many other confirmed cases, the uncertainty would be low.
Once the issues of accuracy and false positives and negatives are overcome through additional work, the team anticipates that a website or app might be made available to allow people to carry out a non-physical pre-medical test if they have symptoms to allow them to distinguish with confidence between the overlapping symptoms of other conditions and COVID-19 itself.
Choudhury, S.H., Aurin, A.J., Mitaly, T.A. and Rahman, R.M. (2021) 'Predicting the possibility of COVID-19 infection using fuzzy logic system', Int. J. Intelligent Information and Database Systems, Vol. 14, No. 3, pp.239–256.
Writing in the International Journal of Networking and Virtual Organisations, a team from Finland and the UK has turned to the methods of "criminal profiling" to help them understand the ecosystems of organisations.
The concept of an ecosystem is commonly associated with biological systems, often at the environmental level, a wetland, a rain forest, a river, an ocean, for instance. However, it is possible to model non-biological systems with a similar perspective to gain insights into how the components of a system are interconnected and how they depend on each other. However, there are also methods of profiling that can be used to invert the question and apply an analytical approach usually reserved for profiling criminals to the ecosystems of organisations to gain new insights.
The team writes that "In order for companies to survive, grow and maintain competitive advantage in the future, they must systematically monitor and evaluate their business surroundings." They add that organisations cannot exist nor thrive alone, they need others around them and to operate as part of the business ecosystem. Researchers have investigated Microsoft's computing ecosystem and Wal-Mart's retail ecosystem but, the researchers say, there is little that has been done in the way of visualisation of business ecosystems. They explain that "without visualising the collected data, the ecosystem profile would simply be a file full of data without a perspective into the structure of the whole ecosystem."
Profiling reveals the connections and the connectivity between "actors" in the ecosystem. "The profiling of ecosystems opens up new possibilities for research, supports managerial decision-making, and as a result enables better understanding and management of ecosystems," the team writes. The team has carried out "web farming" and visualisation manually on a case study company using a six-step, three-phase process of building an ecosystem profile following one of the conventional ways that criminals are profiled by law-enforcement investigators.
The team hopes to develop a tool for future studies so that the web farming and profiling can be done automatically, freeing up time for observations and analysis.
Ylönen, N., Rissanen, M., Ylä-Kujala, A., Sinkkonen, T., Marttonen-Arola, S., Baglee, D. and Kärri, T. (2021) 'A web of clues: can ecosystems be profiled similarly to criminals?', Int. J. Networking and Virtual Organisations, Vol. 24, No. 4, pp.347–373.
Digitalisation of hotels in the COVID-19 pandemic
What has been the role of the COVID-19 pandemic in the digitalisation of the hospitality industry? Domenico Morrone, Nicola Raimo, Annunziata Tarulli, and Filippo Vitolla of the Department of Management, Finance and Technology at LUM University, in Casamassima, Bari, Italy, hope to answer that question in the International Journal Digital Culture and Electronic Tourism.
The pandemic has pushed many normal activities into the online realm in unprecedented ways leading to the notion of e-tourism or smart tourism. However, the way in which hotels have been affected by the pandemic has not been investigated in detail in terms of the drivers for digitalisation until now. The team hopes to fill this gap through a case study investigation of hotel structures. Digitalisation in other realms might involve the use of information and communications technology (ICT) not only in communication and marketing areas but also in production, sales, customer relations, and beyond.
The researchers have found that the motivation is mainly concerned with a desire to improve the quality of the hotel structures, to adapt to competitors, and increase financial performance. Digitalisation has had a series of positive effects related to boosting revenues and reducing costs as well as improving corporate image. COVID-19 has significantly accelerated the digitalisation processes, the team writes.
The team suggests that digitalisation is perhaps the only way forward for hotels during the pandemic and perhaps beyond. "Through digitalisation, in fact, it is possible to guarantee and certify the sanitation of the structures, maintain social distancing, guest traceability and other measures, making people free to enjoy hotel holidays," they write. This implementation will allow tourists to be relatively safe in hotels, allow hoteliers to resume many of their normal activities. Digitalisation will also give the hotel industry a way to face possible future crises with more security.
Morrone, D., Raimo, N., Tarulli, A. and Vitolla, F. (2021) 'Digitalisation in the hospitality industry: motivations, effects and role of Covid-19', Int. J. Digital Culture and Electronic Tourism, Vol. 3, Nos. 3/4, pp.257–270.
A lot of entirely unwarranted anti-Asian sentiment in the USA and elsewhere has emerged on social media since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had its original source in Wuhan, China, but is a global problem we all must face. Researchers from China and the USA have investigated how this xenophobia can be classified on one particularly prominent social media platform, Twitter, with a view to understanding how it might best be addressed.
Writing in the International Journal of Society Systems Science, Peng Zhao and Xin Wang of the Big Data and AI Lab, IntelligentRabbit LLC, New Jersey and Xi Chen of the School of Humanity and Law, Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture, suggest that deep learning can be used to investigate public sentiment regarding political opinion and geographical diversity.
The team has developed a new method to classify those Twitter users posting updates with pandemic-related anti-Asian sentiment. They used a novel dataset for tracking users based on 10 million tweets. It was possible to home utilise known sentiment surrounding the US elections and geolocations. "The empirical result indicates that the political sentiments and the county-level election results make significant contributions to the model building," the team writes. They trained a deep neural network (DNN) model with data from more than 190,000 Twitter users and were able to classify their Twitter activity as "hate" or "non-hate" with 61% accuracy, the team reports.
Such a classification should be sufficient to guide other classification systems and manual intervention to determine those users expressing xenophobic sentiment. This could then be used to decide whether any given user should be liable for further investigation, suspension, or education. The team points out that anti-Asian sentiment is not confined to the Twitter platform nor is it confined to the USA, it is seen on all platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and others with comments and posts from around the world. As such, the team adds that extracting features from the other platforms – images, voices, and videos will also be helpful in providing a multidimensional understanding of anti-Asian xenophobia and hate online in the COVID-19 context at the global level.
Zhao, P., Chen, X. and Wang, X. (2021) 'Classifying COVID-19-related hate Twitter users using deep neural networks with sentiment-based features and geopolitical factors', Int. J. Society Systems Science, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp.125–139.
Grandma's obsolescent broom
Research published in the International Journal of Product Lifecycle Management has looked at the concept of obsolescence. A. Sánchez-Carralero and C. Armenta-Déu of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain explain how they have developed a model to simulate the obsolescence process that leads to the need to replace durable goods.
The team shows how the benefits of replacement eventually outweigh the various costs of maintaining the original item nudging the user towards replacing the aging item. The model takes into account servicing as well as an irreparable failure that is the end-point of obsolescence in one sense.
"Prediction of obsolescence is difficult since many factors intervene in the process," the researchers explain, "some depend not on technology or market aspects but on user perception." They add that it is possible to model the obsolescence process and predict when an item may become unusable and so need replacing using sophisticated statistical models such as Bayesian analysis. Such analyses might even be used to optimise the manufacturing process itself. Of course, in a modern, capitalist society, consumerism is key to growth and so obsolescence is necessary if a company is hoping to have repeat sales from users once they and their competitors have saturated the market.
As such, the much-derided, and the perhaps unethical notion of "planned obsolescence" is prevalent. In this, the manufacturers design their durable goods to essentially have a lifespan limited by factors they might control rather than the lifespan being governed by the way in which a user uses the item. There is an amusing and universal tale of the broom one's grandparent used the same broom throughout their lives bought with their first home, used daily and only having had 6 replacement heads and 7 replacement shanks!
Obsolescence is essentially entropy, the tendency of a system to move towards disorder and chaos. Understanding the obsolescence process of more sophisticated systems than a broom can help in the marketing of new products as well as perhaps allowing manufacturers and sellers to predict their future profits based on a model of obsolescence for their products and the reliability and replaceabilty of those products. Brooms wear out and have to be replaced, even Grandma will admit that.
Sánchez-Carralero, A. and Armenta-Déu, C. (2021) 'Modelling and characterisation of the obsolescence process', Int. J. Product Lifecycle Management, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp.140–158.
Malware detection for Androids
There are numerous malware detection and antivirus apps for mobile devices running the Android operating system. However, a team in China introduces a new approach that can detect malicious activity at the source code level. They provide details in the International Journal of Information and Computer Security.
Junaid Akram, Majid Mumtaz, Gul Jabeen, and Ping Luo of The Key State Laboratory of Information Security at Tsinghua University, explain how their approach is not only scalable but offers self-optimisation of the signature set as it detects malicious apps by reading their source code. The team has developed a prototype of their software, DroidMD. They have tested it against almost 30000 applications of which 3,670 are already identified as malware. It is reliable because it analyses only the code and has a high detection accuracy of 95.5%. The team points out that one of the unique characteristics of their software is that it can detect malware that is a clone or "near-miss" of known viruses and malware. Conventional antivirus and malware detection often fails to detect such malware where the software signature may well be only marginally different from the original virus.
Given that there are millions of users downloading thousands of apps every day, it is imperative that an effective and reliable approach to controlling malware be found to slow the assimilation of devices into bot nets and other malicious networks and reduce the risk of user data and privacy being compromised by malware.
"In our future work, we will make DroidMD more resilient for minimising the obfuscation and improving its run time. Meanwhile, we will extend it for other programming languages to detect malware or malicious code fragments from source code to overcome security threats," the team writes.
Akram, J., Mumtaz, M., Jabeen, G. and Luo, P. (2021) 'DroidMD: an efficient and scalable Android malware detection approach at source code level', Int. J. Information and Computer Security, Vol. 15, Nos. 2/3, pp.299-321.
The Nigerian pandemic imperative
The industrialised world has responded in disparate ways to the emergence of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and the ensuing pandemic it caused, COVID-19. Technology was repursosed to track and monitor the disease and research and development focused on the development of vaccines and investigated pharmaceutical and physical interventions to treat the disease.
New research published in the International Journal of Technological Learning, Innovation and Development has looked at the response from a developing nation, Nigeria. This nation has, not unlike many others with fewer resources and less money to spare, not yet contributed in a significant way to R&D into the coronavirus and our response to the pandemic. Through a case study, the team has gleaned lessons that might be applied to lessen the crisis in Nigeria of the next pandemic.
Morolake Bolaji, John O. Adeoti, and Joshua Adeyemi Afolabi of the Innovation and Technology Policy Department at the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER), in Ojoo, Ibadan, Nigeria, explain that Nigeria may have the capability but has remained a "laggard in R&D spending as well as R&D activities, particularly in the health sector." One might suggest that the term "developing nation" can only be applied if that country is active in the areas that lead to development.
The COVID-19 pandemic has, the team suggests, reinforced "the imperative for Nigeria to significantly and urgently increase its R&D spending not only to combat subsequent health challenges but also to facilitate rapid structural transformation and economic development." A country that fails to rise to such crises and challenges by boosting its Sciencebase will inevitably continue to suffer the worst consequences of such a pandemic.
The team has five recommendations. The first is that the government must increase the nation's R&D budget. Secondly, health infrastructure needs considerable improvement. The third recommendation is that public R&D needs to integrate more effectively with the private sector to improve technological results. Fourthly, the government must improve the transfer of the currently limited R&D "outputs" to the end-users. Finally, education in science and technology must be given a boost through governmental scholarships that focus on problem-solving rather than promotion.
Bolaji, M., Adeoti, J.O. and Afolabi, J.A. (2021) 'The imperative of research and development in Nigeria: lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic', Int. J. Technological Learning, Innovation and Development, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp.168–189.
Caring during the COVID crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to distort our perceptions of normal as the days and weeks and months go by. The occupational welfare of those caring for the elderly in residential carehomes has been an important aspect of the new-normal as those not-for-profit organisations that offer those services must look after their carers to ensure consistent care of their customers.
New research in the International Journal of Managerial and Financial Accounting, has looked at how we might rethink occupational welfare in the long term by adopting an organisational ethics approach.
Giorgio Mion, Angelo Bonfanti, and Francesca Simeoni of the University of Verona, Italy, and Cristian Loza Adaui of the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany, have used the Fondazione Monsignor Alessandro Marangoni as a case study to examine the ethical questions of the new-normal. This NPO organisation adopted occupational welfare policies, enabling it to manage the early COVID-19 outbreak without negative consequences, the team writes.
The team points out that many NPOs offering care services to the elderly have suffered badly in the wake of the pandemic because their customers were particularly susceptible to infection with the causative coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and the ensuing disease COVID-19, which had a high mortality rate in this cohort. This was especially so prior to the development of working vaccines and efficacious therapies for the disease. The team adds that long-term care (LTC) organisations needed to implement strategic and operational policies to safeguard the health of employees and residents, the team writes, these policies concern both healthcare and managerial/organisational aspects. This was especially true in the north of Italy where the negative impact of the unfolding pandemic in the first few weeks of 2020 was relentless.
Many NPOs in this sector reorganised their internal spaces, adopted flexible working, as well as engaging in effective communication with stakeholders and family members, all at the same time as endeavouring to comply with new lockdown and other laws aimed at halting the spread of the disease and reducing hospitalisations and deaths.
The team has highlighted the positive outcomes obtained by the Marangoni Foundation in its management of the pandemic emergency through the implementation of extraordinary occupational welfare policies. "The activities implemented were related to the ethical dimensions of management in terms of their effects on individuals, managers, the organisation and society," the team explains. These were "decisive for meeting the most urgent needs particularly during periods of crisis," the team adds. The researchers point out that it was the empowerment of workers that was critical for enhancing organisational performance during the pandemic especially given that safety protocols often limited some voluntary activities.
Mion, G., Bonfanti, A., Simeoni, F. and Loza Adaui, C.R. (2021) 'Rethinking occupational welfare policies in long-term care organisations during the COVID-19 pandemic: an organisational ethics approach', Int. J. Managerial and Financial Accounting, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp.48–63.
Saving the rhino
"Rhinos are a charismatic symbol of Africa's thriving wildlife," so says a team writing in the International Journal of Teaching and Case Studies, "but their future is threatened."
There is growing demand for rhino horn and thus increased poaching. The animals' plight is not helped by corruption and ineffective protection. Deirdre Dixon, Raymond Papp, Chanelle Cox, Melissa Walters, and Julia Pennington of the University of Tampa in Florida, USA, point out that thousands of these magnificent beasts are killed simply for their horn every year. Botswana, Eswatini, and South Africa are at the forefront of the problem, but scant attention is paid to understanding the position and viewpoint of the local people.
In order to investigate the issues from an ethical stance, the team has conducted qualitative interviews with local ranchers, conservationists, and the general population, and used analytical tools to extract meaning from their data. As they offer in the title of their paper the ethical issues are not "black and white".
The poachers are at odds with the rangers and conservationists, the locals are often at odds with the wildlife itself. The conservationists vehemently disagree with any rhino hunting and want to secure the future of the species. Others are less concerned with such matters and more concerned with their own life and livelihoods.
"Given the different stakeholder vantage points, it is difficult to find common ground and unanimously agree upon one solution for the rhino crisis. However, we can apply ethical frames to foster understanding of each stakeholder group and use these vantage points to explore a combination of solutions," the team writes.
The team offers a range of further discussion points and frames questions that might improve education and understanding in and around this sensitive subject.
Dixon, D., Papp, R., Cox, C., Walters, L.M. and Pennington, J.R. (2021) 'Ethical leadership is not black and white: a case study on stakeholders and African rhino conservation', Int. J. Teaching and Case Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp.176–188.
COVID-19 demonizing tourism
Many of the effects of national lockdowns in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic will be enduring across society. Work published in the International Journal of Tourism Anthropology looks at one aspect of those effects and their impact on a vast and important industry, tourism.
Raoni Borges Barbosa and Jean Henrique Costa of the State University of Rio Grande do Norte in Natal, Brazil, Bintang Handayani of the University of Malasia Kelatan, Malaysia, and Maximiliano Korstanje of the University of Palermo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, pose some central questions regarding our sense of the "new normal" with regard to measures such as social distancing and how it affects human relation and activities. They also consider the domestication and perhaps trivialisation of death as the pandemic continues.
"In the pre-pandemic world, tourists were valorised as ambassadors of the civilised order, but now they appear to be demonised as potential carriers of a lethal disease," the team writes. They liken the perception of disease-carrying tourists to our perception of the terrorist threat where life for many is lived in fear of threats that may well be hiding in plain sight. The team adds that the unparalleled effects of the COVID-19 pandemic with the closure of borders, travellers stranded for months away from home, geopolitical conflict between nations, as well as a rising chauvinist and separatist world view that demonises the once positive notion of the so-called global village. Moreover, they suggest, "The new normal symbolically equates to the banality of life and the normalisation of death."
One day this pandemic will pass into history as all previous pandemics have done, our descendants may, to paraphrase poet Neil Peart, "read of us with sadness for the seeds that we let grow".
Barbosa, R.B., Costa, J.H., Handayani, B. and Korstanje, M.E. (2021) 'The effects of COVID-19 in the tourist society: an anthropological insight of the trivialisation of death and life', Int. J. Tourism Anthropology, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp.179–192.
Mobile movie marketing
Mobile devices have become a major viewing platform for movies in recent years. Indeed, for many consumers they are the main outlet for such content as traditional cinema and television become less attractive to them for a wide variety of reasons, such as cost, accessibility, and content availability.
New research in the International Journal of Mobile Communications, looks at the various routes corporate marketing departments can take in terms of promoting movie content to mobile users. The web, social media, brand extension, electronic word of mouth, and timing and regional "windowing" strategies are all reviewed to discern what time of marketing works best in the mobile world and which approaches are likely to be less successful.
Sang-Hyun Nam of the Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange, Hun Kim and Byeng-Hee Chang of Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, South Korea, and Sylvia Chan-Olmsted of the University of Florida, Gainesville, USA have based the current study on movie industry data from South Korea. The team points out that this country has one of the most established mobile industries and is the first market in the world to approach mobile saturation. Other countries, one might suggest, are always playing catch-up with the technological advances taking place in South Korea. As such, understanding the successes and failures of companies there as well as consumer response and behaviour might provide a way to predict what might happen in the future elsewhere.
The team reports that certain web content activities, brand extensions, celebrity and star power, sequels, and movie length can influence significantly the performance of a movie on mobile platforms. They also found that there were clear differences in the impact of each marketing approach depending on the specific platform used. Website content and activity continues to play an important role in the performance of movie releases on mobile platforms by providing consumers with advance information and insight regarding a given movie release.
Social media and eWOM provide a type of peer review that engages putative consumers prior to theatrical once a movie has already created some buzz online. However, this buzz does not translate to take-up on mobile platforms in the way it once did with theatrical release of movies. It all contributes to branding for a movie's stars. Indeed, the present study has demonstrated that the most effective tools are the movies stars themselves and the existence of sequels. It is these factors that influence mobile viewers the most in whether they will watch a particular release.
"Our results here confirm that brand extension, especially via co-branding with stars and the adoption of an established movie franchise, benefits movie marketers by positively leveraging the existing equity in affecting consumers' attitudes, quality perceptions, and purchase intentions toward the extended product," the team writes.
Nam, S-H., Kim, H., Chang, B-H. and Chan-Olmsted, S.M. (2021) 'Marketing theatrical films for the mobile platform: the roles of web content/social media, brand extension, WOM, and windowing strategies', Int. J. Mobile Communications, Vol. 19, No. 4, pp.413–438.
Peppermint spray for vigilant driving
Drivers of conditionally automated vehicles become fatigued more quickly than drivers of completely manual vehicles, according to researchers writing in the International Journal of Vehicle Performance. They are investigating ways to counteract this effect and so reduce the risk of fatigued drivers being involved in a road traffic accident. One promising approach is to use olfactory stimulation, specifically exposing the driver to the odour of peppermint periodically.
Qiuyang Tang, Gang Guo, and Mengjin Zeng of Chongqing University in Chongqing, China, have looked at how olfactory stimulation with peppermint odour affects fatigue and more critically vigilance in drivers. They looked at subjective and objective variables with a group of 34 volunteers some of whom were tested with peppermint exposure and others with simply air. They found that those drivers given a puff of peppermint odour reported a lower feeling of fatigue compared to the drivers given a puff of unscented air. Indicators of reaction time and ocular variables also supported that the drivers' vigilance increased during the peppermint stimulation but not with air exposure.
Given the advent of self-driving and conditionally automated vehicles, it is critical that the "driver" be relieved of the main duties of operating the steering wheel, the accelerator, and brakes, under normal conditions but be present in a supervisory capacity and ready to take back control from the vehicle's computer when the automated driving system meets its system limitations or when conditions change and so to avoid a collision or other accident.
The team points out that peppermint can be a little too pungent for some drivers and so an additional less noxious smell might be mixed with the olfactory stimulant, the team's testing roadmap includes such a modification. They also point out that stimulation with the odour of peppermint has little effect on drivers if they are not fatigued. The researchers have also focused on how one might determine whether a driving supervisor in a conditionally automated vehicle is tiring or falling asleep. As such, one day the vehicle's sensors may well be programmed to detect driver fatigue and release an appropriate stimulant at an opportune time to ensure that safety is prioritized.
Tang, Q., Guo, G. and Zeng, M. (2021) 'The effect of peppermint odour on fatigue and vigilance in conditional automated vehicle', Int. J. Vehicle Performance, Vol. 7, Nos. 3/4, pp.266-278.
Post-pandemic food security
The COVID-19 pandemic has wrecked lives and wreaked havoc on economies around the world. Part of the problem has been our solution to disease. The measures, such as social, business, and educational lockdown and border controls that are aimed at stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus – SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19 – have disrupted the supply of agricultural food products to markets and consumers.
Ultimately, the ongoing pandemic is threatening food security in many parts of the world. New research published in the International Journal of Sustainable Agricultural Management and Informatics, has looked at the problem of food security facing Southeast Asia. Fundamentally, the team of Siti Fatimahwati Pehin Dato Musa of the Universiti Brunei Darussalam and Khairul Hidayatullah Basir of the Universiti Islam Sultan Sharif Ali both in Brunei Darussalam, have considered how food safety and hygiene might be ensured in the pandemic and beyond. They also consider how we might evolve a sustainable approach t food security now and for the future.
The team's basic conclusion from their review and analysis of the current literature on food security and their own work is that in order for ASEAN member states to better respond to the disruption in food supply chain "there should be encouragement towards boosting self-sufficiency in food production, adopting smart and sustainable farming methods, and closer regional cooperation." ASEAN is the Association of South East Asian Nations and members are Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam.
The researchers add that "Governments must think a step ahead to avoid future shocks to the system and start planning for local farmers to adopt (green) technologies to help them plant and harvest even when short-handed." This and other approaches to improving sustainability and food security will stand the region in good stead to cope when the next pandemic arises and even in the face of the potentially devastating effects of climate change and natural catastrophe.
Many of the researchers' conclusions are focused on how South East Asian nations might respond to the current crisis, but will be equally applicable to other countries way beyond this part of the world.
Musa, S.F.P.D. and Basir, K.H. (2021) 'Covid-19 and food security in Southeast Asia', Int. J. Sustainable Agricultural Management and Informatics, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp.90–110.
Contrary to what one might expect less driving experience is not a risk factor for not being able to spot hazards as quickly as a more experienced driver might. A surprising new study published in the International Journal of Human Factors and Ergonomics, looks at perception skills and how individual differences affect the ability of drivers to predict hazards.
Daniela Barragan and Yi-Ching Lee of the Psychology Department at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia, USA, explain how they recruited around 400 drivers to an online study with a hazard-perception video task. The study in contrast to much of the existing literature did not show that driving experience and risk perception are good predictors of hazard perception skills.
It is well known that drivers differ in their ability to detect and respond to dangerous events while driving. This phenomenon has been termed hazard perception and perhaps lies at the root of many road traffic accidents and could be the focus of better driver instruction and ongoing learning for drivers. The hazard perception process involves spotting a dangerous or potentially dangerous event on the road ahead, identifying the nature of the event from visual cues, working out how to respond to the event, and finally making an appropriate response or manoeuvre to avoid a collision or other unwanted outcome.
One might assume that a more experienced driver would be better at this process but the findings from this new research which suggest otherwise ought to serve as a valuable lesson to policymakers, driving instructors, the driving test authorities, and perhaps drivers themselves. The team concludes that their insight could be used to guide training programs that might be tailored to those drivers who are most susceptible to committing hazard perception errors whether they are experienced drivers or not.
With this knowledge to hand, we might give learner drivers exercises on visual perception and traffic laws during the licensing process and perhaps ongoing assessment, training, and testing might also be useful in some situations for ensuring that all road users improve their hazard perception skills and so roadway safety.
Barragan, D. and Lee, Y-C. (2021) 'Individual differences predict drivers hazard perception skills', Int. J. Human Factors and Ergonomics, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp.195–213.
Brain training for insomnia
Might external stimuli – audiovisual and haptic – be used to train the brain to improved sleep patterns to treat insomnia? That's the question a research team from India hopes to answer in work published in the International Journal of Medical Engineering and Informatics.
E. Karuppathal and R. Kalpana of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Rajalakshmi Engineering College and A.V. Srinivasan of The Tamil Nadu Dr. M.G.R. Medical University explain how audio signals of differing frequencies are given to both ears, visual input to the eyes otherwise covered with an eye-mask to block external light, and periodic touch pressure to the wrist via a pressure cuff can be applied. The aim is to entrain brainwaves to match with a normal sleep pattern.
Tests with volunteers who suffer from frequent and prolonged insomnia and non-insomniacal control subjects showed that those given the audiovisual and haptic stimuli recorded prolonged REM state sleep than they did without the stimuli. The approach offers a physical, non-pharmaceutical, approach to treating insomnia that might suit patients reluctant to turn to medication with all its putative side effects, dependencies, and costs, for their sleep deprivation.
It is envisaged that, soon after diagnosing insomnia if intervened with AVHS therapy, there could be a chance of resuming normal sleep without oral drugs, the team writes. Moreover, participants in the trials uniformly welcomed the drug-free therapy, the team adds.
The mode of action of this therapy is unknown and it may well be that the stimuli simply provide a soothing distraction that allows the person to fall asleep. Additional work will most investigate the long-term efficacy and identify any problems that might arise. It could also focus on measuring brain waves during the therapy in greater detail to determine what kind of electrical changes occur in the brain during the stimulation. Parallel studies might also look at whether a single stimulus or a combination of any two might be efficacious so that the treatment might be simplified.
Karuppathal, E., Kalpana, R. and Srinivasan, A.V. (2021) 'Brainwave entrainment through external sensory stimulus: a therapy for insomnia', Int. J. Medical Engineering and Informatics, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp.323–333.
Road sign recognition
Technology adds new safety features to every generation of road vehicle – seatbelts, airbags, parking sensors, and in work published in the International Journal of Vehicle Safety, the possibility of an in-vehicle road sign recognition system is discussed. Researchers from the University of Monastir, Monastir, Tunisia, have turned to an algorithm known as an edited shuffled leapfrog algorithm to carry out the recognition task.
There are dozens of algorithms based on biological phenomena, such as swarming and foraging. The natural algorithms used by honeybees, for instance, can be modeled in a computer to solve complex, non-linear problems, such as plotting the shortest route on a map to take into account all the essential stops. Similarly, a novel trial-and-error (meta-heuristic) algorithm that models the behaviour of frogs searching for food can be used to solve other problems.
Ameur Zaibi of the Laboratory of Automation, Electrical Systems and Environment (LAESE) and colleagues have developed Edited Shuffled Frogs Leaping Algorithm (ESFLA) to optimize the analysis of images of road signs and to correlate the output of the trained algorithm with an internal listing of the road signs a driver may encounter. The system can recognise signs with high accuracy regardless of viewing angle, light conditions, and even partial obstructions. Indeed, the team reports a detection rate of almost 97 percent compared with previous techniques developed by other researchers which have achieved between 91 and 96 percent.
If incorporated into the vehicle's computer system, the algorithm could be used to alert the driver to road signs in a timely manner and perhaps quicker than they would see them themselves. The system could improve safety for all drivers, but would also be of great assistance to drivers on unfamiliar or foreign roads.
The next step would be to incorporate such a road sign recognition system into the controls for a self-driving vehicle so that it could have even greater autonomy than do such vehicles.
Zaibi, A., Ladgham, A. and Sakly, A. (2021) 'Road sign detection using edited shuffled frogs leaping algorithm', Int. J. Vehicle Safety, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp.1–14
Approximately 40 percent of pharmaceuticals have an origin in natural products, compounds originally derived from plant and animal sources. To this day, physiological activity is keenly investigated in the substances that can be extracted from a diverse range of plants. Moreover, while herbal medicine is an endeavour in its own right, the identification of active compounds in so-called herbal remedies can provide a lead for medicinal chemists. New work in the International Journal of Image Mining describes a way to analyse images of powdered plant products, such as leaves, stems, roots, flowers, fruit, and seeds at the microscopic level for accurate identification and classification.
Bhupendra Fataniya and Tanish Zaveri of Nirma University in Ahmedabad, India, have focused on texture features of three plants – liquorice, rhubarb, and datura (dhatura)- all of which are commonly used in herbal medicine. The team points out that the misidentification of herbal products can lead to serious health problems for patients. Classification is usually carried out by examination of the leaves and other components, but obviously this approach is not possible if the plant has been dried and ground to a powder.
In order to find a solution to this issue, the team has turned to microscopy and a convolutional neural network to allow them to examine the shape and texture of particles in a powdered herbal product. By combining textural features and using a support vector machine, K-nearest neighbour and ensemble classifier the team was able to demonstrate identification from powdered products with 94 percent accuracy. However, they were able to improve on this and achieve an accuracy of 99.8% using a cubic-support vector machine classifier.
Fataniya, B.D. and Zaveri, T. (2021) 'Microscopic image analysis for herbal plant classification', Int. J. Image Mining, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp.1–23.
COVID-19 and the BRIC stockmarkets
A new study published in the International Journal of Financial Markets and Derivatives has investigated the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the stock markets in so-called BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. These nations are considered to be the rapidly growing economies with the biggest potential.
The researchers, Varuna Kharbanda and Rachna Jain of the Maharaja Agrasen Institute of Management Studies in Delhi, India, suggest that for the period of the pandemic studied the incidence of infections with the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which caused the potentially lethal disease COVID-19, correlated with negative effects on the stock markets of those countries. Moreover, falls in share prices were partly blamed on pessimism in the wake of the early stages of the pandemic up to the end of May 2020.
An unprecedented modern pandemic with millions of symptomatic infections and many hundreds of thousands of deaths was inevitably to have a detrimental effect on world economies. Given that the BRIC nations account for almost 40% of the world population, 25% of the world landmass, and 20% of the total world gross domestic product (GDP), the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic would have an enormous impact on those nations individually and in terms of their position in the global picture.The research highlights just how volatile the markets are as they respond to the pandemic, this was true at the beginning and is still true at the time of writing of this Research Highlight. The team used two multivariate models to track this volatility from a point well before the pandemic in the summer of 2019 to almost the middle of 2020 well after we had begun to recognise the unfolding tragedy of this disease.
The governments of the BRIC nations have responded with relief packages, new tax rules, and by easing credit in their economies. However, the negative effects are still being felt and it is impossible to predict at this point, first, when the pandemic will end and what the long-term impact on BRIC economies and the global economy will be.
Kharbanda, V. and Jain, R. (2021) 'Impact of COVID on the stock market: a study of BRIC countries', Int. J. Financial Markets and Derivatives, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp.169–184.
Back in the early 1990s, this author first heard about an insidious environmental disaster unfolding on the Indian subcontinent. Once insoluble arsenic salts were being exposed to the atmosphere when aquifers were drained for irrigation, becoming oxidized to a soluble form, and then being carried into the drinking water tapped from those aquifers once they refilled. The problem had first been unearthed by K.C. Saha, a government dermatologist from what was then known as Calcutta in the early 1980s. Scientists from Jadavpur University and Dhaka Community Hospital spent many years attempting to draw attention to this invisible killer affecting millions of people and this author attempted to bring awareness to the plight at the time through the western media.
The problem still exists despite ensuing international efforts to address it. Arsenic poisoning leads to startling visible symptoms: tell-tales skin problems such as melanosis, keratosis, and skin cancer, inflammation of the eyes, gangrene and skin growths, and can ultimately be lethal. There have been numerous attempts to develop ways to precipitate the solubilised arsenic from well water so that it might be filtered easily with varying degrees of success. In subsequent years, the problem has been revealed to be a far more widespread problem, being seen in various parts of Southeast Asia the Americas, and elsewhere.
New work published in the International Journal of Environment and Health, by a team from Argentina has looked at how modified kaolins might be used to remove dissolved arsenic(III) salts from water.
Estefanía Baigorria, Leonardo Cano, and Vera Alvarez of the Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata and Karim Sapag of the Universidad Nacional de San Luis, explain how iron-containing clays are known adsorbents of dissolved arsenic. They have now impregnated natural and acid-treated kaolinites with iron oxide and demonstrated 97 percent effectiveness with one such material impregnated to 30 percent iron oxide within an hour. After a prolonged exposure 100 percent reduction of arsenic content is possible.
As such, the team recommends further investigation of these modified materials as a possible solution to the problem of arsenic-contaminated water.
Baigorria, E., Cano, L., Sapag, K. and Alvarez, V. (2020) 'Development of modified kaolins for the removal of As (III) in waters', Int. J. Environment and Health, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp.116–132.
Editing out fake news
Fake news and misinformation have become commonplace in the political, economic, climatic, and social arenas in recent years and are amplified significantly by social media with important repercussions for political outcomes and our quality of life. As we continue to face the global COVID-19 pandemic, fake news and misinformation in this realm becomes a matter of life and death. Researchers from the USA and China writing in the International Journal of Data Science discuss a new approach to detected false headlines.
Xin Wang and Peng Zhao of the Big Data and AI Lab at IntelligentRabbit LLC, in New Jersey and Xi Chen of the Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture have developed an algorithm-based ranking method for mainstream media credibility and tested long short-term memory (LSTM), convolutional neural network (CNN) and Deep belief networks (DBNs) to this end. They suggest that it is vital that we address this problem.
"In the age of social media, the ability to spread false information has increased exponentially," the team writes. "Irresponsible organisations and individuals published misleading information causing catastrophic consequences to society."
The researchers point out that while technology may have fostered the rapid spread of fake news in an unprecedented way, technology is in many ways the only means by which fake news can be tackled effectively. As such, the team has developed an algorithm based on the neural network approach performs with up to 94 percent accuracy and outstrips other approaches. This is critical given that it is difficult to retrieve whole documents reporting fake news especially as they are commonly camouflaged among genuine news content.
The team explains that many news organisations have established fact-checking units or recruited independent teams to manually scour their user output to identify fake news and false claims. There are also well-known services, such as Snopes, PolitiFact, and FactCheck that act as third-party factcheckers for content being shared online. A system that can work ahead of such checking and automatically flag fake news for subsequent manually checking could help guarantee the trustworthiness of a news source and label problem material.
The team adds that they will next develop a decentralised machine learning model that will guarantee the transparent and traceable delivery of news and take us a step closer to ending the era of fake news.
Wang, X., Zhao, P. and Chen, X. (2020) 'Fake news and misinformation detection on headlines of COVID-19 using deep learning algorithms', Int. J. Data Science, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp.316–332.
Corporate karma in COVID-19
New research published in the International Journal of Work Organisation and Emotion, suggests that many companies, particularly so-called tech companies providing software for mobile devices, apps, have focused on helping people during the COVID-19 pandemic rather than measuring their success in these difficult times on the fiscal bottom line of a spreadsheet.
Sadrul Huda of the North South University, Afsana Akhtar of BRAC University, and Syeeda Raisa Maliha of Re-think, Re-search, all in Dhaka, Bangladesh, explain how the social and economic pressures that have arisen during the pandemic have led to many businesses failing. However, some businesses have thrived by providing services and software that have helped people. Indeed, has reinvigorated many companies allowing them to glean new meaning for their efforts beyond the profit margin while also retaining employees and showing a positive financial return.
A new study of app companies in Bangladesh has shown that healthy profits seem to follow a healthy outlook for many of those companies that have turned to helping people. The team focuses on various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and app-based companies such as Pathao, FoodPanda, and Uber Eats who have all taken an ethical stance towards helping. "In a world where all businesses have come to a standstill, these app-based companies have found a new life only because they thought about the people before their business. They are a living role model of how the companies should set their goals," the team writes.
To paraphrase Charles Dickens – "It is the best of times, it is the worst of times" – it would be foolish in an age of wisdom not to move towards a better world where businesses care about people instead of only running after profits.
Huda, S.S.M.S., Akhtar, A. and Maliha, S.R. (2021) 'Initiatives taken by NGOs and private companies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic', Int. J. Work Organisation and Emotion, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp.86–92.
Mathematically modelling COVID-19 in India
A mathematical analysis published in the International Journal of Computational Biology and Drug Design has revealed the impact of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in India on mortality rates and suggests that the death toll may ultimately be in the millions before the pandemic subsides.
Physicists Bibhatsu Kuiri, Bubai Dutta, Saikat Santra, Paulomi Mandal, Khaleda Mallick, and Ardhendu Sekhar Patra of Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University in Purulia, India, have used the SEIR model as a fundamental tool to model the spread of the novel and potentially lethal coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which was first identified in China in late 2019 and the spread of which had reached pandemic proportions by February-March of 2020. This highly infectious disease spreads easily even when those infected are not yet showing symptoms and so has had an enormous and often devastating impact on society and economies around the world. Indeed, it is estimated that 80 percent of transmission is by people who are asymptomatic.
Theoretical tools that work with raw data can help us explain the spread of the disease and understand how it might continue, and hopefully when and where it will end in terms of its presence as a global pandemic. Ultimately, such models might also help us predict the behaviour of subsequent emerging pathogens and ward off a future pandemic or at least ameliorate its impact by being better prepared for the possible consequences.
In the SEIR model, each letter is defined as follows: S for susceptibility humans, E for exposure, I for infected/infectious, and R for recovery rate. Additionally, D is the death count. Each SEIR parameter feeds into D at different points in the model. The team's numbers are based on those available in October 2020 and so do not take into account the recent devastating wave of infections in that country. At the time of writing their paper, there were tens of millions of people across India who had been infected and recovered but many tens of thousands of deaths too.
The number infected has, as of the date of this Inderscience Research Pick, passed 30 million in India with almost 400,000 deaths and almost 29 million people have recovered. The number of those with long-covid could well be significant.
Kuiri, B., Dutta, B., Santra, S., Mandal, P., Mallick, K. and Patra, A.S. (2021) 'The spreading of covid-19 in India and its impact: a mathematical analysis', Int. J. Computational Biology and Drug Design, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp.130–137.
Optical music recognition
Optical character recognition (OCR) commonly used to convert the text in scanned documents into a searchable and editable form on the computer is a well-established digitisation technique. But, what about other kinds of documents, rich with meaning, such as musical manuscripts? New work in the International Journal of Arts and Technology discusses the possibility of optical musical recognition, OMR.
A new approach developed by a team at Bina Nusantara University in Jakarta, Indonesia, uses deep machine learning and a convolutional neural network trained to recognise the nuance of musical notation on known manuscripts. The algorithm can then convert a newly presented musical manuscript into a digitized form with 8 percent accuracy. Even at this level, this greatly reduces the amount of manual input and correction needed to convert a manuscript.
The system requires clef, stave, and musical key to be in position, but these are easily assigned in a template. The conversion of a scanned manuscript then detects the position on the stave of each note, thus defining pitch. The next step will be to use a parallel algorithm to detect the duration of each note and to identify the position of silences, rests, and other such characteristics of a manuscript.
Once fully digitised it is, given current software, a trivial matter to use the computer to "play" the manuscript using all manner of instrumental sounds or even to correlate a lyrical score with the music and have the computer "sing" the song. OMR, once mature, will have many applications in archiving musical manuscripts, in the performance of music, and in music education. The team suggests that their approach could allow software "app" developers to write a program for smartphone or tablet to allow anyone to quickly scan a piece of sheet music, for instance, and to carry out OMR on that manuscript.
Of course, while music digitization tools could be enabling for a wide range of people interested in music, there is still the question of musical talent. There is, unfortunately, no app for that.
Andrea, Paoline and Zahra, A. (2021) 'Music note position recognition in optical music recognition using convolutional neural network', Int. J. Arts and Technology, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp.45–60.
Machines learn pandemic prediction
Might machine learning and big data allow us to predict how an emerging disease might spread and so be more prepared than we were for the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic? A new survey from India of the various techniques published in the International Journal of Engineering Systems Modelling and Simulation suggests so.
S. Sharma and Yogesh Kumar Gupta of Banasthali University in Jaipur, explain how they have tracked the tools and data that have been used to investigate the spread of well-known and unfortunately well-established diseases of influenza, malaria, and dengue to model the spread of a pathogen through the human population and how this spread gives rise to an epidemic. Fundamentally, they suggest, the more data that is available, the more accurate the predictions can be as long as "fake" data can be excluded. They point out that in some regions, certain diseases are always present, they are endemic, while in other regions we might observe sudden large-scale outbreaks of the same disease representing a surge in morbidity and mortality. As such, modeling could be used to make forecasts about the repeated re-emergence of certain diseases in those places.
The team's perspective on machine learning and big data points to ways in which they might be used together to provide expert decision support especially in regions of the developing world with very limited healthcare resources. Readily available information from sources such as Twitter, Google Trends, Flu Near You, Influenza Net, Wikipedia Access Logs, Health Map, Electronic Health Records, WHO, Centre for Disease Control, and Meteorological departments have all been pooled to help track the emerge of influenza and might be adapted and fed into new models for emerging pathogens as they are identified.
The team points out that different statistical tools have different pros and cons when looking at different known diseases but all can fail when there is a dearth of data. They also suggest that temperature and weather patterns can have a big influence on certain diseases and so should be taken into account when modeling emerging diseases.
Sharma, S. and Gupta, Y.K. (2021) 'Role of machine learning and big data in healthcare for the prediction of epidemic diseases: a survey', Int. J. Engineering Systems Modelling and Simulation, Vol. 12, Nos. 2/3, pp.148–155.
Advertising and Android
The concept of privacy in the age of the web and social media remains high on the agenda for many people – those on the business and marketing side who would like to advertise with greater precision and those on the consumer side who would not wish for their personal information and profile to be compromised. A new survey of data privacy in the context of applications, apps, available on the Android operating system and the mobile devices it runs, such as smartphones and tablets, has now been published in the International Journal of Information Privacy, Security and Integrity.
Dirk Pawlaszczyk of the Hochschule Mittweida – University of Applied Sciences in Mittweida, and Jannik Weber, Ralf Zimmermann and Christian Hummert of the Central Office for Information Technology in the Security Sector (ZITiS), in Munich, Germany, explain how users leave the online equivalent of a paper trail as they use different apps and websites, they share information deliberately but also unwittingly as they hop from one app or site to another.
A naïve user perhaps imagines that the information they share is kept private among their friends and associates and obviously the app they are using at any given time. However, the apps and websites they visit are themselves often interconnected and networked together, harvesting data and information about their users and commonly sharing that information with their associated companies, usually for some kind of fee.
The companies would have it that this data harvesting allows them to offer consumers more pertinent advertising. But, of course, users may be oblivious to this targeting and succumb to the advertising when under normal circumstances they would never see a poignant advertisement and would simply see the same as all other users.
aThe team has now analysed the advertising networks associated with the top 100 free apps in the Google Play Store, the official source of software for use under the Android operating system. They have analysed the behaviour of the apps as well as the networking each does and to what other systems it connects. They found that the top apps all have direct connections to multiple advertising networks, up to fourteen in one instance.
There are many rules and regulations regarding advertising and in some parts of the world transparency for the user is paramount. Consent is needed in advance before such advertising network activity can be carried out under French law, for instance. Moreover, the European Union put in place General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws which apply to everyone dealing with EU citizens' data. However, users like their apps and often accept "terms & conditions" without reading them thoroughly or worrying about the implications of giving consent to apps and the third parties with which those apps are associated.
The compromising of privacy by apps is a global problem. Rules and regulations are in place but the companies and their connections are not entirely transparent. Indeed, some are wholly opaque. The implications for the protection of individual users in the face of such opacity are enormous and there is a pressing need for revision in the way apps are allowed to function and what information they are allowed to access and assimilate from their users. The team points out that apps and their associates can gather all kinds of normally private information about a given device and its use and so discern a "fingerprint" for that device. Given that users commonly must login to various apps to make full use of them and also store personal details such as home and work address, contacts etc etc, it is no huge leap from that fingerprint being associated with an individual and thus the inescapable compromise of their privacy.
Pawlaszczyk, D., Weber, J., Zimmermann, R. and Hummert, C. (2020) 'Android apps and advertising networks – a survey on data privacy', Int. J. Information Privacy, Security and Integrity, Vol. 4, No. 4, pp.261–275.
Microfinance for Indian startups
Crowdfunding has proven a useful way to gather funds for charitable and activist causes, to help launch a product or book, and even to provide financial backing for individuals or groups in all kinds of endeavours. The concept involves calling on other people to make a donation to the worthy cause, promotion is usually done through a website, social media, email, and other communication routes, but might well also involve more traditional approaches such as posters, billboards, and conventional media advertising.
Writing in the International Journal of Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Socrates Shahrour and M.H. Uma of the CMS Business School at the Jain (Deemed-to-be) University in Bangalore, discuss the notion of crowdfunding in the context of start-up companies in India. The team points out that start-up companies make an important contribution to the economy as well as offering new opportunities for employment. Moreover, as the company grows so too should its contribution to the economy and its role as an employer.
By the very nature of a start-up company, it is at its beginnings and all such fledgling companies need capital investment of some sort. Traditionally, this might come through a bank loan or investment from individuals or even other companies. However, without a proven track record, it is often difficult for an entrepreneur to garner the funds to lift their business plan from the word processor and into the real world of developing and offering a product or providing a service.
Crowdfunding is an alternative approach where a multitude of small financial contributions, microfinance, accumulate sufficiently to allow the entrepreneur to make this leap. In return, those who provide the microfinancing will earn some kind of reward, perhaps something small like the kudos of being recognised officially as an early backer or something substantial like an early offering of the product or service for free or at a discount commensurate with their initial financial contribution.
Microfinance was recognised as long ago as the 1970s if not earlier but in the age of social media it becomes possible for an entrepreneur to reach and so recruit backers in far greater numbers and much faster than was plausible in the world of pen and paper rather than smartphones. Indeed, with a bigger crowdfunding audience, the contribution an individual needs to make to the start-up project can be much smaller than would be required from a smaller niche of backers or investors.
The team has reviewed the concept of crowdfunding in India and the legality of different approaches. They find that in the context of start-ups in India, the notion of peer-to-peer (P2P) microfinancing is more appropriate where other small companies help the start-ups and pay it forward as they develop. The rationale for this is that crowdfunding for donations in exchange for rewards does not fit well with the current legal framework in India.
Shahrour, S. and Uma, M.H. (2020) 'Crowdfunding and start-ups: an Indian context', Int. J. Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp.335–343.
Teenage Instagrammers! What are you thinking?
Instagram is one of the most popular photo-sharing apps available to users the world over. It allows users to upload photos taken on their phones or indeed their digital camera and to apply various filters to "improve" the look of the photo as well as giving them space to add a description. People who follow a given user can "like" the photos or add comments. Other users may well see the photos if one's account is set to public through the app's search feature, via hashtags associated with a given photo or when a third party comments or shares a photo. The site was launched in October 2010 and was acquired by social media site Facebook in April 2012. It is estimated that more than a billion people use Instagram.
Researchers in Indonesia were aware that the most active age group on the app are the 18- to 34-year-olds. Moreover, the new users coming to this online realm tend to be teenagers. Writing in the International Journal of Business Information Systems, the team explains how they have analysed Instagram activity and modeled the results to ascertain what broad topic areas are most commonly used on the app by teenage users. They looked at almost active 500 accounts over a three-and-a-half-year period and found that two main categories stuck out in the analysis – school and relationships, with the latter, relationships, being by far the predominant topic.
Earlier research in Indonesia has shown that despite popular opinion, teenagers generally make use of social media apps, such as Instagram, in a relatively sensible way and that internet use, in general, does not lead to lower educational grades. However, there remains a need to understand the way in which the youth utilize the various apps available on their mobile phones and other devices. Critical to growth and good mental health may well be a clearer understanding among educators, parents and guardians, policymakers, and the social media companies and their app designers.
Rakhmawati, N.A., Valianta, T., Hafidz, I., Pratama, A., Ridwandono, D. and Annisa, L. (2021) 'What is inside the mind of teenagers on Instagram?', Int. J. Business Information Systems, Vol. 37, No. 2, pp.224–235.
IoT and COVID-19
The Internet of Things (IoT) has been much flaunted as the future of sensors and controllers allowing remote access to environmental and other information and facilitating feedback systems that would otherwise require human intervention. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote sensing and remote control of equipment has become increasingly important.
IoT devices already allow many tasks to be carried out in a wide variety of realms across industry, medicine, agriculture, environmental protection and much more. The emergence of a lethal, infectious disease that requires social distancing and increasing pressure on workers to work from home means that the IoT has an increasingly important role to play that will allow normality to continue for many systems and processes without people needing to be in the field, as it were.
Given that scientists are predicting that future pandemics may well be worse still in a world of drastic climate change and the problems that brings, the IoT could be set to become the new-normal that allows life to go on despite these problems. We might even be able to position ourselves using the IoT to pre-empt the issues that will inevitably arise in the next pandemic and as climate change leads to great unpredictability in weather patterns, sea levels, and other problems.
Anto Merline Manoharan of Anna University, in Chennai and M.G. Sumithra of the KPR Institute of Engineering and Technology, in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India, discuss an IoT technology inextricably linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the team describes secure IoT integrated with a wireless sensor network more monitoring the health condition of an infected patient. Writing in the International Journal of Sensor Networks, the team also explains their novel encryption system to ensure patient privacy. Currently, the encryption protocol is implemented on the server, the next step will be to port that software to the IoT devices and the wireless network itself, the team adds.
Manoharan, A.M. and Sumithra, M.G. (2021) 'Secure data communication IoT and wireless sensor network for COVID-19', Int. J. Sensor Networks, Vol. 36, No. 1, pp.11–24.
For whom does the online bell toll?
For many years, the death knell for high street shopping has been sounded by the pioneers of online. The high street brands responded with some success by counterbalancing their "bricks and mortar" realm with a virtual world of e-commerce. New work published in the International Journal of Internet Marketing and Advertising, suggests that the end may well be in sight for retail websites.
Ricardo Ramos and Sérgio Moro of the Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, and Paulo Rita of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal, have investigated the attitudes and behaviour of marketing professionals with respect to social media and commercial mobile applications and found that online strategy is focusing very much on search engine positioning and thence retail websites rather than the former two overlapping and interconnected realms.
The team suggests that this flies in the face of consumer attitudes and experience where 90 percent of most user time online is on social media and apps and only 10 percent involves using search engines to find specific websites. Where there is resistance to accepting this reality, marketing professionals must disconnect themselves from an out-moded approach and face up to users where users are active online.
Ramos, R.F., Rita, P. and Moro, S. (2021) 'Is this the beginning of the end for retail websites? A professional perspective', Int. J. Internet Marketing and Advertising, Vol. 15, No. 3, pp.260–280.
Scrambling against smudge attacks
The security-conscious among us use a PIN, a personal identification number, to "lock" our smartphones so that if the device is lost or stolen, a third party should not be able to access our contacts, messages, and other information held in myriad apps without a lot of effort to guess the PIN.
However, so many modern devices that hold our personal and business information are touchscreen and hackers and thieves are always resourceful. Picture the scene you give your phone screen a clean before tapping in your PIN to access your emails etc. The smudges left by your fingertips remain on the screen, marking out the likely numbers from the virtual keypad on your phone that you used to tap in your PIN.
Soon after, the phone is lost or stolen and that malicious third party carries out a "smudge attack" – they look at the screen and can have a good guess at the digits in your PIN and try them in various combinations pretty quickly. It is far easier to brute-force a four-digit PIN if you know the four digits rather than having to try all possible combinations of the numbers 0 to 9, after all!
So, how might one avoid a smudge attack? The obvious answer is to clean the phone's screen more frequently and immediately after entering a PIN, but a less "onerous" approach would be for the device itself to have a randomised keypad for unlocking. In a scrambled keypad, the numbers 0 to 9 would be arranged differently each time you go to unlock your phone, so there would be no build-up of your frequently smudged keys as it were and thus far less chance of a successful smudge attack.
At the moment, a scrambled keypad is not a feature of Android nor iOS devices. New work from a team in the USA published in the International Journal of Information and Computer Security, demonstrates how a scramble keypad might be implemented to protect smartphones from smudge attacks. Geetika Kovelamudi, Bryan Watson, Jun Zheng, and Srinivas Mukkamala of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, in Socorro, have carried out a usability and security study of a scramble keypad. They explain that it works perfectly to protect from smudge attacks. The scramble keypad also reduces the risk of someone illicitly gleaning your PIN by "shoulder surfing" (watching over your shoulder) while you tap it in, because the digits of the pad 0 to 9 will not be in the familiar places for their eye to quickly ascertain as you tap.
The implementation of a scramble pad would require very little additional coding to the touchscreen device's boot-up system but would offer a new level of protection from smudge attacks, a degree of protection from shoulder surfers, and potentially some protection from side-channel attacks.
Kovelamudi, G., Watson, B., Zheng, J. and Mukkamala, S. (2021) 'On the adoption of scramble keypad for unlocking PIN-protected smartphones', Int. J. Information and Computer Security, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp.1–17.
Nepal's unique take on lightning
While every lightning flash is unique in the way the discharge travels through the atmosphere, whether cloud-to-cloud, cloud-to-ground or the more esoteric sprites, halos, jets, and elves of the upper atmosphere. There are common features in these different types of lightning and for cloud-to-ground flashes, it has been assumed that there are two main types of flash known to meteorologists and atmospheric scientists – negative ground flashes and positive ground flashes.
The difference between the negative and positive flash is simply that the polarity of the discharge reaching the ground in the lightning flash. Most (90 percent) cloud-to-ground flashes are negative ground flashes. Just 10 percent are positive. The positive ground flash involves a single stroke. However, writing in the International Journal of Hydrology Science and Technology, physicist Pitri Bhakta Adhikari of the Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, Nepal, explains a novel phenomenon seen in the sub-tropical, mountainous region of Nepal.
He has used a simple circuit and antenna system to measure the electrical signature of lightning flashes in the Himalayan region and found that positive ground flashes there are unique. Instead of involving a single strike, lightning here involves up to four strikes per flash, or discharge.
Adhikari explains that the lightning signature in this region is characterised by a relatively slow, negative electric field event preceded by a pronounced opposite-polarity pulse. The average duration of the main waveform was about 500 microseconds and the average duration of the preceding opposite-polarity pulses was approximately 40 microseconds. These figures are based on measurements of more than 5000 lightning flashes.
A likely explanation may lie in the fact that Nepal has regions that are a mere 60 metres above sea level and then within just 160 kilometres we can figuratively scale the giddy heights of Mount Everest, the peak at 8848 metres above sea level. Moreover across this altitude gradient and through the course of the seasons, Nepal can have a temperature ranging from a balmy 30 degrees Celsius down to –50 Celsius. All such characteristics are unique of themselves and so it is perhaps no surprise that the lightning seen in this region is unique too.
It is worth pointing out that lightning signatures not dissimilar to the unique flashes measured in Nepal have been seen occasionally in Sweden and Florida but not at anything like the frequency compared to other flashes seen in Nepal.
Adhikari, P.B. (2021) 'Unique lightning signatures observed from sub-tropical, mountainous country, Nepal', Int. J. Hydrology Science and Technology, Vol. 11, No. 4, pp.405–414.
Pandemic effects on small companies
Everyone the world over has been left unaffected by the emergence of a novel coronavirus, named SARS-CoV-2 in late 2019, which led to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Our lives have been disrupted enormously by the medical, social, and economic implications of this lethal disease. Writing in the World Review of Intermodal Transportation Research, a team from Finland offers a view from the small business manufacturing and logistics perspective in Finland.
Olli-Pekka Hilmola and Oskari Lähdeaho of LUT University, Kouvola Unit, point out that medium and large companies have continued to serve their customers and some have performed well in certain sectors. Hospitality and travel have obviously been limited in their performance because of lockdowns and social restrictions but online food retail, the information, and communications technology sector, and the pharmaceutical industry seem to be thriving in the face of the ongoing crisis. The smaller companies that need face-to-face interaction with customers for marketing, as well as their transactions, have not fared so well. Moreover, supply, logistics, and their ability to deliver their services and goods have been hurt significantly.
Smaller companies surveyed in Finland no longer have strong expectations with regard to their future ability to sell into and supply markets in China and Russia, the researchers report. They suggest that as we emerge from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, smaller companies will grow to depend on rail transport whereas the larger companies will still be able to readily access air freight.
The team adds that as weaknesses and indications of stagnation become apparent in their case studies of small businesses, more work is now needed to improve our understanding of the various scenarios that are developing and to help predict how things might develop or continue to fail among small businesses. They point out that previous large-scale events, such as the economic crisis of 2008-2009, have enormous long-term implications. We cannot yet see how this current pandemic, which is very much still with us in many parts of the world at the time of writing, will play out for business and economies.
If we learn at least one lesson from its effects, it is that sustainability needs to built into future economies starting now. Sustainability is key to address the much larger problem of climate change, pollution, water and food security, and perhaps allow us to face the next pandemic in the years to come with greater resilience and a more timely response so that we experience less hurt in our medical, social, and economic lives.
Hilmola, O-P. and Lähdeaho, O. (2021) 'Covid-19 pandemic: small actor point of view on manufacturing and logistics', World Review of Intermodal Transportation Research, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp.87–105.
How does it feel? – Social data mining the student mood
Can social data mining reveal student feelings? A new study in the International Journal of Computer Applications in Technology suggests that this could be the case given that a student's digital footprints on social media often reveal their personal experiences and opinions on a variety of subjects, including their course, their friends and family, and their own mental health.
Hua Zhao, Yang Zuo, Chunming Xu, and Hengzhong Li of the College of Computer Science and Engineering at Shandong University of Science and Technology in Qingdao, Shandong, China, suggest that educators and course administrators could benefit from social data mining to understand their students' moods and provide appropriate help when needed. The same social data mining might also be used to spot trends and patterns as a course progresses and perhaps allow the course itself to be adapted within limits to best serve the students and their education.
Of course, there are such vast amounts of social data online and more added each data that mining such information can only ever tap the seam rather than extracting all of the putative knowledge within. At least that is the received wisdom, but the development of novel data mining tools and artificial intelligence algorithms might change that allowing new insights to be extracted in a timely manner.
The team has developed a new approach to help them understand the emotions and moods of a sample of Chinese students. First, they collect the appropriate social data related to the students and then build a hierarchy category system based on a content analysis. In the second step, they apply an effective multi-class classification method to classify the data into several categories of concern. Finally, a "sentiment" analysis around each category is undertaken to look for emotional content and language that can reveal changing moods in the students as a group or individually, for instance, surrounding exams and other matters. Obviously, exams are a major concern of students the world over and such an approach might be applicable elsewhere in social data mining student mood.
Several categories of concern. Finally, a "sentiment" analysis around each category is undertaken to look for emotional content and language that can reveal changing mood in the students as a group or individually, for instance, surrounding exams and other matters. Obviously, exams are a major concern of students the world over and such an approach might be applicable elsewhere in social data mining student mood.
Zhao, H., Zuo, Y., Xu, C. and Li, H. (2021) 'What are students thinking and feeling? Understanding them from social data mining', Int. J. Computer Applications in Technology, Vol. 65, No. 2, pp.110–117.
Flight shaming is a modern social phenomenon. It emerged in Sweden in the summer of 2019 where people with an environmental bent feel obliged to embarrass friends and relatives who are taking more flights than they feel necessary – "flygskam". It is apparent across the globe now and could be a growing issue for the aviation industry to address through better practices as well as marketing.
Given the emergence of COVID-19 towards the end of that year and its elevation to a global pandemic, flying became briefly less about the negative environmental impact than about avoiding the spread of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Nevertheless, there are environmental issues still to consider and new research in the International Journal of Sustainable Aviation has looked at whether or not "flygskam" has led to a change in attitude among the ardent jetsetters?
Scott Winter, Tracy Lamb, Ryan Wallace, and Carolina Anderson of the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, USA, suggest that this initially European phenomenon of flight shaming is growing. It perhaps pivoted initially on the well-publicised activism of the young, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, a relative of Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius who qualifited and quantified the nature of global warming in the late 19th Century.
The US team carried out three studies with 847 participants and found that people were significantly less willing to fly when they had been flight shamed. Moderators of the attitude – value with sustainability and willingness to pay for sustainability – had a significant effect on whether or not a participant was inclined to fly or not. The team points out that making flight a more sustainable mode of transport would be the way to counter the effects of flight shaming.
"These results suggest that flight shaming may affect passengers' willingness to fly, and the industry should consider promoting their efforts to reduce environmentally harmful effects of air travel and their initiatives for improving the sustainability of air travel," the team concludes.
Winter, S.R., Lamb, T.L., Wallace, R.J. and Anderson, C.L. (2021) 'Flight shaming consumers into aviation sustainability: which factors moderate?', Int. J. Sustainable Aviation, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp.21–45.
The search for sustainable energy sources continues apace. Research highlighted in the International Journal of Renewable Energy Technology, looks at one such source – algae, from which biodiesel can be derived, The work discusses production issues, characterisation, and compares the performance of such fuels with other sources of diesel.
Alpesh Virendrabhai Mehta and Nirvesh Sumanbhai Mehta of the Mechanical Engineering Department at the Government Engineering College, Gujarat, India, explain how ongoing industrialisation is increasing energy demands worldwide. This is giving rise to various interlinked problems for humanity – dwindling resources, increased pollution, and climate change. The fossil fuels on which we have relied for decades represent an entirely unsustainable and highly polluting resource.
The potential to use carbon compounds derived from sustainable sources such as crops and algae offer an energy stop-gap. Sustainable sources have the benefit of being renewable and will be required while we continue to rely on combustion for vehicles, heating, and power production at least until completely sustainable and non-polluting power sources, such as wind, solar, and tidal can be made more universally available. There is also the potential for certain approaches to biofuels that replace fossil fuels to have a smaller carbon footprint for the same power output. The use of algae rather than fuel crops would have the added benefit of not displacing food agriculture.
The team has demonstrated that algal biodiesel is less viscous than conventional diesel and so has a shorter delay before combustion in a diesel engine. A minimal chemical delay also benefits algal diesel in terms of giving the highest brake thermal efficiency. The presence of oxygen in algal diesel also adds to this efficiency because the oxygen atoms act to promote combustion from "within" the fuel itself.
The team reports that algal diesel gives better performance than conventional diesel. Moreover, exhaust gas analysis of various blends satisfies the emission regulations for biodiesel in India, the team writes. They suggest that algal diesel would be an environmentally beneficial substitute for conventional diesel.
Mehta, A.V. and Mehta, N.S. (2021) 'Production, characterisation, comparison, and performance of algae biodiesel as an eco-friendly fuel', Int. J. Renewable Energy Technology, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp.177–200.
The A to H of academic assessment
There are various ways to measure success. In research, one of those is to look at citations in the literature, awards, one's position in the academic hierarchy, and other factors. Usually, these are all measured individually but then rounded together to form a bigger picture of the academic status of a given research. In 2005, physicist Jorge Hirsch of the University of California San Diego devised a more formal approach to author-level metrics, the h-index.
The h-index measures both one's output and the citation impact of that output as well as the quality – high or low – of the publications in which that work has been published. It has been shown that the h-index usually correlates with more obvious indicators of success, such as major and international awards in one's field, fellowships, and position held at higher-level institutions, for instance.
The h-index has been seen for many years as a more useful indication of a scholar's "intellectual" ranking, as it were. However, there are some drawbacks to this approach that have become more problematic when using it to evaluate or rank scholars. Writing in the International Journal of Research, Innovation and Commercialisation, Alberto Boretti of the Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, suggests that in the age of citation farms and hyper-authorship the h-index is no longer an "indication of better knowledge or productivity".
Boretti suggests that there needs to be a new ranking tool that will subsume and improve on the h-index. He points that the h-index itself improved on earlier approaches to academic assessment but there must now be a way to see the inappropriate use of automated tools that boost an author's citations, which is wholly fraudulent. The new tools also need to be able to determine from papers with inordinately long lists of authors exactly who the main contributors are and which authors played minor or even marginal roles and perhaps even which authors have been included as a matter of courtesy rather than content.
Moreover, suggests Boretti, who has held numerous research positions around the world during his career as well as spending many years in industry at a senior level, the new tools also need to be able to embed the quality of research, innovation, and commercialisation processes undertaken by an individual. Ultimately, the indexing of researchers is about selecting suitable candidates for the next position and being able to discern who will be the best fit for a research team based more on the opportunities they can offer based on their past successes. Moreover, a new approach will help weed out those who are attempting to game the system through "author stuffing" and cheating by using citation farms and other such tools to defraud the academic archives.
Boretti, A. (2020) 'Is the h-index the best criterion to select scientists?', Int. J. Research, Innovation and Commercialisation, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp.160–167.
Corporate social responsibility and COVID-19
Researchers at Jaipur National University have examined how companies have been affected by COVID-19 lockdown in terms of their programs of corporate social responsibility. Manish Kumar Dwivedi and Vineet Kumar writing in the International Journal of Indian Culture and Business Management looked at this issue from the psychological, social, cultural, and economic perspectives.
They report that in the wake of the enormous hardships being faced by people in India, many companies have taken their CSR very seriously in response. They have, they explain provided financial assistance in the Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund). They have also contributed in different ways to fighting the virus. "CSR activities include engaging in the manufacturing and distribution of masks, sanitisers, and personal protective equipment (PPE), providing meals to the downtrodden and making arrangements for quarantine centres," the team writes.
At the time of writing, there have been almost 170 million cases of COVID-19, the novel disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. It has led to the deaths of approximately 3.5 million people. There are many emergent strains of the virus and one of those, a double mutation variant known as "lineage B.1.617", is wreaking havoc on the population of India and has spread to many other parts of the world. Given the nature of this pandemic, the pressure is on governments to enlist the help of corporate entities in combating the disease and releasing us from the grip of this pandemic.
For their part, governments must rise to the challenge too and invest in and strengthen public healthcare. The researchers add that India, specifically, could do well to learn the lessons of how to respond to this pandemic, and perhaps future pandemics, by the approaches taken by Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and China. This is critical given that social distancing and lockdown measures that are plausible in some richer less densely populated parts of the world are not viable in many parts of India, for instance.
Dwivedi, M.K. and Kumar, V. (2021) 'Impact of lockdown and CSR activities undertaken by the corporates during COVID-19 in India', Int. J. Indian Culture and Business Management, Vol. 22, No. 4, pp.558–589.
Sustaining Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa is developing rapidly with its rich resources although still lags behind those developing regions that are hard on the heels of the developed nations. New research published in the International Journal of Sustainable Development considers how this development might be sustainable and how it might be financed to be so. Samuel Orekoya and Peter Oluleke of the University of Ibadan in Nigeria suggest that trillions rather than billions are needed.
The researchers have investigated the impacts of private, public, and multilateral financial opportunities that could be used to drive sustainable development in Sub-Saharan Africa. They have correlated this with the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, life expectancy, human capital development, and fertility rate with data from 1971 to 2018. The fundamental conclusion is that no single source of financing, whether from the private, public or multilateral sectors is sufficient for the sustainable development of Sub-Saharan Africa. They suggest that government needs to play an active role in encouraging the requisite financial backing of sustainable development but without distorting the economic landscape.
As such, the team recommends that new stable macroeconomic policies should be aimed at creating "a conducive environment for financial sector development". They add that multilateral development by banks and bilateral donors could also be used to strengthen access to private sources of finance by improving the business and investment climate.
"Development is sustainable if it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs," the team writes. They point out that inequality jeopardizes the well-being of those in certain areas and in certain social groups while allowing others to benefit greatly. For truly sustainable development to occur in Sub-Saharan Africa, social justice must be integrated into the model to close the social, educational, and economic gaps between different groups and to allow improving equality to persist across the generations.
Orekoya, S. and Oluleke, P. (2020) 'Financing for Sub-Saharan African sustainable development: from billions to trillions to action', Int. J. Sustainable Development, Vol. 23, Nos. 3/4, pp.288–308.
Automating ringworm diagnosis
Ringworm, known more correctly as dermatophytosis, is a skin infection caused by any of forty or so different types of microbial fungus. It causes inflammation and itchiness, making the skin scaly and forming a circular rash, and sometimes causing hair loss and blistering. Typical infection is by Trichophyton, Microsporum, and Epidermophyton species and is associated with skin contact with other people. Excessive sweating, obesity, and poor immune function are important risk factors.
Dermatophytosis is usually diagnosed based on symptoms and the appearance of the ring rash followed by biopsy of a scraping of skin cells from the infected area. However, it can manifest itself in different ways and so a definitive and perhaps even automated approach would be a boon for medical professionals particularly in areas where the infection is common. Treatment commonly requires the use of oral antifungal drugs, such as terbinafine, fluconazole, or itraconazole. It can also be treated with a "dip therapy" approach.
Now, writing in the International Journal of Computational Vision and Robotics, a team from India has turned to a computer vision diagnostic for dermatophytosis. The team "trains" an algorithm in the computer software Matlab to recognise the characteristics of known photographs taken of an area of a patient's skin suffering dermatophytosis. The software can then recognise the presence of the infection in images from as yet undiagnosed cases with up to 87 percent accuracy, the team says.
Such an automated system with this level of accuracy would allow screening of suspect cases ahead of presentation to a clinician and so reduce the workload in rural areas, for instance, where contact with animals and the fungal spores is common, but a suspected infection may be presented by patients where another skin condition is present. The economic benefits of an approach based on photographing the skin and requiring no specialist hardware that also precludes to some degree the need for detailed personal examination in the first instance and costly biopsy will be of significant benefit to such communities.
Saha, M., Naskar, M.K. and Chatterji, B.N. (2021) 'Human skin ringworm detection using wavelet and curvelet transforms: a comparative study', Int. J. Computational Vision and Robotics, Vol. 11, No. 3, pp.245–263
Portuguese business lessons in COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought much grief the world over. It has led to many deaths, hospitalizations and ongoing illness in the form of long-covid. It has also changed normal life and work for millions of people in unimaginable ways. New research published in the International Journal of the Business Environment, has looked at the role of organisational innovation during the pandemic.
André Rocha of the Polytechnic Higher Institute of Gaya and Fernando Almeida of the University of Porto, Portugal, point out that as with many other nations many companies had to temporarily close and lay off workers. In parallel with lockdowns and similar limits on normal life, many companies have innovated organizationally in response to the pandemic, with a view to meeting the old and new needs of people during this crisis.
The team has carried out a case study of seven companies in Portugal to see how they have each risen to the challenge presented by the pandemic. They have found that both internal and external innovation stand out and that there have been very diverse approaches to innovation. Moreover, many of the innovations have been in procedures rather than structural innovations, which have had much less influence.
"The structural measures typically proposed by governments for crisis management are no longer feasible because of the need to seek immediate response tools that incorporate simplicity and practicality dimensions," the team writes. They add that the various measures implemented by Portugal and many other countries to combat COVID-19, such as closing schools, social distancing and limiting people's movements, the closure of museums, monuments, and national palaces as well as hospitality and entertainment have had a profound effect on Portuguese society, and societies the world over.
The case studies show how organizational innovation rather than structural changes offer an alternative response to the pandemic and have been demonstrably successful for those companies implementing such change. The lessons the case studies offer might be applied in other nations to good effect.
Rocha, A. and Almeida, F. (2021) 'Exploring the role of organisational innovation in the time of COVID-19', Int. J. Business Environment, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp.170–185.
Bad vibrations for motorbike couriers
The e-commerce sector has led to a massive increase in the number of motorcycle couriers criss-crossing our city streets every day delivering packages and food to countless destinations. A new experimental investigation into the ergonomics of riding a motorcycle has now been published in the International Journal of Human Factors and Ergonomics.
Mohd Parvez and Abid Ali Khan of the Aligarh Muslim University in Aligarh, India, explain how riders spend many hours each day in the saddle and this comes with risks to their health. Poor posture, uncomfortable motorbikes, and the nature of the journeys the riders make might all contribute to discomfort and lead to long-term muscle and joint and other problems.
The team had volunteers ride a motorbike for a given period of time at a specific speed and looked specifically at whole-body vibration (WBV), which is considered to be one of the major ergonomic risk factors for motorcyclists, as described in the ISO 2631-1 assessment. Their results showed that WBV commonly exceeded the upper safety limit by more than five times. The effect was even worse for riders who adopted a posture where they lean forward over the fuel tank rather than riding upright with a straight back. In the leaning position, there is greater activity in the muscles of the upper back than in the more erect riding posture, which would lead to greater fatigue for the rider.
The team suggests that there now need to be ergonomic interventions to reduce the problem of WBV for couriers and other motorcyclists who spend many hours each day on a motorbike. Riding with an erect posture reduces WBV and upper back fatigue but increases discomfort in the buttocks and lower back. Interventions would need to take this into account in order to reduce the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders associated with motorcycling, they suggest.
The researchers add that possible ergonomic interventions might including a redesign of motorbike seats and suspension within the seat. There might also be a need for protective equipment that could reduce WBV and the effects of posture on the rider. Additionally, new regulations aimed at monitoring and controlling a rider's hours, journey lengths, and speed might also benefit riders in a similar manner to the way in which truck drivers are regulated for their health and safety and for the safety of other road users.
Parvez, M. and Khan, A.A. (2021) 'Assessment of ergonomic risk factors in occupational motorcycle riding: an experimental investigation', Int. J. Human Factors and Ergonomics, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp.1–21.
The bilingual boost
Students who speak two languages, rather than just one, scored 11 percent better in standardised tests, according to new research published in the International Journal of Innovation in Education. The team conducting the research have built a bilingualism enhanced cognitive competence index (BECCI) model of their results that can predict with more than 90 percent accuracy how well students might do based on their bilingualism.
Soyoun Choi of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Ellen Choi of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne, Florida, USA, suggest that there is much controversy in the fields of education and neurology regarding the effects of bilingualism on academic achievement. Some argue that while speaking two or more languages has many benefits a direct effect on cognitive abilities in areas other than speech itself may be marginal. Others argue the opposite suggesting that the neurological tools gained in learning a second language beyond one's first sharpen the tools in other parts of the brain. One camp in the debate even argues that having a second language blunts some of those tools during the brain's childhood developmental stages.
One in five people in the USA now speaks at least two languages the team writes and so it is important for us to try to approach a definitive answer regarding the cognitive boost a second language may or may not bring. This rings especially true given the wide spectrum of arguments seen in the debate.
The team has studied children with one or two languages across the age range 8 to 14 years old. They looked at the students' grade point averages (GPA) and looked for a correlation with whether they were mono, or bilingual.
"Bilinguals showed a higher overall GPA by 0.19 grade points," the team reports. "The standardised test scores of bilinguals were 11% higher than their monolingual counterparts." They add that, "The bilingual cohort had both an average GPA and standardised test score higher than the monolinguals by a factor of approximately 1.06 times for GPA and 1.109 times for standardised test." The team did, however, find that bilinguals had a lower score in reading tests than their monolingual contemporaries. However, this seemed to be only a temporary deficit, the team points out.
"Bilingualism is a gift to students," they write. "This study proves that the positive benefits far outweigh the drawbacks."
Choi, S. and Choi, E. (2021) 'A novel model of neurocognitive bilingual effect', Int. J. Innovation in Education, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp.47–66.
Recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic
The global coronavirus pandemic represents the biggest fiscal challenge facing the UK government since World War II. That is the stark opening statement of a paper published in the International Journal of Public Law and Policy. The report by Jan Toporowski of SOAS University of London and Robert Calvert of the Jump Institute of Political Economy, Governance, Finance and Accountability at the University of Greenwich, suggests that our course through the pandemic in terms of our health response are determined by the behaviour of the disease itself, our economic recovery will be determined by the behaviour of the government.
The team suggests that the quickest recovery will be obtained by maintaining a high level of government borrowing serviced by taxes on wealth and profits to preclude massive debts accumulating at the household or company level. They point out that given the inequalities across the UK that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, such an approach might ultimately reverse some of those problems and prevent the worst outcomes afflicting those with low incomes and little wealth.
Throughout the pandemic, the challenge has been to ensure people have access to essentials such as food and also get the medical support they need when they become ill at the same time as attempting to reduce the spread of the disease itself through lockdown, isolation, and quarantine measures. Ideally, this must all be done while maintaining monetary and financial stability both during the crisis with a view to sustaining that stability after the crisis is over. This, of course, flies in the face of the emergency measures which were forced to shut down non-essential retail, entertainment, and other business activities temporarily leading to the compression of consumption. This compression then has the effect of loss of income for many workers, the self-employed, and smaller business.
All of the problems, the team suggests are being exacerbated by the gross inequality associated with high levels of poverty and deprivation caused principally by deregulation of the UK's labour market and welfare "reforms" over recent years. Hence the fiscal recovery must be government led to smooth away these inequalities by putting much of the burden for recovery on those who can afford to pay for it rather than punishing the poor still further in the post-pandemic world. This smoothing of inequality must begin now, before the end of the crisis so that we do not have to rely on the altruistic inclinations of the wealthy.
"The support given to health service employees and key frontline workers and volunteers shows the widespread willingness to share the burden of the crisis," the team writes. "It is only possible to bring people together to combat the epidemic – and secure a just recovery in its aftermath – if the effort demanded is seen to be fair." They point out that if we give way to the urge to reduce public debt or abandon progressive taxation, this will slow our recovery substantially and make the economic divisions greater. "The society that survives the epidemic and grieves the human losses deserves better," the team concludes.
Toporowski, J. and Calvert Jump, R. (2021) 'How to pay for the coronavirus emergency: the fiscal challenge', Int. J. Public Law and Policy, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp.1–13.
Building a Pandemic Convention
How can international law be used to control the spread of emergent diseases that lead to mass outbreaks and global pandemics, such as the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 that has plunged the world into the COVID-19 pandemic? That question is addressed by research published in the International Journal of Public Law and Policy.
Rajat Banerjee of the School of Law and Justice at Adamas University in Kolkata, West Bengal and Abhinav Kumar of the School of Law at GD Goenka University in Haryana, India, explain that epidemics and pandemics destabilise existing global health infrastructure and present nation-states with an alarming set of circumstances in which they must attempt to protect their citizens and maintain, the rule of law, economic stability, and infrastructure.
The team suggests that international law may well have a role to play in providing legal safeguards that address many of the issues that arise when a new disease emerges. It can do so by punishing those at the nation-state and citizen level who are to blame if they are found to be directly and substantially responsible for such outbreaks, for instance. Such a deterrent could substantially lower the risk of a newly emerged pathogen emerging into the world arena if those who allow it to happen through negligence or ignorance know that they might be punished for their actions or inaction. An analysis of the current literature in the realm of international law leads the authors to the conclusion that a "one-size-fits-all" is needed for this legal approach at the international legal.
A Pandemic Convention is needed, the team writes. All nation-states would be obliged to adhere to its rules and laws so that the failures of nation-states and citizens we have seen in facing past disease outbreaks would not be repeated and we might prevent the next emergent pathogen from wreaking a global pandemic that might be even worse than the current coronavirus pandemic in which the world is currently entangled.
Banerjee, R. and Kumar, A. (2021) 'The role of international law in controlling disease outbreaks', Int. J. Public Law and Policy, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp.74–96.
Detecting glaucoma early
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases wherein increased pressure within the eye can, if left untreated, lead to damage to the optic nerve and vision loss. Its detection relies on measuring intraocular pressure, visual examination of the interior of the eye, and testing of the entire field of vision with specialist instrumentation.
Glaucoma develops slowly over time and causes no pain. However, as the pressure from the eye and its blood vessels insidiously damages the optic nerve, peripheral vision suffers initially and then central vision. If left untreated complete blindness ensues. Glaucoma is the most common cause of irreversible blindness with around 80 million people having the condition and more than 10 million of those going on to suffer complete vision loss.
The vast majority of those who have the worst possible outcome live in the developing world where the majority of sufferers will be wholly unaware of their condition until it is too late. Thus inexpensive and efficient approaches that reduce the workload on ophthalmologists would be a boon in those parts of the world.
New work published in the World Review of Science, Technology and Sustainable Development takes a novel approach to the detection of glaucoma. S. Ajitha and M.V. Judy of the Department of Computer Applications at Cochin University of Science and Technology, in Kerala, India, explain how glaucoma is a "gruesome thief" that might be routed out if detected early. The team has now developed an algorithmic detective that can identify characteristics of glaucoma present in images of a patient's "fundus". The fundus is the interior surface of the eyeball opposite the lens, which lies behind the cornea at the front of the eye.
The algorithm is trained with fundal images from patients known to have early-stage glaucoma. Subtle characteristics of early-stage glaucoma that would be invisible even to the trained ophthalmologist will be made obvious when the algorithm is presented with an image from a patient. The team has demonstrated sensitivity, specificity, and accuracy beyond that seen with other algorithmic approaches and suggests that the approach can offer 100 percent accuracy in automatically detecting glaucoma early and so allow the ophthalmologist to offer treatment before any damage is done to the optic nerves.
Ajitha, S. and Judy, M.V. (2021) 'A novel hybrid approach to blaze out a new path for glaucoma detection, monitoring and sustainable results in fundus images', World Review of Science, Technology and Sustainable Development, Vol. 17, Nos. 2/3, pp.220–235.
Human rights in the post-pandemic world
Can we embed human rights in our economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic? That is the hope discussed in a paper published in the International Journal of Public Law and Policy. Katharine Young of Boston College Law School in Newton, Massachusetts, USA, explains how COVID-19 pandemic has plunged the world into an unprecedented health and economic crisis and will require an unprecedented approach to recovery.
"As economists and policymakers turn to the task of recovery, protecting human rights remains intrinsically important, both morally and legally. It is also instrumental to the ends of public health and economic resilience," Young writes. She argues that that the human rights to life, health, education, social security, housing, food, water and sanitation, are as essential as civil and political protections.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought inevitable indignities and material deprivations, the recovery should ensure that those deprivations are not simply propagated in the post-pandemic world. Economic and social rights must be respected in the aftermath of the pandemic. Moreover, our recovery must build on our history and understanding of past social and economic crises and go beyond those lessons to renew our commitment to ending inequality in all its forms.
"…a human rights approach does not offer a singular, uniform policy prescription," Young adds. "Instead, it offers the parameters of accountability and participation that have been a known feature (or at a least goal) of the United Nations human rights regime since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
Young, K.G. (2020) 'The idea of a human rights-based economic recovery after COVID-19', Int. J. Public Law and Policy, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp.390–415.
Rebalancing work and life
Juggling one's job and one's personal life, the so-called work-life balance, is high on the agenda for thee modern worker especially as we begin to realise how imbalance can lead to mental health problems and even physical issues. New work published in the International Journal of Technology Transfer and Commercialisation, has looked at how improved work-life balance among company employees not only benefits them as individuals but also has a marked effect on productivity and thus profits.
Poonam Kaushal Balaji of the Institute of Modern Management at the Sri Balaji Society in Pune, India, points out that a lot of stress in a person's life is focused on their job. She has surveyed hundreds of IT workers in the three Indian cities of Chandigarh, Bangalore, and Pune with the aim of identifying workplace factors that cause stress and affect the elusive perfect work life balance in this profession. Statistical analysis of the results showed significant correlations between workplace stress factors and a detrimental effect on work-life balance.
Organisations compete for talented employees who perform well and are highly competent, but the converse is that this expectation comes with pressure on the employee to always be delivering on their promise and this can bring with it unwarranted stress for some. Pressure on time and targets means that along with the stress, pressure is applied that tips the work-life balance ever in favour of work rather than rest and relaxation. Kaushal goes so far as to describe workplace stress as the "exterminator of the work-life balance".
She suggests that there is a pressing need to address this problem with new rules for employers and employees alike that can provide new balance and reduce the risk to mental and physical health in the high-pressure IT industry.
Kaushal, P. (2021) 'Work stress and work life balance: a study of working professionals of the IT sector', Int. J. Technology Transfer and Commercialisation, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp.4–15.
School children all over the world know the way to write secret messages on paper using lemon juice or wax or other household substances. The invisible message is written with the appropriate material and is only revealed when the recipient "decodes" it using heat or some other way to develop the hidden substance.
A more sophisticated approach to secret messages is needed in the adult world, of course, and there are many different tools that allow sensitive documents to be encrypted beyond brute-force attack so that only the legitimate recipient can read them. Such technology works optimally with the digital output of word-processing and related software where the bits and bytes of the document can quickly and efficiently be scrambled using a password or key. The reverse process is then only available to the holder of the key.
However, there is a problem when it comes to handwritten documents. A scanned image of such a document is not composed of bytes representing the letters and words of the document, rather it is a map of all of the pixels making up the document. As such, a handwritten document might be encrypted by applying an appropriate tool for image encryption providing the scanned document is of sufficiently high resolution. Either way, there will be a lot of redundancy in the encrypted image file. This means greater processing power is needed for the initial encryption, the encrypted document file size will be larger than necessary, and the decryption process itself will use excessive processing power to retrieve the original document.
Such matters are perhaps of little consequence when considering a short segment of handwriting, but a handwritten report running to many pages would best be encrypted with a more efficient technology aimed specifically at the written word.
Writing in the International Journal of Information and Computer Security, a team from the Higher Colleges of Technology in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, have demonstrated such a technology in the form of a handwriting document encryption scheme based on segmentation and chaotic one-dimensional logarithmic map. The approach takes the scanned document and breaks it up the words digitally into their component parts, grapheme. The pixel locations of each part of the grapheme rather than the whole scanned area of the document are then scrambled with the encryption key. The team has offered proof of principle with standardized test documents and demonstrates how efficient their process is.
The team explains that there are 2 to the power of 180 (2180) possible encryption keys for their approach, which makes it immune to brute-force attacks with current computers. Moreover, their statistical analysis indicates superior permutation and substitution properties for their proposed encryption scheme compared with conventional image encryption schemes applied to the same test documents. The process is relatively slow but the team is now optimizing performance for real-world applications. One additional benefit is that the same technology might also be adapted to different alphabets and perhaps even character-based languages without compromising the performance and efficacy.
Abu-Amara, F. and Bensefia, A. (2021) 'A handwriting document encryption scheme based on segmentation and chaotic logarithmic map', Int. J. Information and Computer Security, Vol. 14, Nos. 3/4, pp.327–343.
Blurred lines in face recognition
Face recognition has come on apace from a cliched trope of science fiction to a reality of the modern world with widespread use in photography databases, social media, and the security world. However, as with any tool, there are those who would abuse it for nefarious ends. New research published in the International Journal of Biometrics investigates one such aspect of face recognition where a third party might "spoof" the face of a legitimate user to gain access to systems and services to which they are not entitled and offers a suggestion as to how such spoofing might be detected.
Sandeep Kumar, Sukhwinder Singh, and Jagdish Kumar of the Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh, India, explain how biometrics, including face recognition, has come to the forefront of security in all sorts of realms from the simple accessing of a person's smartphone to securing sensitive premises. The key to precluding face recognition spoofing lies in the determination of whether the face being presented to the security camera or device is "live" or a static photograph or video rather than the actual person.
The team has turned to an improved SegNet-based architecture that can measure "blur" on the basis of local minimum and maximum left and right edges and calculate blur of horizontal and vertical edges. A flat image such as a photograph or video display presented to a security camera or device would be wholly in focus whereas "depth-of-field" comes into play. With a three-dimensional object, such as a real face, presented to the camera, the eyes would be sharply in focus assuming the camera focused on that part of the face, but the curved sides of the head would be slightly out of focus because they are not in the same plane relative to the camera lens as the eyes. Regardless, it is technically impossible for the whole of a three-dimensional object presented to a camera to be in focus, detecting the blur of parts of the object in front of or behind the focal plane is key to discerning whether a real face is in front of the camera or a flat image.
The team's proof of principle offers up to 97 percent accuracy, which is an improvement on earlier algorithms when tested against standard benchmarks. Moreover, it can determine the "liveness" of a presented face within about one second. The researchers are now working on improving their system's speculation abilities by looking at shading, another characteristic of a real face that is is obvious to a person looking at a face but difficult for a computer to detect via a camera.
Kumar, S., Singh, S. and Kumar, J. (2021) 'Face spoofing detection using improved SegNet architecture with a blur estimation technique', Int. J. Biometrics, Vol. 13, Nos. 2/3, pp.131–149.
Using "ant colonies" to find fake news
Although it might be said that there has been malicious writing since our ancestors daubed cave walls with ochre symbols or the very first scribes notched letters into ancient stone tablets, fake news, spam, malicious and threatening words have come to the fore with the advent of our ubiquitous and always-connected digital devices. We might refer to this as "suspicious content".
New work published in the International Journal of Intelligent Systems Technologies and Applications, developed an optimisation framework for detecting suspicious content in a body of text. The algorithm is built on a biological paradigm – the behaviour of an ant colony.
The individual members of an ant colony carry out tasks and use pheromones to communicate with other members of the colony. They can solve rather complex problems together even though the individual ants lack the cognitive skills to do so. In computer science, the way in which individual ants behave, each acting as an agent in a problem "space", can be modelled in an ant colony optimization algorithm (ACO). This probabilistic technique simulates the way in which the colony finds solutions to problems such as finding and transporting food via the shortest and safest route from food source to the colony's food store and many other colony activities. Previously, vehicle and internet routing problems have been solved using ACO, but the same approach can be applied to finding solutions to other problems such as detecting patterns of words in a large text corpus, for instance.
Asha Kumari and Balkishan of the Department of Computer Science and Applications at Maharshi Dayanand University in Rohtak, India, have focused on mobile phone text message content (short messaging service, SMS) and updates on the well-known microblogging social media platform Twitter. Given the ubiquity of these services in everything from entertainment, internet banking, navigation, trading, and other services requiring short messages, it is important to have tools to hand to quickly and accurately detect suspicious content.
Kumari, A. and Balkishan (2021) 'An ant colony optimisation-based framework for the detection of suspicious content and profile from text corpus', Int. J. Intelligent Systems Technologies and Applications, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp.1–24.
Where's the app for that?
There's an app for that... but which one to choose?
The growth of software – colloquially known as apps, meaning applications – for mobile devices such as smart phones and tablet computers has been enormous. Well-known apps are easy to find or users learn of them through word-of-mouth. However, searching for a previously unknown app that perfectly fits one's needs is not always straightforward.
Now, writing in the International Journal of Intelligent Information and Database Systems, a team from Algeria and France have developed a new approach to searching for apps that homes in on the functionality the user needs by mining not only the app's description but also the reviews left by users. The team's approach then scores the results offering the user the most relevant app to match their needs. The team describes their proof of principle as effective and able to perform better than the state-of-the-art retrieval models for app retrieval.
Messaoud Chaa of the University of Bejaia and the Research Center on Scientific and Technical Information, CERIST, colleague CERIST colleague Omar Nouali, Algeria and Patrice Bellot of Aix Marseille University, France, explain that there were around 30 billion app downloads in 2019 and this number is growing with growing smartphone and tablet adoption around the world. In the Google Play Store alone there are almost 3 million apps, while the Apple App Store carries more than 2 million. "An efficient app search system is essential", the team writes and at the present time, there is no perfect tool for searching for the app you need that you don't know exists.
The team's approach using natural language processing (NLP) allows them to obtain a score for each app and its functions that can be searched by the prospective user and matched more precisely to their needs than a simple app name search might offer.
Chaa, M., Nouali, O. and Bellot, P. (2021) 'Leveraging app features to improve mobile app retrieval', Int. J. Intelligent Information and Database Systems, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp.177–197.
Looking for a sign
A new video equivalent of optical character recognition (OCR) but for sign language is described by researchers from China in the International Journal of Systems, Control and Communications.
Kai Zhao, Daotong Wang, and Jianbo Su of Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Kejun Zhang and Yu Zhai of the Shanghai Lingzhi High-Tech Corporation discuss a system that can recognise Chinese sign language in a video stream and convert the language in real-time into text. Such a system could be used to automate the generation of subtitles for people sharing the video stream who are not familiar with Chinese sign language. The system was built with a database of half a million video segments and uses a three-dimensional convolutional neural network to extract the relevant frames for conversion.
This is, the team writes, "a complete real-time sign language recognition system" for Chinese sign language. It is composed of a human interaction interface, a motion detection module, a hand and head detection module, and a video acquisition mechanism. The researchers have now demonstrated 92.6% recognition accuracy on a dataset containing 1,000 vocabularies. The system would not only be useful in adding captions to video of a signer but could be used in public areas such as hospitals, banks, and train stations where a person signing could talk to a member of staff who is a non-signer for instance.
The team adds that improvements to the accuracy of the system might be made by incorporating skin detection to extract greater subtleties from the movements of the person signing. Likewise, the addition of detection of the signers underlying skeleton would also add to the sophistication of the recognition system and so improve accuracy.
Zhao, K., Zhang, K., Zhai, Y., Wang, D. and Su, J. (2021) 'Real-time sign language recognition based on video stream', Int. J. Systems, Control and Communications, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp.158–174.
Stockmarkets in the time of covid
A new study in the International Journal of Business and Emerging Markets looks at how the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic affect stockmarkets in China and how the "shocks" experienced there were transmitted to the world's largest stockmarkets.
Naveed Ul Haq and Abid Shirwani of the University of Management and Technology in Lahore, Pakistan, used a wide range of analytical tools to examine the ebb and flow of value in the long-run and short-term over the period January 2012 to March 2020, which culminated in the announcement of a global pandemic. The tools included unit root test, Johansen cointegration test, vector error correction model, Granger causality test, variance decomposition, and impulse response function test.
The team observed long-run relationships between stock markets and could clearly see short-run results showing that the previous day's stock prices in Hong Kong and the US had a positive relationship with the Chinese stockmarket. The Granger causality results, however, showed something different – a unidirectional long-run causality from the UK, Hong Kong and Japan to China. In the short-run causality results the effects are bidirectional between China and the world's major stockmarkets.
The team explains how their findings support the well-known prospect theory or loss-aversion theory, whereby investors are generally more afraid of loss then they are encouraged by a gain. This means that given a choice of two different prospects, investors will generally choose the one that has less chance of ending in a loss rather than the one that offers more gains. In terms of the COVID-19 crisis, the study suggests that it was not the socioeconomic circumstances prior to the pandemic that influenced stockmarket reactions but rather the health policies implemented during the crisis that had the most impact.
Ul Haq, N. and Shirwani, A.H.K. (2021) 'Examining the impact of coronavirus on stock markets: investigating the cointegration and transmission of shocks between China and the world's largest stock markets', Int. J. Business and Emerging Markets, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp.206–232.
Women entrepreneurs in STEM
A new study from researchers in Denmark and Germany suggests that despite the growing number of women entrepreneurs, numbers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are now adequately represented in this trend. Details of an exploratory study across Denmark, Latvia, and Turkey, are reported in the International Journal of Entrepreneurial Venturing, and hope to explain this underrepresentation in STEM.
Sanita Ármane, Seda Irem Gärtig, and Silke Tegtmeier of the University of Southern Denmark, in Sønderborg and Alexander Brem of the University of Stuttgart, carried out interviews with a number of women entrepreneurs educated in STEM subjects. They uncovered the women's main motivations, the challenges they face, and the support sources on which they rely to glean important advice for future women entrepreneurs as well as for policymakers to increase the number of STEM-educated women entrepreneurs at the national level.
A recent survey across Europe revealed that only about a third of all the millions of entrepreneurs in the business world are women. This reinforced the long-standing notion that entrepreneurship is a male-dominated field. Moreover, the underrepresentation of women from a STEM background is also rather worrying with most companies run by women not being involved in those areas. Reinforcing a second notion that businesses founded in STEM areas tend to be male-dominated too.
Many observers have argued that encouraging more women entrepreneurs in STEM-related fields is of great importance in terms of economic growth and an enhancing social status. Moreover, gender diversity at the top of any corporate hierarchy is key to ensuring the diversity of employees, again all to the positive in terms of socioeconomic benefits.
This new study points to possible reasons for the shortfall in the number of women entrepreneurs from a STEM background and running businesses that work in the areas covered by STEM. The work shows the apparent differences across three nations and offers new advice on how women from a STEM background might be encouraged to seek out and exploit new opportunities as entrepreneurs.
Ármane, S., Gärtig, S.I., Tegtmeier, S. and Brem, A. (2021) 'STEM educated women entrepreneurs in Denmark, Latvia and Turkey: a context-based explorative study', Int. J. Entrepreneurial Venturing, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp.186–216.
Social media responds to COVID-19
In this Research Pick, we are highlighting three papers from the International Journal of Web Based Communities that focus on how social media has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in this time of worldwide crisis.
The first paper discusses how social media and web-based communities in general have responded to the pandemic whereby small groups of worshippers almost overnight converted their usual activities to the online world without much need for intervention from the hierarchy above, as it were. The second offers a personal perspective on the pros and cons, the benefits and challenges of social networking during the pandemic. Finally, the third paper looks at how faith communities have moved online to allow their congregations to continue with their religious endeavours.
The emergence of a novel coronavirus, dubbed SARS-CoV-2, in late 2019 and its subsequent spread around the world leading to the declaration of the disease it causes, COVID-19, as a pandemic led to many changes in the daily lives of billions of people. Of course, there is the ongoing tragedy of those who suffer serious symptoms and in many cases death, and there is also the ongoing problem of so-called Long-covid, symptoms that seem to persist long after the person has stopped being infectious, such as severe fatigue and significant disruption or loss of one's sense of smell.
The socioeconomic symptoms of this pandemic have seen enormous changes in working practices, closure of many areas of normal life such as entertainment and hospitality, the disruption of sporting events, and more significantly the failure of many companies and enterprises and lost jobs for those affected.
We are yet to fully understand what detrimental impact this disease will have on humanity and at the time of writing, new waves of infections underpinned by new, lethal variants of the disease, are overwhelming healthcare systems in Brazil, India, and elsewhere. Many parts of the world remain in lockdown while others that have escaped the worst ravages so far are keeping a weather eye on their borders in the hope of precluding the spread of a new variant in their country.
The role of social media for the spread of information about COVID-19, vaccination programs, and public awareness of lockdown rules may well have helped reduce the total number of infections and deaths from the earliest and potentially devastating predictions. Moreover, social media and its attendant applications, including video conferencing, have allowed many people to continue their work and maintain family and social connections online in a way that would not be possible without this technology.
There has been a downside to the so-called "new normal" for many, especially those on the wrong side of the digital divide that have no reliable access to the requisite devices and high-speed internet connections needed to make the most of social media and video conferencing and the like. Even for those with access to the necessary tech, the downside of living one's working life and social life almost exclusively online has exacted a toll on mental health for many people trapped behind a screen and unable to fulfil their old-normal roles in life.
All three papers cited below are available in IJWBC.
Isaias, P., Miranda, P. and Pifano, S. (2021) 'Framing social media and web-based communities within the COVID-19 pandemic: enduring social isolation and subsequent deconfinement', Int. J. Web Based Communities, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp.120–134.
Issa, T., Al Jaafari, M., Alqahtani, A.S., Alqahtani, S., Issa, T., Maketo, L. and Pervaiz, S. (2021) 'Benefits and challenges of social networking during COVID-19: personal perspective', Int. J. Web Based Communities, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp.135–148.
Cooper, A-P., Jormanainen, I., Shipepe, A. and Sutinen, E. (2021) 'Faith communities online: Christian churches' reactions to the COVID-19 outbreak', Int. J. Web Based Communities, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp.99–119.
African spaceports cut rocket fuel costs
Space is big business once again, Mars rovers and putative moon landings aside, there is an enormous need for geostationary satellites. With increasing traffic there is also a need for new sites for spaceports that might offer reduced energy costs and simpler launching of new satellites. Writing in the International Journal of Aerospace System Science and Engineering, a team from the Obasanjo Space Centre in Abuja, Nigeria, suggest that African spaceports offer a scientifically and economically viable option.
Rocket propellant is the main constituent of launch weight largely irrespective of payload. Indeed fuel accounts for 90 percent of the launch cost. As such, any measures that might be put in place to reduce fuel requirements can offer substantial savings. A launch site close to The Equator would offer several benefits in terms of reducing fuel costs. Obviously, a stationary object on the equator is moving at almost 1700 kilometres per hour relative to a "fixed" reference in space because of the rotation of the earth. If you launch from north or south of the equator, this boost is lower. Halfway to the pole and the speed boost is only 1200 km/h. Launch from the poles and the boost is negligible, it's also very cold, which is problematic for many other reasons.
Sesugh Nongo, Ngunan Ikpaya, and Ikpaya Ikpaya of the National Space Research and Development Agency explain that the global space launch services market is projected to reach more than 30 billion dollars by 2025 with a 15% compounding annual growth rate. The demand comes from governments, scientists, as well as commercial concerns looking to launch small satellites and "constellations". Africa has several spaceports that could be revived to meet this growing launch demand.
The team points out how spaceports, specialised ground-based facilities built to launch and receive launch vehicles, were largely the preserve of the major industrialised nations until the early 2000s . At that time many developing nations such as Nigeria, India, and South Africa saw the cosmic potential of launching satellites for security and economic development. With the advent of miniaturisation in electronics and engineering, the cost of building the devices to be launched fell considerably, there does, however, remain a need to reduce launch costs. An equatorial spaceport could be part of the solution.
Nongo, S., Ikpaya, N.M. and Ikpaya, I. (2021) 'Prospects of siting a spaceport in Africa', Int. J. Aerospace System Science and Engineering, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp.35–54.
Fame and fashion
This week, Inderscience Research Picks are focusing on a special issue of the International Journal of Internet Marketing and Advertising dedicated to social media influencers.
The effects of perception of luxury and consumer envy seem to drive the influencing effect of social media micro-celebrities, whereas consumer purchase intention is not so sharply affected by the online activities, endorsements, and sponsorship deals of mainstream celebrities. This is the basic conclusion of a study from researchers in Qatar and the USA looking at luxury fashion goods.
Venus Jin of the NU-Q Communication Department at Northwestern University in Doha, Qatar and Aziz Muqaddam of the Department of Communication Studies at the University of San Diego, California, USA have looked at the effects of fame and envy in influencing consumers on the photo and video social media platform Instagram.
Instagram has given celebrities yet another platform through which they can enhance their fame and perhaps their fortune. Conversely, by sharing aesthetically pleasing content, such as attractive "selfies" or presenting glamorous, flawless body images, happy and luxurious lifestyles, a significant number of users have gained some celebrity of their own. "The exponential growth of Instagram and the increase of Instagram stars can be ascribed to social media users' quest for fame and recognition as well as an obsession with idealised self-presentation," the team writes. This new micro-celebrity status provides some degree of power that an everyday user of a website might well never have gained before the advent of social media.
The new findings could offer scholars of business and marketing with relevant theoretical explanations for certain aspects of consumer psychology in this area. Moreover, there are specific implications for marketing and management on how brand managers and advertising practitioners might utilize the influence of micro-celebrity to good effect in selling more of their product.
Jin, S.V. and Muqaddam, A. (2021) ''Fame and Envy 2.0' in luxury fashion influencer marketing on Instagram: comparison between mega-celebrities and micro-celebrities', Int. J. Internet Marketing and Advertising, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp.176–200
The influence of fake food
This week, Inderscience Research Picks are focusing on a special issue of the International Journal of Internet Marketing and Advertising dedicated to social media influencers.
Digitisation and globalisation mean that today, a large proportion of the world can access content and opinion in an instant and conversely share their own content and opinions just as quickly. The search engines and the social media apps, are the tools with which real news and fake news can spread quickly often in a viral manner. This ubiquitous and always-on stream of information and disinformation has led to the rise of so-called influencers, people who by wit or wisdom have found themselves to be hubs within the network. Nodes that have many, many inbound connections from the world at large over any of whom they might offer a guiding word, for good or bad.
Álvaro Lopes Dias of the Universidade Lusófona in Lisbon, Portugal, and colleagues have looked at one area of influence that can have a direct impact on the health and wealth of those being influenced – diet trends. Nutritional advice and the various guidelines we are spoon-fed by governments and food companies may or may not be valid scientifically, it is almost impossible to discern for any given individual, we can only generalize through statistical data. Nevertheless, influencers with an agenda, or worse, with a sponsorship deal may well push certain advice in the name of selling a particular product, whether that's a new supplement or superfood. Any specific piece of advice or finding will not apply to everyone but only to the average and may well be harmful to some individuals in the long rung if adhered to without professional medical guidance.
One might hope that the influencers would be promoting the healthy option, whatever that might be, but Lopes Dias and colleagues suggest that this is not the case. Moreover, the team suggests that regulations should be put in place to control the spread of fake food news, pointless diets and supplements, and to allow only qualified nutritional scientists to have any real influence on dietary guidance, rather than the latest micro-celebrity or health "guru" to gobble up a large following on social media.
Vasconcelos, C., da Costa, R.L., Dias, Á.L., Pereira, L. and Santos, J.P. (2021) 'Online influencers: healthy food or fake news', Int. J. Internet Marketing and Advertising, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp.149–175.
Beauty is in the eye of the influencer
This week, Inderscience Research Picks are focusing on a special issue of the International Journal of Internet Marketing and Advertising dedicated to social media influencers.
The credibility of digital influencers on YouTube and Instagram is discussed in a paper from Elmira Djafarova of the Faculty of Business and Law at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, and Natasha Matson of the Newcastle Business School there. The team has specifically looked at those people who are commonly referred to as micro-celebrities in the realm of beauty on these platforms.
The team found that for "beauty gurus" trustworthiness is the most important factor determining credibility but the quality of the video and images shared and the "professionalism" of the person's profile is also an important part of the public's perception of a given influencer. In addition, the team found that those influencers using YouTube had the most effect on viewers aged between 18 and 21 years old and was less potent in the older target group, 22-29 year olds. This, they suggest, implies that beauty reference group influence decreases with audience age.
It has previously been demonstrated that beauty gurus are responsible for all (97.4%) of the conversation and "buzz" surrounding new beauty products. But, there remains a need to understand the credibility and trustworthiness of such people, specifically from the perspective of a company recruiting a beauty guru to assist with a marketing campaign, for instance.
This latest study offers a cautionary tale for those marketing executives hoping to benefit from the micro-celebrity status of social media influencers:
Marketers within the beauty industry can take advantage of micro-celebrity influence, but do so carefully to remain credible, especially given the fickle nature of social media in general. They add that beauty brands should not push sponsored content and should instead focus on persuading micro-celebrities to offer endorsements seamlessly through their profiles rather than their content. This, one might suggest, is akin to the classic celebrity endorsement approach. Such endorsements are less questionable to consumers and more likely to be interpreted as credible electronic word-of-mouth whereas a sponsored review or product placement might be perceived as less trustworthy.
Djafarova, E. and Matson, N. (2021) 'Credibility of digital influencers on YouTube and Instagram', Int. J. Internet Marketing and Advertising, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp.131–148.
Under the influence
Social media has a lot of pros and quite a few cons. One area in which there is much controversy is in the concept of influencers. People with lots of very engaged followers in a particular niche who can affect the decisions their devotees make in many different areas such as what they spend their money on, their own publicly declared likes and dislikes, their opinions on scientific issues such as climate change and vaccination, and even their voting intent.
The emergence of the so-called Web 2.0 whereby erstwhile visitors to websites became content creators and commentators in their own right has led to the advent of micro-celebrities, people who find themselves famous in a small area among a group of people for their prowess, wit, or opinions in that niche. For instance, people creating informative or humorous tutorials for video site Youtube, for instance, have found fame and occasionally fortune by demonstrating their skills and teaching others in cookery, makeup, music, and many other areas.
Indeed, the world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and countless other apps and sites offers a platform for such influencers that would simply not have existed for them in the previous incarnation of the world wide web where content and influence were in the hands of the original media companies and a few start-ups. Today, many of the social media influencers are emerging as celebrities in their own right and finding they can command a position in the mainstream media through newspaper and magazine columns, podcasts and radio appearances and even presenting and acting roles on television and in cinema.
Inderscience has now published a special issue of the International Journal of Internet Marketing and Advertising, to share the latest research into how social media influencers are disrupting the notion of conventional marketing.
In an editorial to lead the issue Chong Guan of Singapore University of Social Sciences and Eldon Li of Tongji University, in Shanghai, China, discuss the impact of social media influencers over the past decade. "The proliferation of social media marketing, alongside advances in mobile technologies and location-based targeting, has significantly enhanced the capabilities of customer engagement," they explain. This has led to the concept of Influencer marketing which is becoming more contextually relevant with brands and has taken off with this unprecedented connectivity."
Of course, celebrity endorsements and product placement advertising in the media have been with us for many years. However, what is evolving is the concept of what constitutes celebrity and how, given Warhol's axiom that "everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes", fame is something that is grasped or thrust upon the talented and the untalented almost in equal measure regardless of one's actual proclivity for that worldwide renown.
The Inderscience Research Picks this week, dated 21-23 April 2021, will focus on a particular paper selected from the special issue including papers on fame and fashion, beauty gurus, food and diet and the impact of influencers in those realms.
Int. J. Internet Marketing and Advertising, 2021 Vol.15 No.2.
Discerning deep fakes digitally
Computer-generated images are becoming increasingly realistic to the point that viewers might, with a casual glance, assume an image to be a natural, real image rather than CGI, and now even to the point that deep fakes are credible as natural images to all but the most intense gaze and examination.
Work described in the International Journal of Autonomous and Adaptive Communications Systems, shows how a forensic method based on a convolutional neural network (CNN) might be used to automate the distinction between natural images and CGI. Min Long and Sai Long of the School of Computer and Communication Engineering at the Changsha University of Science and Technology, and Fei Peng and Xiao-hua Hu of the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering at Hunan University, in Hunan, China, have constructed a new network model fine-tuned using a database of 10000 images.
The proof of principle shows exactly how well this system can distinguish between natural and artificial images. It even works with JPEG images, which notoriously can often suffer from compression artefacts, be scaled, have high levels of visual noise and the effects of post-processing operations that lower their quality and blur the lines between CGI and a digital photograph.
The ability to distinguish between CGI and natural images has important implications for news reporting, politics, and forensic work all of which are increasingly wont to succumb to fake, falsified, and fraudulent images. The team's approach is based on the Inception-v3 deep convolution neural network and transfer learning. It utilises 2048 dimensions of features in the images, which are extracted by the network for classification to allow the computer to make a decision as to the veracity of an image. In the current setup, this is as high as 98 per cent accuracy for certain types of image. The next step will be to improve performance still further and to perform large-scale experimental tests on its accuracy.
Long, M., Long, S., Peng, F. and Hu, X-h. (2021) 'Identifying natural images and computer-generated graphics based on convolutional neural network', Int. J. Autonomous and Adaptive Communications Systems, Vol. 14, Nos. 1/2, pp.151–162.
Fighting Covid with plant products and repurposed pharmaceuticals
Chemists Kaushik Sarkar and Rajesh Kumar of the University of North Bengal in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India, have investigated the potential of various natural products of plant origin that might be developed into novel pharmaceuticals for treating Covid-19, the pandemic disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. The team details their molecular docking experiments, absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion (ADME), and toxicity studies.
Since the emergence of the potentially lethal pathogen that causes Covid-19 parallel research to understand its behaviour, to find effective treatments, and to develop vaccines have been underway. Our understanding of the virus and the disease have grown enormously within the year or so since the pandemic was declared. Novel treatments and patient protocols have been developed and old pharmaceuticals repurporsed to treat the worst of the symptoms. Teams are working on dozens, if not hundreds of vaccines, and several of these are already being used clinically.
However, in the absence of vaccine "security" and global access to such a prophylactic approach to the virus, there remains an urgent need for therapeutic agents. Given the natural product origins of some 40 percent of prescription drugs, the natural world is always a source of inspiration for drug development. The team has investigated known drugs that have been used to treat lung cancer and bronchitis, and as blood-thinning agents. They have also homed in on a range of plant-derived compounds. All were screened against one of the primary viral protein targets, the covid-19 main protease enzyme (PDB: 6LU7).
Docking studies in which a computer model of a molecule of interest is used to see how well it fits into the active site of the main protease revealed a good fit for the following compounds: disulfiram, tideglusib, and shikonin. Any molecule that fits and binds to the active site of a protein can potentially block or even just slow the normal activity of that enzyme and so inhibit the activity of the virus. The team also carried out ADME prediction studies on those lead compounds. Their success suggests a need to move to laboratory testing and ultimately clinical trials in humans to help in the ongoing battle against Covid-19.
The team found that capmatinib, dabrafenib, alectinib, afatinib, trametinib, crizotinib, lorlatinib, osimertinib and tetracycline also revealed themselves to be effective inhibitors of the main protease based on overall docking, ADME, and toxicity parameters. Of the natural products investigated paradol, gingerol, and vasicine were seen as most promising.
Sarkar, K. and Das, R.K. (2021) 'Molecular docking, ADME and toxicity study of some chemical and natural plant based drugs against COVID-19 main protease', Int. J. Computational Biology and Drug Design, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp.43–63.
Augmented reality for dyslexia
Augmented reality can be used to support children with dyslexia, according to a team from Saudi Arabia writing in the International Journal of Cloud Computing.
Dyslexia is a well-known and well-studied condition in which people of normal intelligence have difficulty reading. It affects between 3 and 7 people in every one hundred, although up to 20 percent of the population may have some problems.
Dyslexia is a spectrum condition with the least affected perhaps having issues with spelling or reading quickly while those at the other end of the spectrum may have problems not only with simple reading and writing tasks but also with basic comprehension of the written word. There is no well-defined cause and a combination of genetic and environmental factors may underlie dyslexia.
Numerous teaching techniques and even equipment such as visual filters have been used to overcome the problem although novel approaches to teaching are the most successful at ameliorating the worst of the problems to some degree for many people.
Majed Aborokbah of the Faculty of Computers and Information Technology at the University of Tabuk in Tabuk City, Saudi Arabia, is working on different learning scenarios for the Arabic language that are based on human computer interaction principles. In this novel approach meaningful virtual information – audio, video, and 3D environments – can be presented to dyslexic children in an interactive and compelling way with a view to improving reading skills and comprehension. This could circumvent some of the particular issues and complexities facing children with dyslexia when reading and writing Arabic.
Aborokbah, M. (2021) 'Using augmented reality to support children with dyslexia', Int. J. Cloud Computing, Vol. 10, Nos. 1/2, pp.17–25.
Post-pandemic industry, just in time
Just-in-time practices could help industry and the economy be rebuilt as countries emerge from pandemic lockdown, according to research published in the International Journal of Services Operations and Informatics.
As the potentially devastating effects of the rapid spread of Covid-19 early in 2020 and the subsequent pandemic became obvious, governments were forced to implement rules and regulations in an attempt to hinder the spread of the virus that causes the disease, SARS-CoV-2. These so-called lockdown measures involved shutting down parts of many industries, the hospitality sector, non-essential shopping, and limiting interpersonal contact through curfews and rules on social distancing. Unfortunately, various industries have been affected badly having been forced to halt the manufacture of countless products as demand plummeted and moreover people were limited in what they needed and could purchase.
Surbhi Singhal of the Department of Statistics at Vardhaman College in Bijnor, India, and colleagues have looked at how many suppliers will have remaining inventory to fulfill the renewed consumer demand for products after the lockdown as the world economy resurfaces. They explain how a just-in-time approach to supply could be the most effective way for industries to recover from the pandemic. Just-in-time has been an ephemeral concept for as long as companies have manufactured goods, if not longer.
The just-in-time idea was implemented widely after the Second World War to allow industry to rebuild more efficiently by only buying inventory, storing and transporting that inventory as it needed it. Moreover, it would manufacture and supply only what was needed when it was needed. The strategy was formalized and used to great effect in the 1960s and 1970s by Toyota. Singhal and colleagues now suggest that the time is right for JIT to be employed widely for the post-pandemic world. They have developed a new mathematical model of JIT that could reduce supply and demand problems with resources, make production more efficient, cut storage and transportation needs, and perhaps even shift the notion of quality inspection to the customer.
As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, the conventional approaches to many aspects of life must change, at least for the time being. This could offer us a great opportunity if we can recover efficiently and not revert to old, wasteful approaches in industry. Having JIT models in place ahead of the next pandemic might also serve us well and make industry, and society, as a whole more resilient.
Singh, S.R., Rastogi, A. and Singhal, S. (2021) 'JIT: the best approach after lockdown in country', Int. J. Services Operations and Informatics, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp.75–86.
Modular news gathering
The use of small processing modules can significantly reduce overheads on computing systems with limited resources available to them when large amounts of data must nevertheless be processed. Research by a team in Greece described in the International Journal of Web Engineering and Technology shows how that approach can be used for content aggregation, information extraction, sentiment tagging, and visualisation tasks.
Iraklis Varlamis and Dimitrios Michail of the Department of Informatics and Telematics at Harokopio University of Athens and Pavlos Polydoras and Panagiotis Tsantilas of Palo Ltd in Kokkoni, Greece, have demonstrated how this modular approach might function well on the social media and news analytics platform, PaloAnalytics. The team shows how their proposed architecture can easily withstand the pressures of increased content load when an issue goes viral on social media, such as when a major event takes place. The micro-modules that replace the monolithic architecture of conventional data-processing systems can quickly release unused resources when the content load reaches its normal flow.
The researchers point out that even from the early days of primitive web crawlers that became the foundation of search engines and other related tools, it was recognized that distributed processing is the only viable way to taming the vast quantities of textual data being generated even way back then. Today, the scale is almost unimaginable with many petabytes of data to be assimilated, aggregated, processed, indexed, and annotated with meaning. The vast realms of the web and social media systems offer us a rich seam to be tapped for information and knowledge if the tools can be built to cope with the bits and bytes.
The team's tests so far were based on analysis of 1500 websites, 10000 blogs, forums, hundreds of thousands of public Facebook pages, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube updates, across six European nations and in six different languages. Their work shows where improvement might be made to build a powerful analytical tool that would be scalable and allow us to soon mine those enormous knowledge seams efficiently and in an effective way.
Varlamis, I., Michail, D., Polydoras, P. and Tsantilas, P. (2020) 'A distributed architecture for large scale news and social media processing', Int. J. Web Engineering and Technology, Vol. 15, No. 4, pp.383–406.
Glenda Garelli of the School of Geography, University of Leeds and Martina Tazzioli of the Department of Politics at Goldsmiths University, UK, have investigated migration "containment" in the Mediterranean. They provide details of their findings in the International Journal of Migration and Border Studies.
The lot of the asylum seeker, the political migrant, is not a happy one. There is an ongoing migrant crisis around the world. The current work focuses on the European perspective where hundreds of thousands of people have over many years fled the country of their birth in the wake of political upheaval and the activities of dictatorial regimes, following serious economic strife, and to escape natural disaster. Unfortunately, the nations within Europe to which the migrants flee in the hope of claiming asylum and a new life are not handling the crisis well.
Many asylum seekers find themselves trapped at sea on rescue boats that scoop them up from makeshift and unsafe vessels, others find themselves turned back to their homeland where they might face serious repercussions, such as imprisonment, torture, and worse. Garelli and Tazzioli explain that "borderwork" in this region has increasingly focused on smuggling activities to achieve migration containment goals.
They suggest that there has been a triple-stranded evolution of the politics surrounding containment of migrants in the central Mediterranean, specifically the sea corridor that connects Libya and Italy. The first strand, is the practice of blocking migrants at sea upon rescue, the team refers to this as the politics of migrant kidnapping. The second strand is the statecraft of civil society whereby those who rescue migrants whose boats are in distress become entwined in smuggling organisation by policy so that rescuers find their activities criminalised. The final strand is the way in which smuggling networks are made part of border enforcement practices.
Fundamentally, these three strands are woven together to the detriment of the migrant. Often rescued migrants criminialised by the smugglerisation of their rescuers are returned home by the Libyan Coast Guard with European support. This means that the nations that would otherwise provide a new home for the migrants need not accept these desperate people nor expel them in "push-back operations". Rescue and capture must be separated to allow those in need a chance of a new life.
Garelli, G. and Tazzioli, M. (2020) 'Rescuing, kidnapping, and criminalising. Migration containment in the Mediterranean', Int. J. Migration and Border Studies, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp.280–297.
Nuclear stakeholders in Korea
Could corruption in the nuclear industry lead to a radiological emergency in Korea should it face a major natural disaster, such as the earthquake and ensuing tsunami that rocked Japan in 2011? New research published in the International Journal Business Continuity and Risk Management looks at the worst-case scenarios in the context of apparent corporate corruption that has led to the use of defective components. The current nuclear power inventory is capable of surviving a magnitude 6.5 earthquake and only three plants built since 2013 could withstand damage from up to a magnitude 6.9. Given that it was a magnitude 9.0 earthquake in the region that led to the tsunami that devastated Japan, the research suggests that Korea is not free of danger when it comes to earthquakes affecting its nuclear plants.
Kyoo-Man Ha of the Department of Public Policy and Management at Pusan National University in Busan, South Korea, has looked at self-interest and all-interest management practices across the nuclear power industry. The local "stakeholders" might be seen as the nuclear power plant operating company, local government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and residents. But, there is, of course, an international perspective too as a major incident at a nuclear power station can affect the neighbouring countries and even the rest of the world if there is a sufficient large disaster that leads to the release of radioactive material into the environment, the oceans, and the atmosphere.
The research suggests that despite there having been an increased awareness of the potential for radiological emergencies in the context of natural and other disasters, emergency management in Korea sees each stakeholder close to a nuclear power plant insisting on addressing problems and dealing with such emergencies at the individual, local level. This completely ignores the fact that a nuclear incidence is a much bigger problem than an isolated issue to be addressed locally and must be seen as a societal and international issue.
Ha suggests a new, more encompassing model of emergency management. The new model provides a framework for a broader strategy that can be implemented in a time of crisis where all stakeholders play a part and the detrimental impact on the wider community and internationally might be minimized should the worst-case scenario arise. Greater stakeholder involvement might also mitigate some of the ongoing problems associated with corruption.
Ha, K-M. (2021) 'Management of nuclear power plant emergency: a case of Korea', Int. J. Business Continuity and Risk Management, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp.52–65.
Crowdfunding your video game
Crowdfunding has become a useful way to obtain financial backing for small and medium-sized projects. Given sufficient attention, particularly via the internet, an entrepreneur or creative, might reach out to a virtual crowd and offer them some kind of future return on their early investment in a product. It has worked well for authors, musicians, filmmakers, and game writers among others. Commonly, a person backing the crowdfunding initiative will be rewarded with a copy of the finished product, such as a book, perhaps with additional incentives such as a mention in the book's acknowledgement or a copy signed by the author or unique in some other way.
UK research published in the International Journal of Technoentrepreneurship, has investigated what factors lead to a successful crowdfunding initiative and what limitations there might be for an independent, indie, video game developer.
Tahira Islam and Robert Phillips of the Alliance Manchester Business School at the University of Manchester, explain how they have looked at the key success factors, which they suggest can be segregated into campaign factors, product factors, and human factors. They have found that a good campaign requires a lot of careful preparation ahead of the actual launch of the call to crowdfunding. It also has to present the goals of the launch well, have an achievable funding model and a realistic target given the timescale over which the crowdfunding initiative will run. It must also have a solid marketing strategy backed by realistic activities to promote the launch and to sustain the campaign.
In the area of product factors, the most important for an indie games developer is to have a playable demo ready for the launch. It should be unique but also have features that will be familiar to the putative investor.
As to human factors, there is an urgent need to have something of a pre-established audience reach. That is not necessarily a readymade audience but the potential to recruit donors from the company's networks, fans, social media, and the ever-important "friends of friends" and "word of mouth" connections. It is perhaps also critical in terms of the people factors that the games developers have a relevant background and that the development team is neither too big nor too small, but just right.
Taking all of this into account, it seems that the primary constraining aspect of crowdfunding is the associated time cost and the stress of running the campaign with all of its marketing and social media updating and response. There is also the ubiquitous worry of achieving the fundraising target as this will determine fundamentally whether or not development continues to place a finished product on the video gaming market. The team adds that, perhaps surprisingly, they did not find intellectual property issues to be particularly relevant to the successful running of a crowdfunding campaign.
The model devised by the team in their examination of the realm crowdfunding for independent video games development works well for this niche but they suggest that it might also be extended to other industrial niches.
Islam, T. and Phillips, R.A. (2020) 'Strategies for reward based crowdfunding campaigns in video games: a context of indie game developers in the UK', Int. J. Technoentrepreneurship, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp.105–121.
Telemedicine is slowly maturing allowing greater connectivity between patient and healthcare providers using information and communications technology (ICT). One issue that is yet to be addressed fully, however, is security and thence privacy. Researchers writing in the International Journal of Ad Hoc and Ubiquitous Computing, have turned to cloud computing to help them develop a new and strong authentication protocol for electronic healthcare systems.
Prerna Mohit of the Indian Institute of Information Technology Senapati in Manipur, Ruhul Amin of the Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee International Institute of Information Technology, in Naya Raipur, and G.P. Biswas of the Indian Institute of Technology (ISM) Dhanbad, in Jharkhand, India, point out how medical information is personal and sensitive and so it is important that it remains private and confidential.
The team's approach uses the flexibility of a mobile device to authenticate so that a user can securely retrieve pertinent information without a third party having the opportunity to access that information at any point. In a proof of principle, the team has carried out a security analysis and demonstrated that the system can resist attacks where a malicious third party attempts to breach the security protocol. They add that the costs in terms of additional computation and communication resources are lower than those offered by other security systems reported in the existing research literature.
Mohit, P., Amin, R. and Biswas, G.P. (2021) 'An e-healthcare authentication protocol employing cloud computing', Int. J. Ad Hoc and Ubiquitous Computing, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp.155–168.
Anticancer drugs from the monsoon
A small-branched shrub found in India known locally as Moddu Soppu (Justicia wynaadensis) is used to make a sweet dish during the monsoon season by the inhabitants of Kodagu district in Karanataka exclusively during the monsoons. Research published in the International Journal of Computational Biology and Drug Design has looked at phytochemicals present in extracts from the plant that may have putative anticancer agent properties.
C.D. Vandana and K.N. Shanti of PES University in Bangalore, Karnataka and Vivek Chandramohan of the Siddaganga Institute of Technology also in Tumkur, Karnataka, investigated several phytochemicals that had been reported in the scientific literature as having anticancer activity. They used a computer model to look at how well twelve different compounds "docked" with the relevant enzyme thymidylate synthase and compared this activity with a reference drug, capecitabine, which targets this enzyme.
Thymidylate synthase is involved in making DNA for cell replication. In cancer, uncontrolled cell replication is the underlying problem. If this enzyme can be blocked it will lead to DNA damage in the cancer cells and potentially halt the cancer growth.
Two compounds had comparable activity and greater binding to the enzyme than capecitabine. The first, campesterol, is a well-known plant chemical with a structure similar to cholesterol, the second stigmasterol is another well-known phytochemical involved in the structural integrity of plant cells. The former proved itself to be more stable than the latter and represents a possible lead for further investigation and testing as an anticancer drug, the team reports.
Vandana, C.D., Shanti, K.N., Karunakar, P. and Chandramohan, V. (2020) 'In silico studies of bioactive phytocompounds with anticancer activity from in vivo and in vitro extracts of Justicia wynaadensis (Nees) T. Anderson', Int. J. Computational Biology and Drug Design, Vol. 13, Nos. 5/6, pp.582–601.
Native reforestation benefits biodiversity
Timber harvest and agriculture have had an enormous impact on biodiversity in many parts of the world over the last two hundred years of the industrial era. One such region is 20 to 50 kilometre belt of tropical dry evergreen forest that lies inland from the southeastern coast of India. Efforts to regenerate the biodiversity has been more successful when native tropical dry evergreen forest has been reinstated rather than where non-native Acacia planting has been carried out in regeneration efforts, according to research published in the Interdisciplinary Environmental Review.
Christopher Frignoca and John McCarthy of the Department of Atmospheric Science and Chemistry at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, USA, Aviram Rozin of Sadhana Forest in Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India, and Leonard Reitsma of the Department of Biological Sciences at Plymouth explain how reforestation can be used to rebuild the ecosystem and increases population sizes and diversity of flora and fauna. The team has looked at efforts to rebuild the ecosystem of Sadhana Forest. An area of 28 hectares had its water table replenished through intensive soil moisture conservation. The team has observed rapid growth of planted native species and germination of two species of dormant Acacia seeds.
The team's standard biological inventory of this area revealed 75 bird, 8 mammal, 12 reptile, 5 amphibian, 55 invertebrate species, and 22 invertebrate orders present in the area. When they looked closely at the data obtained from bird abundance at point count stations, invertebrate sweep net captures and leaf count detections, as well as Odonate and Lepidopteran visual observations along fixed-paced transects they saw far greater diversity in those areas where native plants thrived rather than the non-native Acacia.
"Sadhana Forest's reforestation demonstrates the potential to restore ecosystems and replenish water tables, vital components to reversing ecosystem degradation, and corroborates reforestation efforts in other regions of the world," the team writes. "Sadhana Forest serves as a model for effective reforestation and ecosystem restoration," the researchers conclude.
Frignoca, C., McCarthy, J., Rozin, A. and Reitsma, L. (2021) 'Greater biodiversity in regenerated native tropical dry evergreen forest compared to non-native Acacia regeneration in Southeastern India', Interdisciplinary Environmental Review, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp.1–18.
Protection from coronavirus and zero-day pathogens
Researchers in India are developing a disinfection chamber that integrates a system that can deactivate coronavirus particles. The team reports details in the International Journal of Design Engineering.
As we enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are signs that the causative virus SARS-CoV-2 and its variants may be with us for many years to come despite the unprecedented speed with vaccines against the disease have been developed, tested, and for some parts of the world rolled out. Sangam Sahu, Shivam Krishna Pandey, and Atul Mishra of the BML Munjal University suggest that we could adapt screening technology commonly used in security for checking whether a person is entering an area, such as airports, hospitals, or government buildings, for instance, carrying a weapon, explosives, or contraband goods.
Such a system might be augmented with a body temperature check for spotting a person with a fever that might be a symptom of COVID-19 or another contagious viral infection. They add that the screening system might also incorporate technology that can kill viruses on surfaces with a quick flash of ultraviolet light or a spray of chemical disinfectant.
Airborne microbial diseases represent a significant ongoing challenge to public health around the world. While COVID-19 is top of the agenda at the moment, seasonal and pandemic influenza are of perennial concern as is the emergence of drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis. Moreover, we are likely to see other emergent pathogens as we have many times in the past any one of which could lead to an even greater pandemic catastrophe than COVID-19.
Screening and disinfecting systems as described by Sahu could become commonplace and perhaps act as an obligatory frontline defense against the spread of such emergent pathogens even before they are identified. Such an approach to unknown viruses is well known in the computer industry where novel malware emerges, so-called 0-day viruses, before the antivirus software is updated to recognize it and so blanket screening and disinfection software is often used.
Sahu, S., Pandey, S.K. and Mishra, A. (2021) 'Disinfectant chamber for killing body germs with integrated FAR-UVC chamber (for COVID-19)', Int. J. Design Engineering, Vol. 10, No. 1, pp.1–9.
Wetware data retrieval
A computer hard drive can be a rich source of evidence in a forensic investigation... but only if the device is intact and undamaged otherwise many additional steps to retrieve incriminating data from within are needed and not always successful even in the most expert hands. Research published in the International Journal of Electronic Security and Digital Forensics considers the data retrieval problems for investigators faced with a hard drive that has been submerged in water.
Alicia Francois and Alastair Nisbet of the Cybersecurity Research Laboratory at Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, point out that under pressure suspects in an investigation may attempt to destroy digital evidence prior to a seizure by the authorities. A common approach is simply to put a hard drive in water in the hope that damage to the circuitry and the storage media within will render the data inaccessible.
The team has looked at the impact of water ingress on solid-state and conventional spinning magnetic disc hard drives and the timescale over which irreparable damage occurs and how this relates to the likelihood of significant data loss from the device. Circuitry and other components begin to corrode rather quickly following water ingress. However, if a device can be retrieved and dried within seven days, there is a reasonable chance of it still working and the data being accessible.
"Ultimately, water submersion can damage a drive quickly but with the necessary haste and skills, data may still be recoverable from a water-damaged hard drive," the team writes.
However, if the device has been submerged in saltwater, then irreparable damage can occur within 30 minutes. The situation is worse for a solid-state drive which will essentially be destroyed within a minute of saltwater ingress. The research provides a useful guide for forensic investigators retrieving hard drives that have been submerged in water.
Francois, A. and Nisbet, A. (2021) 'Forensic analysis and data recovery from water-submerged hard drives', Int. J. Electronic Security and Digital Forensics, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp.219–231.
Of alcohol and bootlaces
There is no consensus across medical science as to whether or not there is a safe lower limit on alcohol consumption nor whether a small amount of alcohol is beneficial. The picture is complicated by the various congeners, such as polyphenols and other substances that are present in different concentrations in different types of alcoholic beverage, such as red and white wine, beers and ales, ciders, and spirits. Moreover, while, there has been a decisive classification of alcohol consumption as a cause of cancer, there is strong evidence that small quantities have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system.
Now, writing in the International Journal of Web and Grid Services, a team from China, Japan, Taiwan, and the USA, has looked at how a feature of our genetic material, DNA, relates to ageing and cancer and investigated a possible connection with alcohol consumption. The ends of our linear chromosomes are capped by repeated sequences of DNA base units that act as protective ends almost analogous to the stiff aglets on each end of a bootlace.
These protective sections are known as telomeres. Which each cell replication the length of the telomeres on the ends of our chromosomes get shorter. This limits the number of times a cell can replicate before there is insufficient protection for the DNA between the ends that encodes the proteins that make up the cell. Once the telomeres are damaged beyond repair or gone the cell will die. This degradative process has been linked to the limited lifespan of the cells in our bodies and the aging process itself.
Yan Pei of The University of Aizu in Aizuwakamatsu, Japan, and colleagues Jianqiang Li, Yu Guan, and Xi Xu of Beijing University of Technology, China, Jason Hung of the National Taichung University of Science and Technology, Taichung, Taiwan, and Weiliang Qiu of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, USA, have carried out a meta-analysis of the scientific literature. Their analysis suggests that telomere length is associated with alcohol consumption. Given that shorter telomeres, before they reach the critical length, can nevertheless lead to genomic instability, this alcohol-associated shortening could offer insight into how cancerous tumour growth might be triggered.
Telomere shortening is a natural part of the ageing process. However, it is influenced by various factors that are beyond our control such as paternal age at birth, ethnicity, gender, age, telomere maintenance genes, genetic mutations of the telomeres. However, telomere length is also affected by inflammation and oxidative stress, environmental, psychosocial, behavioural exposures, and for some of those factors we may have limited control. For others, such as chronic exposure to large quantities of alcohol we have greater control.
Li, J., Guan, Y., Xu, X., Pei, Y., Hung, J.C. and Qiu, W. (2021) 'Association between alcohol consumption and telomere length', Int. J. Web and Grid Services, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp.36–59.
Quality after the pandemic
Adedeji Badiru of the Air Force Institute of Technology in Dayton, Ohio, USA, discusses the notion of quality insight in the International Journal of Quality Engineering and Technology and how this relates to motivating researchers and developers working on quality certification programs after the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the realm of product quality, we depend on certification based on generally accepted standards to ensure high quality. Badiru writes that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to serious disruption to production facilities and led to the upending of normal quality engineering and technology programs. In the aftermath of the pandemic, there will be a pressing need to redress this problem and its impact on quality management processes may, as with many other areas of normal life, continue to be felt for a long time.
Badiru suggests that now is the time to develop new approaches to ensure that we retrieve the pre-COVID quality levels. He suggests that in the area of quality certification, we must look at other methods in this field, perhaps borrowing from other areas of quality oversight. One mature area from which the new-normal of certification might borrow is academic accreditation.
The work environment has changed beyond recognition through the pandemic and we are unlikely to revert to old approaches entirely. Indeed, the pandemic has already necessitated the urgent application of existing quantitative and qualitative tools and techniques to other areas, such as work design, workforce development, and the form of the curriculum in education. Action now, from the systems perspective in engineering and technology, "will get a company properly prepared for the quality certification of the future, post-COVID-19 pandemic," he writes. This will allow research and development of new products to satisfy the triage of cost, time, and quality requirements as we ultimately emerge from the pandemic.
Badiru, A. (2021) 'Quality insight: product quality certification post COVID-19 using systems framework from academic program accreditation', Int. J. Quality Engineering and Technology, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp.218–227.
Spotting and stopping online abuse
Social media has brought huge benefits to many of those around the world with the resources to access its apps and websites. Indeed, there are billions of people using the popular platforms every month in almost, if not, every country of the world. Researchers writing in the International Journal of High Performance Systems Architecture, point out that as with much in life there are downsides that counter the positives of social media. One might refer to one such negative facet of social media as "cyber violence".
Randa Zarnoufi of the FSR Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco, and colleagues suggest that the number of victims of this new form of hostility is growing day by day and is having a strongly detrimental effect on the psychological wellbeing of too many people. A perspective that has been little investigated in this area with regard to reducing the level of cyber violence in the world is to consider the psychological status and the emotional dimension of the perpetrators themselves. New understanding of what drives those people to commit heinous acts against others in the online world may improve our response to it and open up new ways to address the problem at its source rather than attempting to simply filter, censor, or protect victims directly.
The team has analysed social media updates using Ensemble Machine Learning and the Plutchik wheel of basic emotions to extract the character of those updates in the context of cyber violence, bullying and trolling behaviour. The analysis draws the perhaps obvious, but nevertheless highly meaningful, conclusion that there is a significant association between an individual's emotional state and the personal propensity to harmful intent in the realm of social media. Importantly, the work shows how this emotional state can be detected and perhaps the perpetrator of cyber violence be approached with a view to improving their emotional state and reducing the negative impact their emotions would otherwise have on the people with whom they engage online.
This is very much the first step in this approach to addressing the serious and growing problem of cyber violence. The team adds that they will train their system to detect specific issues in socoal media updates that are associated with harassment with respect to sexuality, appearance, intellectual capacity, and political persuasion.
Zarnoufi, R., Boutbi, M. and Abik, M. (2020) 'AI to prevent cyber-violence: harmful behaviour detection in social media', Int. J. High Performance Systems Architecture, Vol. 9, No. 4, pp.182–191
Me too #metoo
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious problem. To address it, we need a systematic, multistage preventive approach, according to researchers writing in the International Journal of Work Organisation and Emotion. One international response to sexual harassment problems across a range of industries but initially emerging from the entertainment industry was the "#metoo" movement. Within this movement victims of harassment and abuse told their stories through social media and other outlets to raise awareness of this widespread problem and to advocate for new legal protections and societal change.
Anna Michalkiewicz and Marzena Syper-Jedrzejak of the University of Lodz, Poland, describe how they have explored perception of the #metoo movement with regards to in reducing the incidence of sexual harassment. "Our findings show that #metoo may have had such preventive potential but it got 'diluted' due to various factors, for example, cultural determinants and lack of systemic solutions," the team writes. They suggest that because of these limitations the #metoo movement is yet to reach its full potential.
The team's study considered 122 students finishing their master's degrees in management studies and readying themselves to enter the job market. They were surveyed about the categorisation of psychosocial hazards – such as sexual harassment – in the workplace that cause stress and other personal problems as opposed to the more familiar physical hazards.
"Effective prevention of [sexual harassment] requires awareness but also motivation and competence to choose and implement in the organisations adequate measures that would effectively change the organisational culture and work conditions," the team writes. The #metoo movement brought prominence to the issues, but the team suggests that it did not lead to the requisite knowledge and practical competence that would facilitate prevention. They point out that the much-needed social changes cannot come about within a timescale of a few months of campaigning. Cultural changes need more time and a willing media to keep attention focused on the problem and how it might be addressed. There is also a pressing need for changes in the law to be considered to help eradicate sexual harassment in the workplace.
Michałkiewicz, A. and Syper-Jędrzejak, M. (2020) 'Significance of the #metoo movement for the prevention of sexual harassment as perceived by people entering the job market', Int. J. Work Organisation and Emotion, Vol. 11, No. 4, pp.343–361.
Data mining big data news
While the term "big data" has become something of a buzz phrase in recent years it has a solid foundation in computer science in many contexts and as such has emerged into the public consciousness via the media and even government initiatives in many parts of the world. A North American team has looked at the media and undertaken a mining operation to unearth nuggets of news regarding this term.
Murtaza Haider of the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada and Amir Gandomi of the Frank G. Zarb School of Business at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, USA, explain how big data-driven analytics emerged as one of the most sought-after business strategies of the decade. They have now used natural language processing and text mining algorithms to find the focus and tenor of news coverage surrounding big data. They mined a five million-word body of news coverage for references to the novelty of big data, showcasing the usual suspects in big data geographies and industries.
"The insights gained from the text analysis show that big data news coverage indeed evolved where the initial focus on the promise of big data moderated over time," the team found. There work also demonstrates how text mining and NLP algorithms are potent tools for news content analysis.
The team points out that academic journals have been the main source of trusted and unbiased advice regarding computing technologies, large databases, and scalable analytics, it is the popular and trade press that are the information source for over-stretched executives. It was the popular media that became what the team describes as "the primary channel for spreading awareness about 'big data' as a marketing concept". They add that the news media certainly helped popularise innovative ideas being discussed in the academic literature.
Moreover, the latter has had to play catchup during the last decade on sharing the news. That said, much of the news coverage during this time has been about the novelty and the promise of big data rather than the proof of principles that are needed for it to proceed and mature as a discipline. Indeed, there are many big data clichés propagated in an often uncritical popular media suggesting that big data analytics is some kind of information panacea. In contrast, the more reserved nature of academic publication knows only too well that big data does not represent a cure-all for socio-economic ills nor does it have unlimited potential.
Haider, M. and Gandomi, A. (2021) 'When big data made the headlines: mining the text of big data coverage in the news media', Int. J. Services Technology and Management, Vol. 27, Nos. 1/2, pp.23–50.
Predicting canine pack patterns
Human understanding of animal behaviour is important not only from a purely scientific perspective but also from the perspective of disease prevention and control. This is especially poignant when considering those animals of vectors of disease that can be transmitted to humans and perhaps even underpin the emergence of novel pathogens such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus which has led to the current global Covid-19 pandemic.
Writing in the International Journal of Computer Applications in Technology, a team from Thailand has looked at canine behaviour and how improved understanding might help in rabies control through better animal vaccination programs. Better understanding might also be useful in understanding behaviour when there is a major outbreak. The team has modelled the behaviour of individual dogs and packs (canine communities) and the way in which individual animals may explore new territory. They look closely at the "tie-strength" between any two dogs. They have validated their model on a region of the island of Saibai in northwestern Torres Strait islands, Australia. Saibai lies off the south-eastern coast of New Guinea.
The simulated data fit with actual tracking data to within just over 6 percent accuracy in terms of tie-strength. As such, the team has now simulated canine behaviour in three Thai cities and demonstrated a difference in how tie-strength affects behaviour. This, they suggest, may reflect significantly higher average numbers of dogs in a given area, the larger group distances and bigger connections between dogs and their packs.
The team suggests that the same approach to modelling canine behaviour might be extended to the walking behaviour of other animals with relative ease.
Jiwattanakul, J., Youngjitikornkun, C., Kusakunniran, W., Wiratsudakul, A., Thanapongtharm, W. and Leelahapongsathon, K. (2021) 'Map simulation of dogs' behaviour using population density of probabilistic model', Int. J. Computer Applications in Technology, Vol. 65, No. 1, pp.14–24.
Bio-inspired algorithm detects early signs of breast cancer
A computer algorithm based on a biological process could be used to detect breast cancer more effectively, according to new research published in the International Journal of Innovative Computing and Applications. A team from India has improved on earlier bio-inspired algorithms to develop a particle swarm optimisation and firefly algorithm that boosts detection accuracy by up to 2 percent taking it to as much as 97 percent accuracy.
Moolchand Sharma and Shubbham Gupta of the Maharaja Agrasen Institute of Technology in New Delhi and Suman Deswal of the Deenbandhu Chhotu Ram University of Science and Technology in Murthal, Haryana, explain that breast cancer in women is common the world over and mortality rates are the second-highest and rising year by year. Early detection is critical to timely intervention that can improve prognosis and reduce the number of women who die prematurely from this disease.
The team points out that experiments with many different types of computer algorithms have been researched in recent years with a view to finding a way to automate the detection process from mammograms and improve the positive tests and lower false-positive results from screen programs. Their aggregated algorithm inspired by biological processes has been tested on archived data from the Breast Cancer Wisconsin (Diagnostic) Data Set and shown to have an accuracy of at least 93 percent. By adding a random forest classifier that accuracy can then be boosted to 97 percent, the team reports.
The team points out that there is still scope for further optimization and ti improve that accuracy perhaps by focusing more on the identification of key features in the scan images, such as texture and smoothness. They also add that the same approach might be readily extended to the diagnosis of other diseases by training the algorithm on appropriate data in the same way that they trained their algorithm on breast cancer data.
Sharma, M., Gupta, S. and Deswal, S. (2021) 'Modified bio-inspired algorithms for diagnosis of breast cancer using aggregation', Int. J. Innovative Computing and Applications, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp.37–47.
Living with radioactivity
Recently, environmental protections have been put into place to safeguard non-human animals, plants, and other living things that exist in radioactive places. Indeed, radiation protection of non-humans has been written into the International Commission on Radiation Protection) framework.
New research in the International Journal of Low Radiation suggests that the framework in using a reference animal and plant approach matching the anthropocentric 'reference human' approach has significant shortcomings. While this approach can be implemented relatively easily, it wholly ignores the biology involved in the management of radiation damage in wild populations. Moreover, it simply ignores the complexity and interdependence of natural ecosystems.
Carmel Mothersill and Colin Seymour of the Department of Biology at McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario, Canada, point out that internationally a more ecocentric and holistic approach is needed. Indeed, it is being looked at by some stakeholders. They point out that problems such as biodiversity collapse cannot be predicted in the wake of environmental problems based on measurements made at the level of the individual.
There remain many unknowns and uncertainties in the field. We do not necessarily know what abnormal means in the wider context when looking at individual exposure, for instance. The impact of exposure to high levels of radiation can be obvious, problems arise in our understanding given our limited tools when we need to consider the more subtle effects of low dose exposure, how this affects individuals, across the generations, and across their ecosystems.
The team discusses some promising new ideas, which they suggest may lead to more integrated protection systems involving the ecosystem as a central focus rather than the individual.
Mothersill, C.E. and Seymour, C. (2020) 'Living in radioactive environments: a non-human perspective', Int. J. Low Radiation, Vol. 11, Nos. 3/4, pp.178-185.
Finding the fakers
Hundreds of millions of people use some of the countless social networking sites while billions use those and the bigger, more well-known, sites. A research team based in India and Saudi Arabia reports a new approach to detecting fake accounts on social media sites in the International Journal of Internet Technology and Secured Transactions.
Srinivas Rao of the Department of CSE at JNTUK in Kakinada, Gugulothu Narsimha of the Department of CSE, at JNTUH in Hyderabad, India, and Jayadev Gyani of Majmaah University in Saudi Arabia, explain that there are millions of fake accounts on social media sites. Some of them may well be entirely innocuous, while others are run by scammers, spammers, and those intent on spreading disinformation whether medical, scientific, political, or indeed in any other realm of human endeavour.
"Fake accounts are created for profitable malicious activities, such as spamming, click-fraud, malware distribution, and identity fraud," the team explains. "Some fakes are created to increase the visibility of niche content, forum posts, and fan pages by manipulating votes/view counts. People also create fake profiles for social reasons and it includes the friendly pranks, stalking, cyberbullying, and concealing a real identity to bypass real-life constraints," they add.
In their new work, the team describes an optimal validation model that uses a multi-swarm fruit fly algorithm to home in on the fake accounts once trained. This fuzzy logic approach can readily differentiate between genuine and fake accounts with a view to improving the overall trustworthiness of online identities. The team has demonstrated in their proof of principle efficacy when faced with fake accounts on the Facebook and Google+ social networks.
Rao, P.S., Gyani, J. and Narsimha, G. (2021) 'OVM-OSN: an optimal validation model applied to detection of fake accounts on online social networks', Int. J. Internet Technology and Secured Transactions, Vol. 11, No. 2, pp.109–130.
Eating out in India
Modern life in India with the emergence of the nuclear family, single-person households, late marriage, busy schedules, and more time spent away from home mean that more and more people eat alone in restaurants than ever before. A new analysis in this social shift is published in the International Journal of Business Excellence and looks at this change from the perspective of sacrifice, service value, customer satisfaction, and behavioural intentions.
Prabhat Kumar Singh Kushwah of the Department of Management at the Prestige Institute of Management in Gwalior and Pankaj Kumar Singh of the ICFAI Business School at IFHE Hyderabad (Deemed to be University), India, suggest that customers are more willing to "sacrifice" in terms of paying a higher price for their food if the service is better than that experienced in a rival establishment. However, in conflict with earlier findings by others sacrifice is not a predictor of service value, they report. This, they suggest, may be down to the fact that in an increasingly customer-led competitive environment, many restaurants are offering a lot of incentives to attract new clientele but are not working sufficiently hard to retain their original customers.
The team suggests that restaurants must innovate in terms of increasing service quality offered and service value perceived by old customers. "The right strategy for restaurants would be to provide loyalty benefits to the current customers to retain them with the restaurants and increase the utility of their services of the restaurants so that what they are receiving for what they are giving can increase in other words they need to focus on increasing service value," the team writes.
The next step in the work will be to extend the study beyond the original clutch of restaurants examined in Delhi and Bangalore to draw more general conclusions that might apply to other cities across India. Similar work might also next consider business sectors in the service industries other than restaurants using the same tools to examine the collated data.
Kushwah, P.K.S. and Singh, P.K. (2021) 'The role of sacrifice and service quality in the Indian restaurant industry', Int. J. Business Excellence, Vol. 23, No. 2, pp.153–170.
Identifying crop diseases, there's an app for that
New research suggests that artificial intelligence (AI) might be able to identify and classify diseases in crop plants allowing more targeted application of treatments for specific fungal infections and other problems. The idea is discussed by a team from India in the International Journal of Sustainable Agricultural Management and Informatics.
Nitin Vamsi Dantu and K. Vimalkumar of the Amrita School of Engineering in Coimbatore, and Shriram Vasudevan of the K. Ramakrishnan College of Technology in Trichy, explain that fungal infections in crop plants commonly cause wilting, rusts, blotches, scabs, mouldy coatings, and rotted tissue. Such problems lead to crop failure or inedible produce and massive economic costs to the farmer. An automated way to quickly identify common plant disease and allow targeted treatment to be undertaken could save crops, increase yields, and cut costs.
The team is using deep-learning techniques to develop a system that could be incorporated into a mobile phone app. The app would allow farmers to take a snapshot of a diseased leaf and the app would analyses the image, identify the disease in the crop in the field in real-time. The app can distinguish between healthy potato plant leaves and those afflicted late blight. It can discern strawberry leaf scorch. It can also distinguish between various tomato diseases including bacterial spot, early blight, leaf mold, target spot, mosaic virus, and others.
The tests show the approach to perform better than the state of the art technology, the team says. The system is they say, accurate and functionally very stable.
Such innovations might help save an ailing agricultural industry in certain parts of India as well as reduce the psychological burden on struggling farmers that tragically sees thousands of suicides each year.
Dantu, N.V., Vasudevan, S.K. and Vimalkumar, K. (2021) 'An innovative artificial intelligence approach for disease classification in plants', Int. J. Sustainable Agricultural Management and Informatics, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp.1–16.
Autonomous for the people
A realistic notion of the self-driving car has emerged in recent years and much research is being done to make it a reality. Such vehicles could revolutionize many aspects of life allowing those with limited mobility, sight, or other impediments to driving to be car users nevertheless with all the benefits of independence such vehicles bring to the individual. Additionally, there are those who may never have learned to drive and yet could reap the rewards of car ownership without the complication of understanding steering wheels, brakes, and accelerators.
Writing in the International Journal of Automotive Technology and Management, a team from Germany discusses the market opportunities associated with an aging society. They focus on the transition from advanced driver assistance systems to the fully autonomous vehicle of the future that would enable personal transport for many more people.
Timo Günthner, Heike Proff, Josip Jovic, and Lukas Zeymer of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Duisburg, Germany, explain how there is stagnation in the marketing of conventional cars. As such, comfort and safety features are being pushed to the fore by innovative manufacturers eyeing the prize of selling to an older, richer market more concerned with such features than youthful exuberance and performance, as it were.
The pensionable "silver market", as the team refers to it, is growing and increasingly willing to consider assisted driving systems, such as automatic parking and the like. It will be no great leap of the imagination to shift up a gear, figuratively speaking, and increase automated driving protocols to the point where the cars of the future for this niche will be fully autonomous, given appropriate regulatory approval. The team adds that there is not a simple linear relationship between age and willingness to pay and so more research in this area is needed while the technology that will ultimately underpin it matures over the next ten to fifteen years.
Günthner, T., Proff, H., Jovic, J. and Zeymer, L. (2021) 'Tapping into market opportunities in aging societies – the example of advanced driver assistance systems in the transition to autonomous driving', Int. J. Automotive Technology and Management, Vol. 21, Nos. 1/2, pp.75–98.
Video games can be spectator sports in just the same as traditional sports, such as football, ice hockey, tennis, athletics etc. The majority of sports spectators view traditional sports remotely, commonly via a television with only relatively limited numbers of people able to attend a sports event. This was always the way, but the current Covid pandemic has precluded attendance at live sports events for and pushed spectating further online. Gaming has only ever had a limited number of live spectators and so the positioning of eSports as online sporting events had a head start.
New research published in the International Journal of Business Information Systems, looks at eSports from the perspective of a new era in spectator games from the perspective of the consumer rather than the gamer. Alan Smith of the Department of Marketing at Robert Morris University, Moon Township, Pennsylvania and Amber Smith-Ditizio of the Department of Kinesiology at Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas, USA, discuss accessibility, competitiveness, and socialisation in eSports.
Specifically, the team focuses on accessibility, which includes pricing models and media in which players can spectate and participate. Competitiveness encompasses how players improve their skills, take part in tournaments, and the notion of equality. The socialisation aspect of the research looks at the sense of community that emerges, how gamers can play with friends, and content generated by that community. Most viewers report that they use the internet to spectate on eSports.
The team points out that in order to understand this emerging industry more completely it is necessary to if not discard then untether the research from studies of conventional sports. There is much to learn about how consumers of eSports, who are commonly participants in those activities themselves, sit within this burgeoning realm. Clearer understanding will hopefully lead to progress and improve the way in which future videogames are developed, how professional teams might become better organised as well as pointing to how corporate sponsorship might evolve.
Smith, A.D. and Smith-Ditizio, A.A. (2021) 'eSports: a new era of spectator games from a consumer's viewpoint', Int. J. Business Information Systems, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp.406–431.
Online shopping has been with us for many years. The World Wide Web opened up to the commercial world back in the mid-1990s. However, the web itself has been displaced to a large degree by social networking and online life for many exists almost exclusively on these apps and sites rather than the broader internet. As such, commercial concerns hoping to keep pace with constant change must adapt to take advantage of social networking in the same way that bricks-and-mortar shops had to adapt to the emergence of web rivals. Could the social network be the new shopping mall?
Melanie Wiese of the Department of Marketing Management at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, discusses the prospects in the International Journal of Business Information Systems. She has investigated how quickly users are taking to the online marketplace of the biggest international social networking system, Facebook and considering the moderating role of trust in this environment. Completed surveys from almost 400 uses in South Africa provide the raw data for her analysis.
Fundamentally, Wiese's results show that it is perceived enjoyment and usefulness that are the most important factors determining whether or not a Facebook user will make a purchase through this system. She found that while privacy risk and social norms were not significant influences. Indeed, among the Facebook users surveyed, the majority were more trusting of shopping through Facebook than more conventional online shopping. Her findings could guide those hoping to sell their wares on Facebook helping them to improve their marketing strategies.
The alignment of social networking and shopping has been a possibility for many years, perhaps first mentioned in the research literature in 2010, but hinted at long before that.
"Shopping on social networks presents an opportunity for users to complete transactions within the social network's environment, while it provides brands the opportunity to meet consumers in their space," says Wiese. She adds that researchers and marketers alike need to quick to respond to changes in this fast-moving online environment if they are to make credible and timely predictions. There needs to be a sense of urgency, she suggests, as otherwise cutting edge research quickly becomes out-dated historical artifact rather than forward looking.
Wiese, M. (2021) 'Shopping on social networks: is this the storefront of the future?', Int. J. Business Information Systems, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp.303-326.
The bank of the living dead
The term "zombie firm" was coined in the late 1980s in the context of "zombie banks". In fiction, the word zombie itself usually refers to a monstrous creature that is animated and yet dead. In the context of finance, however, we might think of a zombie as a commercial organization that remains active and yet is unable to pay its debts nor generate a profit. Moreover, the life of a zombie firm is often prolonged artificially by subsidies from third parties such as governments and foreign investors.
Nguyen Thi Tuong Anh, Doan Quang Hung, Nam Hoang Vu, and Bui Anh Tuan of the Foreign Trade University in Hanoi, Vietnam, suggesting that addressing the problem of zombie firms is an important issue at the international level. They point out that many zombie firms are state-owned and invested in foreign transition economies. Writing in the International Journal of Business and Globalisation, the team explains how they have used longitudinal data concerning enterprises and the local business environment in a transition economy to devise a solution to the problem.
They demonstrate that driving out persistent zombie firms in manufacturing industries might be possible by reducing entry costs to a market to facilitate greater competition. The approach, they suggest, may not be effective in non-manufacturing industries.
The team concludes, based on their study of zombie firms in Vietnam, that rather than offering subsidized bailouts to such firms, governments should use market-based instruments to eradicate the zombies and stronger firms to emerge better adapted to the market.
Anh, N.T.T., Hung, D.Q., Vu, N.H. and Tuan, B.A. (2021) 'Does lowering entry cost counter the persistence of zombie firms?', Int. J. Business and Globalisation, Vol. 27, No. 3, pp.333–354.
Luxurious social media
A business case study in the International Journal of Technology Transfer and Commercialisation shows how producers of luxury goods can benefit from a social media presence. Specifically, the team focuses on luxury watchmakers and their Instagram accounts.
Armansyah Adhityo Pramono, and Fitri Aprilianty of the School of Business and Management at the Institut Teknologi Bandung, in Bandung, Indonesia, have tracked the Instagram activities of five luxury watch brands in order to glean information about what works and what does not work on this photography-based sharing platform.
The team discusses the nature of the luxury watch market. It is a growing, sizeable, and profitable market but highly competitive and volatile, they write. There are complexities that need to be understood in order that a brand improve awareness among its target market.
Fundamentally, the team has demonstrated a positive association between social media marketing in this context, the relationship between brand and customer and purchase intention. It seems, as one might expect, that content that engages with the value customers place on status symbols such as luxury watches and their hedonism correlates with purchase intention but has not yet been used frequently in social media marketing for such brands.
In order to reap the rewards of investing in Instagram use for marketing of luxury watch brands, those brands must focus on the values that influence purchase intention the most but also improving the degree of engagement with their putative customers, the team suggests. In a world where social media is commonplace and everyday, brands must highlight exclusivity and authenticity as well as their association with high-status people and world events.
Conversely, there are aspects of marketing commonly used by non-luxury goods, such as consumer feedback and even consumer-led design that do not seem to have much effect on purchase intention of luxury watches. Similarly, special offers and promotions are not as important in this sector. After all, it is the luxurious quality of a brand that is the main appeal not its value for money. Luxury goods are commonly status symbols for hedonists and these characteristics are wherein their appeal lies and can be targeted on social media.
Pramono, A.A. and Aprilianty, F. (2020) 'Social media and luxury brand: what luxury watch brands need to know when on Instagram', Int. J. Technology Transfer and Commercialisation, Vol. 17, No. 4, pp.316–336.
Automated weed and feed
Conventional crop-spraying with herbicide to kill weeds among a crop wastes a lot of the herbicide and raises environmental concerns. A smart crop sprayer might identify weeds growing through the crop and spot spray only the unwanted plants. Work from a team in China published in the International Journal of Computational Science and Engineering, looks at the real-time segmentation of a cornfield to detect weeds that could be used to control such a smart crop-sprayer.
Uncontrolled weed growth in a crop leads to reduced yields of that crop. However, herbicides to selectively kill the weeds are expensive and also lead to pollution. It is in the best interests of farmers the world over and for the sake of the environment, that herbicides are used as efficiently and as effectively as possible.
Hao Guo, Shengsheng Wang, and Yinan Lu of Jilin University in Changchun have proposed a lightweight network based on the encoder-decoder architecture SResNet. They optimized the model so that it can quickly discern weed plant from crop plant in an image.
"In weed identification, the recognition effect is susceptible to factors like light, occlusion, and image quality, so improving the robustness of weed recognition is still a challenging subject in traditional machine vision," the team explains. Their approach offers a lightweight semantic segmentation model based on the encoder-decoder architecture which takes into account accuracy and processing speed. To demonstrate the benefits of their system, they have compared results with classical semantic segmentation models (SegNet and U-Net) and showed it to have competitive performance. The test frame-rate is almost 70 frames per second and so capable of real-time weed identification in a cornfield. Their average score has almost 99 percent accuracy.
Guo, H., Wang, S. and Lu, Y. (2020) 'Real-time segmentation of weeds in cornfields based on depthwise separable convolution residual network', Int. J. Computational Science and Engineering, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp.307–318.
Ageing, entropy, and waste
One theory of ageing invokes the Second Law of Thermodynamics and suggests that in the long-term, the heat energy generated by metabolic changes causes damage to living systems that accumulates as repair mechanisms cannot keep pace with the damage, entropy accumulates, and this is manifest in the signs of ageing that are all too familiar – greying hair, wrinkled skin, immune compromise, organ failure, cognitive decline.
A team from Turkey, writing in the International Journal of Exergy, point out that as is ever the case with living systems, the picture is far more complicated. Indeed, an individual is not truly a single living thing given the presence of myriad microbes that live on the skin and within the alimentary canal, for instance. Indeed, the team from Yeditepe University in Istanbul explain that the human gut microbiota acts as an autonomous thermodynamic subsystem within what we ought to refer to as the human superorganism. These microbes generate and export their own entropy without causing age damage to their human host.
The team's thermodynamic calculations show that between 12 and 59 percent of the metabolic entropy generated by each of us as a whole is produced by the microbial guests in our gut and exported in faeces. This entropy is not associated with ageing damage.
The researchers explain how entropy removal via the waste stream from a chemical plant is well known and discussed at length in the pertinent scientific literature. Given that we know from the work of Schrödinger and Prigogine that living systems must import energy and export entropy to maintain their living state this new research into the entropy export by the gut microbiota could open up new avenues for research into ageing that have not previously been considered in depth.
Yildiz, C., Yilmaz, B. and Özilgen, M. (2021) 'Fraction of the metabolic ageing entropy damage to a host may be flushed out by gut microbiata', Int. J. Exergy, Vol. 34, No. 2, pp.179–195.
Coping with eco-anxiety
Climate change represents perhaps the biggest challenge facing humanity, therefore education has an important role to play in teaching students about how we might mitigate the problems but also how to cope with what might be termed eco-anxiety.
A team from Canada writing in the International Journal of Higher Education and Sustainability, suggests that part of a well-rounded university education must provide students with the tools with which to address the challenges presented by the environmental crisis we all face. Part of this education should show them how to be responsible eco-citizens but also give them the skills to become creative, solution-oriented thinkers. With such people entering adulthood and becoming the innovators and leaders of the future humanity might be able to cope with the acute problems and address the chronic problems facing climate and the environment.
Laura Sims and Marie-Élaine Desmarais of the Université de St. Boniface and Rhéa Rocque of the University of Winnipeg, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, suggest that educators "have a responsibility to create inclusive environmental and sustainability educational approaches that are enabling, emotionally supportive, engaging, and praxis-oriented." Their work focuses on the concept of eco-anxiety and how students might be taught to cope with such a problem in a positive and pragmatic way.
At the time of writing their paper, humanity was facing another major challenge – the Covid pandemic caused by a lethal coronavirus that emerged towards the end of 2019. The pandemic is still with us more than a year later. The team adds that the pandemic has taught us many lessons that can equally be applied to education for sustainability, inclusion, and eco-anxiety. "In living this experience, we have seen people come together, changing their lifestyles, and acting individually for collective benefit," they write. They add that the pandemic has shown us that "we can stop our destructive, consumptive path, if need be, at very short notice, and re-imagine other possibilities…we are strong enough, together, to face existential challenges."
Sims, L., Rocque, R. and Desmarais, M-É. (2020) 'Enabling students to face the environmental crisis and climate change with resilience: inclusive environmental and sustainability education approaches and strategies for coping with eco-anxiety', Int. J. Higher Education and Sustainability, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp.112–131.
Local networks for local communities
Despite the growing number of tools being used to anneal so-called big data, researchers are only now beginning to find ways to handle big networks. A new approach described in the International Journal of Data Science, takes a local community approach to studying networks that could have applications in understanding how disease outbreaks become pandemics, defeating terrorist networks, thwarting malware, and understanding the effect of influencers and viral advertising on marketing.
Ali Choumane and Abbass Al-Akhrass of the Faculty of Sciences in the LaRIFA Lab at the Lebanese University in Nabatieh, Lebanon, explain analyzing huge networks is computationally very expensive in terms of the time and resources needed to process all the nodes and connections between them in order to find hubs and other interesting features. This is especially the case where a network contains densely connected nodes.
Community detection is one approach to circumventing this mammoth task allowing researchers to find the local connections from the busiest of individual nodes. The team is developing an algorithm to find such local communities in a huge network quickly and at a lower computational cost than earlier approaches. The team explains how they start with a seed node and allow the algorithm to iteratively expand on this to identify a community around that node that most resembles known community structures previously seen in real life. Such communities are likely to be the most realistic, after all.
The expansion process builds using a neural network classifier that can discern which nodes ought to be added to the local community and which ought to be discarded. The classifier can be fine-tuned to adjust resolution so that smaller or larger communities can be found within a huge network without the need to retrain the algorithm each time.
"We trained this classifier using three measures that allowed us to mutually quantify the strength of the relation between nodes and communities," the team explains."These measures depend on the proportion of edges that the node has with its community, how much the neighbours of the node are involved in its community and finally the membership degree of the node in the community."
The researchers add that they used the well-known Lancichinetti–Fortunato–Radicchi (LFR) synthetic networks as a benchmark as well as real-world networks from different application domains to demonstrate experimentally the high performance of their approach.
Choumane, A. and Al-Akhrass, A. (2020) 'Supervised local community detection algorithm', Int. J. Data Science, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp.247–261.
Securing the clouds
Cloud computing has revolutionised the way files are stored and shared and processing carried out from the corporate down to the individual private user level. Security remains a contentious issue. As such, there is an ongoing need to ensure data is protected optimally. Research published in the International Journal of Advanced Intelligence Paradigms, discusses an efficient and optimised approach for the secure sharing of files in the cloud.
Cloud computing has been with us for many years now, although still sometimes considered a "new" paradigm. It represents delocalised, distributed, and shared services and allows all kinds of organisations and individuals to offload their storage and computer processing needs on to third-party servers and services, commonly for a fee, in a freemium, model, and occasionally at zero cost to the user.
There are many benefits to cloud computing. Obviously, distributed servers can offer greater processing and storage capacity than local computers. The downside to cloud computing can be the very nature of it in that it is ultimately dependent on a third party for the service and also for privacy and protection of one's data.
Neha Agarwal and Ajay Rana of Amity University in Noida UP and Jai Prakash Pandey of KNIT in Sultanpur UP, India, have proposed an encryption method that offers a hybrid approach comprising a symmetric and asymmetric algorithm. The approach they demonstrate is more secure and more efficient than other current approaches used to protect files for cloud sharing.
Agarwal, N., Rana, A. and Pandey, J.P. (2021) 'An efficient and optimised approach for secured file sharing in cloud computing', Int. J. Advanced Intelligence Paradigms, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp.232–246.
We seem to face apocalyptic forecasts on a more and more frequent basis and yet often the predictions do not manifest themselves in the anticipated doom and gloom. Of course, some predictions have long-term consequences such as those surrounding climate change. However, as with all areas of science, the error bars that scientists know only too well can simply look like uncertainty and dithering to some non-scientists.
Research published in the International Journal of Global Warming suggests that the framing of uncertainty that is an essential part of the scientific endeavour leads to confusion among some non-scientists. The railing against this uncertainty is often perceived as "anti-science" but for the lay public it may be more a matter of being anti-uncertainty. People prefer to know for sure what they might expect to happen in their future, especially when it comes to apocalyptic forecasts, rather than to be faced with doubt.
David Rode and Paul Fischbeck of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, have found that the mere mention in an apocalyptic climate forecast reduces the amount of media attention a given forecast receives. Given that there will be uncertainty, error bars, confidence intervals, and other such matters mentioned in every scientific source, this can lead to a credibility gap. When a report fails to mention the uncertainty, it gains more media traction than a report that does not.
The team has suggested various strategies that might allow the scientific message complete with its uncertainties to reach an appropriate audience without instilling over confidence nor without looking like it is hesitant about the data it presents. The team concludes by alluding to Carl Sagan who warned us that extraordinary predictions require extraordinary caution in communication.
Rode, D.C. and Fischbeck, P.S. (2021) 'Apocalypse now? Communicating extreme forecasts', Int. J. Global Warming, Vol. 23, No. 2, pp.191–211.
Social media burnout
The number of people actively using social media is around the three billion mark. In the current Covid pandemic, such tools are increasingly useful for keeping in touch with friends and relatives when social distancing and lockdown are in place. Conversely, the additional activity and updates means that many users are becoming weary of the information overload and report feelings of "burnout" in using the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other applications and websites.
Research in the International Journal of Business Information Systems, looks at this phenomenon of social media burnout in terms of ambivalence and emotional exhaustion. These two responses to the often overwhelming nature of constant online updates and the deluge of new information, whether worthy or trivial, have been present throughout the short history of online social media but are now being discussed more commonly.
Users talk of "taking a vacation" from their social media apps, having a "digital detox", or giving up during a culture-associated "fasting" period, for instance.
Bo Han of the College of Business at the Texas A&M University-Commerce, Shih Yung Chou of Dillard College of Business Administration at Midwestern State University, USA, and Tree Chang of the Department of Social Work and Service Management at Tatung Institute of Technology, Taiwan, have integrated the concept of benevolence value in the user experience of online social media for the first time.
A new model of the user response emerges from their work that will help guide the social media research community in understanding user behaviour as these services mature and evolve. It should also provide clues for managers of the various services hoping to learn how to preclude burnout in their users and so encourage their continued use of the services without compromising their mental health.
Han, B., Chou, S.Y. and Chang, T. (2021) 'Does the benevolence value matter when social media burnout strikes?', Int. J. Business Information Systems, Vol. 36, No. 2, pp.288–302.
The confluence influence
Someone once infamously remarked that the public has "had enough of experts". This is so obviously not the case in so many walks of life, of course, including marketing and commerce. Social media, for instance, has given a platform to experts in products in a way that members of the public never had before. Those who study popular culture and fashion will have seen the growing follower counts on social media outlets for a small number of people with expertise in a niche area who have colloquially become known as influencers.
Research has now demonstrated what might seem obvious: the greater the expertise an influencer is perceived to have by their followers, the more likely the message they send is to be received positively and acted on by those followers. The research by Kyoo-Hoon Han and Eunmi Lee Department of the department of Public Relations and Advertising at Sookmyung Women's University, in Seoul, South Korea is detailed in the International Journal of Internet Marketing and Advertising.
This finding reinforces what some observers suggest is a positive effect of social media and that observers in the opposite camp see as worrying. Influencers have gained power, it seems, through social media, and with power, there comes responsibility but also the potential for abuse of that power.
The Covid pandemic has led to the move online of many endeavours and activities that traditionally involved physical and face-face interactions. As such, there is perhaps a pressing need to ensure new checks and balances are in place to reduce the risk of the abuse of newly wielded power without stifling freedom of expression, personal choice, and privacy, of course. Nevertheless, given a positive outlook, there is great potential for the new normal of the online world of influencers and their followers. There is also now great scope for research into this burgeoning area within the commercial realm.
Han, K-H. and Lee, E. (2021) 'Viewer responses to product messages using one-person media influencers', Int. J. Internet Marketing and Advertising, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp.104–122.
Agricultural resilience during Covid
The Inderscience Research Picks this week focuses on how online resources are helping people cope in different ways with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Each day, we will highlight and discuss a relevant paper from the Inderscience journals.
This week, we have already talked about working, education, and socialising during the Covid-19 pandemic. This fifth paper homes in on some of the problems facing agriculture in India during this difficult period and offers some solutions.
Shantanu Trivedi and Neeraj Anand of the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies in Dehradun, India, and colleague Saurav Negi of the Modern College of Business and Science in Muscat, Oman, have analysed the agricultural supply chain in the Uttarakhand region based on semi-structured interviews with farmers, wholesalers, and retailers in order to find ways that the industry might be endowed with greater resilience in the time of Covid.
They found that interstate supply issues are problematic at this time and moreover, they found that transportation restrictions, labour shortages, inefficient cold-chain facilities, panic buying, fluctuation in prices, and a lack of collectors/aggregators have all conspired to cause disruption. Ultimately, the issue derives from the requirement that each stage and each transaction has historically required physical interaction.
Face-to-face and other physical interactions would be to some extent unnecessary if information and communications technologies (ICT) could take up the slack on such roles. Indeed, ICT in many spheres has replaced much of the conventional interaction and allowed efficiency to be improved across endless industries. Moreover, ICT is now critical to sustaining those industries while healthcare services and medical science work to overcome the pandemic.
"A knowledge-based view can help in developing a pandemic resilient agriculture supply chain network to support the continuous supply of food products from farm to fork, the team writes.
Trivedi, S., Negi, S. and Anand, N. (2020) 'Impact of COVID-19 on agriculture supply chain in India and the proposed solutions', Int. J. Sustainable Agricultural Management and Informatics, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp.359–380.
Privacy in the time of Covid
The Inderscience Research Picks this week will focus on how online resources are helping people cope in different ways with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Each day, we will highlight and discuss a paper from the publication the International Journal of Web-based Communities (Issue 1, volume 17, 2021).
This week, we have discussed working, education, and socialising in the online realm during the Covid-19 pandemic. This fourth paper applies more broadly than simply during the pandemic and discusses the issues of privacy in the context of online communities.
Chun Guan, Jun Hu, Yu Zhou, and Alexander Shatalov of Nanchang University in Jiangxi, China, have focused on how one's location privacy might be preserved in this era of web-based communities and big data. The team proposes the addition of noise – spurious location data, for instance – to one's personal "data-print" to preclude a third party, or indeed, a second party such as a service provider from, defining your path and position with any precision.
Privacy is not simply a matter for those deemed to have "something to hide". Everyone would prefer to have control over information about themselves after all personal and private data might be exploited for nefarious purposes by others whether that is in terms of identity theft and fraud, targeted advertising, insurance premium weighting, or control by the authorities.
Mobile telecommunications devices are useful to us in many ways not least because they have sensors and software that allow the precise position of the gadget to be gleaned by various methods whether cellphone or Wi-Fi network access point or through the Global Positioning System (GPS), and perhaps other tracking technology. This location awareness allows users to benefit from a wide range of other technologies and use their device's software in many ways that would not be possible without it. Unfortunately, the flipside to these benefits is that service providers sometimes need access to one's location and this can be exploited by them as well as third parties. The team compares to approaches to the addition of noise in their approach and demonstrates that a "centroid" approach is the more effective.
Guan, C., Hu, J., Zhou, Y. and Shatalov, A. (2021) 'Method of differential privacy protection for web-based communities based on adding noise to the centroid of positions', Int. J. Web-Based Communities, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp.53–64.
Socialising in the time of Covid
The Inderscience Research Picks this week will focus on how online resources are helping people cope in different ways with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Each day, we will highlight and discuss a paper from the publication the International Journal of Web-based Communities (Issue 1, volume 17, 2021)
If working practices and education have been compromised by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, then so too, obviously, have our social lives. The limitations of lockdowns and keeping apart to reduce the risk of catching or passing on the virus have been at the forefront of our minds for many months now. The usual places we might gather such as pubs and restaurants, theatres and festivals have all been off-limits periodically in many parts of the world in response to the disease.
How might we stick together even while we are apart? Ardion Beldad of University College Twente in Enschede, The Netherlands, discusses a possible answer to that question looking at how we might sustain our "social capital" through our online activity and the web-based communities in which we dwell, virtually speaking.
As a social animal, the concept of social distancing is very much at odds with our inherent nature. Of course, over the last few years before the Covid-19 pandemic, many people had adopted online technologies for many aspects of their lives. The difference now is that many are essentially obliged to now adopt an online-only social life because of the risk of infection. Unfortunately, the digital divide can now be seen as a gaping maw given that there are many less privileged in society who simply do not have the economic means to access the internet from home, for instance. How we might address this problem is discussed in Beldad's paper.
Beldad also looks at the implications for privacy of the increasingly widespread adoption of online socialising for those who do have access as well as the potential implications for mental health of spending increasing amounts of time in a virtual world, rather than the physical world.
"The clamour to return to normal face-to-face interactions is expectedly intensifying after months of social distancing measures, Beldad writes. But until an effective vaccine for COVID-19 is developed*, people are left with no other choice but to maintain their connections and interactions online."
*It is worth noting that at the time of writing this Research Pick, more or less effective vaccines are now in place in various parts of the world, but much work remains to be done in terms of vaccinating a sufficiently large proportion of the world population to allow us to overcome this pandemic. There are also the ongoing issues of the inevitable emergence of genetic variants of the original virus, which may well have a different susceptibility to the original vaccines.
Beldad, A.D. (2021) 'Sustaining social capital online amidst social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic: web-based communities, their mitigating effects, and associated issues', Int. J. Web Based Communities, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp.35–52.
Educating in the time of Covid
The Inderscience Research Picks this week will focus on how online resources are helping people cope in different ways with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Each day, we will highlight and discuss a paper from the publication the International Journal of Web-based Communities (Issue 1, volume 17, 2021).
Education has in many ways suffered terribly in the wake of the pandemic. Students have been forced into remote learning situations often in environments that are not entirely conducive to learning. This is particularly acute where the housing is crowded or access to the internet and technology such as computers is limited. Commonly, both problems are present for the same students. Young people can often bounce back from problems in ways adults might not, but too many problems in their path can nevertheless lead to long-term issues.
Nataliia Morze of the Borys Grinchenko Kyiv University in Ukraine and Eugenia Smyrnova-Trybulska of the University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland, have looked at the initiatives of private firms, society, and communities in Ukraine and Poland in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and with regard to secondary and higher education. They write that the effects on students and the opportunities available to them or otherwise are very different depending on their position in society in terms of economics, family situation, housing, and health. It might be said, that those in a more "privileged" environment will be able to adopt the alternative learning opportunities more readily while those from economically vulnerable sections of the population may not be so fortunate. The detrimental effect of socioeconomics could ultimately widen the educational divide and thence the economic divisions in society.
The new work looks at how, given access to the internet, how web-based communities might mitigate the lack of face to face meetings between students and their teachers. They ask whether we are in a time of transition that might help us work through the current pandemic and make us more prepared for the next similar crisis that emerges. Based on their analysis of practices and experiences, the team has found ten core elements they suggest are crucial to effective online education in an emergency of the kind the Covid-19 pandemic, and future pandemics, presents.• Ensuring reliable network infrastructure
• Using friendly learning tools
• Providing interactive suitable digital learning resources
• Guiding learners to apply effective learning methods
• Promoting effective methods to organize instruction by adopting a range of teaching strategies
• Providing instant support services for teachers and learners
• Empowering the partnership between governments, enterprises, and schools
• Allowing the crisis to drive innovation
• Developing online and blended learning
• Making online education a strategic priority
Morze, N. and Smyrnova-Trybulska, E. (2021) 'Web-based community-supported online education during the COVID-19 pandemic', Int. J. Web Based Communities, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp.9–34.
Working in the time of Covid
The Inderscience Research Picks this week will focus on how online resources are helping people cope in different ways with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Each day, we will highlight and discuss a paper from the publication the International Journal of Web-based Communities (Issue 1, volume 17, 2021)
Martin Sposato of Zayed University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has investigated the potential of online communities for the implementation of remote working under enforced lockdown as experienced in many countries during the Covid-19 pandemic. The main challenges are the implementation of suitable technology for workers, the maintenance of an appropriate routine for continuity, and the development of a sense of community among workers no longer able to meet face to face or chat over the proverbial watercooler.
In the face of the various challenges, employers and managers have a responsibility to ensure that staff output and productivity are not compromised and that they can sustain the quality of the work being undertaken.
Sposato points out that the unprecedented challenge of the global pandemic has led to the adoption of technologies and practices that were previously only used to any great degree by a proportion of the workforce, tools such as video conferencing. Now, almost everyone who is able and has perhaps been forced to work from home, maybe for the first time has had to become familiar and adept at using rather quickly a range of tools that may not have been part of their normal daily work before.
Remote working, Sposato explains, is changing the employment landscape significantly. Indeed, in some areas of employment, it has become increasingly obvious that the daily commute need no longer be a part of the routine and a large proportion of many types of work can be done without staff ever needing to set foot in their employer's premises. Moreover, there is even an indication for some forms of business maintaining premises may not even be necessary.
Once we emerge from the current crisis situation at some point in the future, the new normal may look very different from the old normal for workers everywhere. Sposato suggest that there is a pressing need to develop web-based community that could increase the effectiveness of remote working and create systems that foster engagement among members of those communities. Work is in a state of flux while the pandemic is ongoing, both employers and employees need to take stock and those with the abilities need to plot our route through the pandemic to that new working normal.
Sposato, M. (2021) 'Remote working in the time of covid-19: developing a web-based community', Int. J. Web Based Communities, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp.1–8.
Consumer behaviour and the corporate response to a changing marketing landscape have been driven by the advent of social media over the last 15 years or so. There are pros and cons, but companies that manage their social media outlets and engage with customers in a positive way can reap the rewards and manage their brands for an improved bottom line.
Just how much of a boost to corporate success good brand management in social media and online social networks can be is still up for debate given the relatively small amount of research that has been undertaken in this area. Work published in the International Journal of Electronic Business, investigates the relationship between different content categories and user engagement as well as the impact on user trust of a brand and their ultimate intention to buy the brand.
Vincent Göttel, Bernd Wirtz, and Paul Langer of the German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer analysed 247 Facebook brand communities. As one would perhaps expect, they found that entertaining, vivid, informative, and credible content had a positive effect on user engagement. This positive effect is ultimately reflected in trust in a brand and purchase intention.
The team writes that "This study represents one of the first confirmatory empirical research papers about success factors of social media brand community management in terms of content categories provided by community managers which positively influence user engagement." They thus suggest it could serve as the basis for future related conceptual and empirical research.
Göttel, V., Wirtz, B.W. and Langer, P.F. (2021) 'Success factors of brand community management in social media', Int. J. Electronic Business, Vol. 16, No. 1, pp.1–31.
Twitter stress testing
Psychological stress is an important determinant of mental health. Its early detection might allow interventions to be made to preclude chronic problems. Writing in the International Journal of High Performance Computing and Networking, a team from India, has turned to an analysis of updates on the well-known social media service, Twitter, with a view to detecting psychological stress in the platform's users based on the characteristics of the user's updates, or "tweets".
Aysha Khan and Rashid Ali of the Department of Computer Engineering at ZHCET, AMU in Aligarh, India, explain how traditional psychological stress detection techniques require specialists and professional equipment. Machine learning could be used to analyse twitter output and automate the process of detection, the researchers suggest.
The pressures of life inevitably lead to stress in some individuals, they always have. Stress can not only lead to problems with mental health, but this can spill over into physical problems such as raised blood pressure and the concomitant increased risks of cardiovascular disease associated with that condition. There is growing evidence that chronic stress can also have a detrimental impact on one's immune system and perhaps even increase the risks of certain diseases, including cancer.
Online social networking via sites such as Twitter, has radically changed the way we communicate, share information, and perceive the flow of news and updates we receive. For many, these outlets have opened up boundless possibilities for improvement, for others, the constant need to share and garner validation has led to increasing stress. The picture is complicated and many factors feed in and out of the bigger perspective of how online social network affects us on a daily and ongoing basis. The team has demonstrated a novel approach to extracting the mood and mental state of users in an automated manner that could ultimately be employed by health workers to detect stress in the people they care for.
Khan, A. and Ali, R. (2020) 'Stress detection from Twitter posts using LDA', Int. J. High Performance Computing and Networking, Vol. 16, Nos. 2/3, pp.137–147.
Indigenous knowledge during a pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic caused by the emergent coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has forced nations to radically overhaul their healthcare systems in order to cope with the new pressures of millions of sick people. Innovation is still needed, especially in Africa. New research published in the International Journal of Technological Learning, Innovation and Development, suggests that indigenous knowledge could assist in this regard.
Olawale Olaopa of the Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University in Dammam, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has explored and examined the role of traditions and practices in influencing community and individual perceptions of health and illness, prevention, cure, and management of COVID-19. The main conclusion is that indigenous knowledge can benefit the community and might even reduce the impact of the pandemic. This will be especially true if the indigenous knowledge is used synergistically with scientific understanding and undertaken in an environmentally aware manner.
"Indigenous knowledge remains a fundamental aspect of social culture and inheritance communicated and transferred verbally from one generation to the next," writes Olaopa. This tradition has for countless generations played a vital role in the life of the community. It has a potent effect on the socio-economic conditions and political situations in which the community lives as well as affecting the spiritual lives of people. It is more than forty years since the World Health Assembly (WHA) first recognized and supported indigenous knowledge in traditional medical practices and it is to this day seen as a critical component of primary health management at the level of local communities.
Olaopa suggests, based on his ethnomedical, explanatory, and health promotion model, that students of health-related disciplines and related fields should be encouraged to study indigenous knowledge and the associated traditional medicine. They might also benefit from an internship in a rural community where traditional medicine is used. This, he suggests, could help "remove the various misgivings, misconceptions, and prejudices against traditional medicines and practices."
Olaopa, O.R. (2020) 'Harnessing African indigenous knowledge for managing the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa', Int. J. Technological Learning, Innovation and Development, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp.267–290.
A case of whiskey during covid
A case study of a US whiskey company examines the business operations from grain to glass with particular focus on the company's downstream supply chain and how the global coronavirus pandemic has affected risks, efficiencies, and modes of distribution.
Angelyn Bidlack, Jenny Fisher, Lascelles Hussey, Alyssa Rudner, and Janaina Siegler of the Lacy School of Business at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, explain how the company Midwest Whiskey was established by partners in 2014 who had left their previous day jobs to pursue this new business venture. Their ethos was to create and market a line of inexpensive, whiskeys produced entirely within Indiana, from grain to glass. Bourbon whiskey is legally required to be derived from at least 51% corn. Given that Indiana is the fifth biggest corn producer in the USA, it seemed a natural fit.
The company's success brought challenges for the majority shareholder Casey Dixon as did grain storage and efforts to expand into bigger wholesale markets with the requisite state and federal laws. At the start of 2020, the company, nevertheless was poised for bigger and better things. New staff had been taken on, aging barrels acquired. Then Covid-19 emerged, rocking almost every industry worldwide. The team discusses the company's response to the pandemic and how the environment for growth changed significantly through the course of the year.
One avenue of growth is the premium mixer market for home cocktail makers. While mixers are not the core business, they do open up lateral marketing possibilities as well as help raise brand awareness. Other creative marketing and business approaches are discussed in the case study that may well offer lessons to other companies as well as revealing to business students how companies are forced to adapt in the face of adversity.
At the time of writing, the pandemic is anything but over, a future of bustling, thriving restaurants and tasting rooms can be hoped for, but there is a long way to go before our new normal becomes the old normal once more.
Bidlack, A., Fisher, J., Hussey, L., Rudner, A. and Siegler, J. (2020) 'From grain to glass to COVID-19', Int. J. Teaching and Case Studies, Vol. 11, No. 4, pp.358–374.
Destressing managers with yoga
Researchers in India have studied the effects of yoga practice on mindfulness, emotional wellbeing, and other measures of mental health among senior managers at a multinational petroleum company. Writing in the International Journal of Indian Culture and Business Management, the team explain the short-term benefits of a five-day residential yoga course and suggest that ongoing practice might be needed to preclude relapse in the context of a manager's psychological stress.
Psychological stress among managers in high-risk corporations is well known. Maintaining mental health in the workplace can be difficult for many and adopting a healthy work-life balance is often precluded by the nature of the job. There are many tools one might use to encourage management and others within any organisation to improve their own wellbeing including exercise, rest, and recreation. Yoga is often cited by practitioners and advocates as a useful approach to adopt in one's life for improved physical and mental health.
Solid research into the realities of its effects on individuals in this context is somewhat lacking, however. The present work remedies that situation to some degree and offers a baseline from which additional studies might build to demonstrate the efficacy of yoga practice as a tool in improving workplace wellbeing. The team suggests that even 30 minutes of daily practice with cyclic meditation can have benefits for psychologically stressed managers.
Sreekumar, T.S., Nagendra, H.R. and Ilavarasu, J.V. (2021) 'Effect of yoga intervention on mindfulness, perceived stress, emotion regulation and affect: a study on senior managers in an Indian multinational corporate', Int. J. Indian Culture and Business Management, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp.37–52.
Cleaning up noisy photos
Researchers writing in the International Journal of Arts and Technology, have proposed the use of the affine transformation to improve the performance of the edge fusion algorithms for removing noise from digital photographs, specifically in the art world.
Lei Zhao of the School of Fine Arts and Design at Mudanjiang Normal University in Mudanjiang, China, demonstrates how noise can be reduced using this transformation by about 74 per cent. Smoothing is also greatly improved when compared to two well-known approaches – non-subsampled contourlet transform and hybrid particle swarm optimisation.
Noise in a photograph is a random variation of brightness or colour in the image. In monochrome print photography, noise is often referred to as grain and is sometimes a desirable artefact. It may well also be desirable in some context in digital photography or the scanning of otherwise low-noise photographic prints. More commonly, however, avoiding the generation of noise in an image is preferred but not always possible. For photographic images taken under low-light conditions and the requisite high camera sensitivity values (high ISO) inherent noise is almost unavoidable. Such noise may be manifest as a lack of clarity between areas that would otherwise be of high contrast or else appear as a random, fuzzy veil of purple speckles in a colour image, or grey specks in a monochrome image.
"The proposed fusion algorithm based on radiation transformation can better meet the requirements of edge fusion of art photography images," the team writes. They add that they hope to further improve the smoothness of the fusion and improve the effect of the fused art photography image still further.
Zhao, L. (2020) 'Edge fusion algorithm of art photography image based on affine transformation', Int. J. Arts and Technology, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp.301-316.
Green and fuzzy decision making
Sometimes there is too much choice when a purchasing decision needs to be made. Consumers are often flummoxed by the myriad pros and cons of many alternative products. Often, a decision comes down to a single factor rather than an informed balance of all the options. As such, a purchase might be made that ultimately does not accommodate all of the original consumer's needs and requirements leading to buyer's remorse and disappointment. Environmental and "green" considerations are also now increasingly invoked in addition to the needs of the consumer in the decision-making process.
Tien Chin Wang and Yen Ying Huang of the Department of International Business at the National Kaohsiung University of Sciences and Technology, in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, have investigated the often conflicting factors using fuzzy VIKOR analysis to look at how consumers choose between "green" domestic appliances. This approach allows complicated factors to be reasonably described in conventional quantitative expressions to get quantitative and rational explanations for given purchasing decisions.
The team's conclusions could help marketing companies find better approaches to advertising the company products and reducing the amount of conflicting and confusing information the consumer must cope with in making their decision. The team concludes that the significance of their study is to accurately identify the most likely factors affecting consumers' purchase decision, so that the industry might optimise the use of limited marketing budgets.
Wang, T.C. and Huang, Y.Y. (2020) 'Application of fuzzy VIKOR on consumers purchasing the green home appliances', Int. J. Green Economics, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp.349–365.
Sustainable electric aircraft
Research published in the International Journal of Sustainable Aviation, looks at the opportunities and challenges facing the aviation industry in its aspirations to employ electric aircraft rather than adopt biofuels.
Diego Lentini of Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy and Hernán Tacca of the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina, explain how the growth of air travel in recent years, Covid pandemic aside, has led to a massive increase in emissions of greenhouse gases and ozone-depleting substances. New ways to power aircraft that are carbon neutral, pollution free, and sustainable are now urgently needed the industry is to become sustainable. Dedicated airframes are now needed in order to make the transition to sustainable, electrically powered aircraft.
Fundamentally, putative electric aircraft suffer from a significant limit on their range. Other types, such as turbo electric aircrafts require liquid hydrogen, which brings its own serious challenges. And, hybrid-electric aircraft require smaller wings and thus can handle only a smaller load.
The team's analysis of current technological solutions and proposals suggests that many of the options envisaged for electric aircraft can give "only a limited relief of the aviation environmental impact, and imply substantial extra costs." Turbo aircraft fed by liquid hydrogen may well offer a viable alternative provided the hydrogen is sustainably sourced, the team suggests, but this would require serious consideration in terms of safety. The team concludes that before electric fleets become tenable for the aviation industry there needs to be a "paradigm shift in the fuel infrastructure development, and above all, a decisive policy shift in the way environmental problems are tackled." There perhaps remains a significant delay in departures before we see electric aircraft taxiing to the runways and taking to the skies.
Lentini, D. and Tacca, H.E. (2020) 'Opportunities and challenges for electric propulsion of airliners', Int. J. Sustainable Aviation, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp.247–259.
Detecting tongue cancer
Progress in image processing has allowed many advances in medicine. Work published in the International Journal of Biomedical Engineering and Technology now shows how an efficient and optimised system for image processing can be used to distinguish cancerous lesions on the tongue from other non-cancerous features.
Mahnoor Rasheed, Ishtiaq Ahmad, Sumbal Zahoor, Muhammad, and Nasir Khan of The University of Lahore in Pakistan, point out that tongue cancer is a rare form of cancer, but nevertheless can be very debilitating and in the worst cases just as lethal as other cancers. Advanced and precise early detection of cancer of any kind can lead to a better prognosis and outcome for the patient.
The new approach to tongue cancer detection involves a two-step process. In the first, advanced filtering techniques are applied to "clean" images by removing noise from the micrographs obtained from tissue cultures. In the second phase, the image is segmented to allow the computer algorithm to analyse the details in the image and discern those features associated with cancer. The team tested three segmentation and detection techniques and while all three worked well, the most efficient and accurate was the marker controlled watershed method.
The team explains that the field of medical science for the detection of cancerous cells in different parts of the body is vast and challenging. An iteration of this sort focusing on a specific form of cancer takes medicine a step forward in this ongoing battle.
Rasheed, M., Ahmad, I., Zahoor, S. and Khan, M.N. (2020) 'An efficient and optimised system for detection of cancerous cells in tongue', Int. J. Biomedical Engineering and Technology, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp.391–412.
Conflict and environment
In the face of ongoing conflict and environmental degradation, how might a nation, such as Nigeria, build a democracy that might be sustained? That is the question addressed by work published in the International Journal of Sustainable Society.
Adaora Osondu-Oti of the Department of International Relations and Diplomacy in the College of Social and Management Sciences at Afe Babalola University has studied environmental degradation across Niger Delta and the attendant conflict in that part of the world using a qualitative case-study approach.
"Niger Delta is one of the most polluted cities in the world with resultant conflict that has caused immeasurable harm to the people," writes Osondu-Oti. She suggests that the Nigerian government must work assiduously towards ensuring environmental sustainability and responding to the plights of the people. This is the peaceful route towards a sustainable democratic society amid the double jeopardies of environmental degradation and conflict.
The region, Osondu-Oti says, has suffered massive pollution of land, water, flora, and fauna, which have decimated the resources on which it depends since oil was first discovered in the Niger Delta in the 1960s. It is said that democracy is receding and the people in such places are not benefiting from its promise in the way that they had hoped.
"Economic, social, and environmental sustainability are crucial for legitimacy, smooth functioning, and ultimately the sustainability of democracy," Osondu-Oti writes. "Yet, little steps are being made towards achieving sustainability in the country, as evident in the Niger Delta region."
Osondu-Oti, A. (2020) 'Can Nigeria build a sustainable democratic society in midst of environmental degradation and conflict?', Int. J. Sustainable Society, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp.326–341.
Scheduling staff and restaurant robots
Once we emerge from the Covid pandemic, there will remain a need for some level of social distancing in public places such as restaurants or at the very least an increase in automation for serving and billing. Writing in the International Journal of Simulation and Process Modelling, a team from Japan has investigated how restaurants might best manage scheduling when staff are working alongside robotic counterparts.
Takashi Tanizaki of Kindai University, Takeshi Shimmura of Ritsumeikan University, Nobutada Fujii of Kobe University, and Antonio Oliveira Nzinga Rene of Toyama Prefectural University, explain that the use of robots in the workplace has increased in recent years. Robots can carry out the more mundane, or low-value-added, tasks that are perceived as too menial for staff. This also frees up employees to improve customer relations, boost return visits to an establishment, and even improve profit margins for the owners.
In all, the team suggests that balancing customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and management satisfaction may well be mutually exclusive to some degree. The team's study has focused on finding a way to boost all three without any increase in one leading to a negative impact on the others.
"The simulation results show that increasing the utilisation of robots for low value-added work and hall staff for high value-added work with customer contact contributes to improvements in customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and management satisfaction in restaurants," the team writes.
The question remains though...how much do you tip a robot?
Tanizaki, T., Shimmura, T., Fujii, N. and Rene, A.O.N. (2020) 'Staff scheduling in restaurants where hall staff and robots cooperate', Int. J. Simulation and Process Modelling, Vol. 15, No. 6, pp.571–583.
Nostalgia ain't what it used to be
Exploiting nostalgia is a well-worn emotive approach to enticing customers to purchase a product or service. New work in the International Journal of Electronic Marketing and Retailing, has looked at how a person's character affects whether or not they are susceptible to what is commonly referred to as nostalgia marketing. One of the main findings from the work is that given a high-quality product nostalgia marketing will be successful even given a concomitant high price, the team has found.
Kyunghee Kim, Ahreum Hong, and Yannan Li of the Graduate School of Technology Management at Kyung Hee University in South Korea explain how nostalgia appeals at an emotional level for many people. It is used in many areas of human endeavour books and movies, fashion and food, and more broadly in the marketing of such things. "People often have good memories of their past and enjoy looking back to happy times," the team writes. "They enjoy being reminded of happy memories with family and friends." As such, incorporating themes or products from the past marketers can create a unique emotional feeling in their putative customers.
The team points out that there are negative associations with nostalgia. In recent years, rather than being perceived as a positive thing, there has been a suggestion that nostalgia is somehow a psychological problem associated with an unrequited desire for the past. This is then associated with melancholy, depression, and loneliness. A more holistic view of nostalgia would be inclusive of such negative connotations but also the more positive side. A balanced view of nostalgia would see it as a complex emotion or mood associated with reflection on the past whether people, experience, ideas, or objects that are no longer part of someone's present situation.
The team suggests that marketers need to reflect on how nostalgia "ain't what it used to be" if they are to benefit from improved sales when exploiting this emotion in their advertising efforts.
Kim, K., Hong, A. and Li, Y. (2021) 'Effects of consumer personal characteristics and psychological factors on nostalgia marketing', Int. J. Electronic Marketing and Retailing, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp.89–109.
Artificial intelligence for food security
AI, or artificial intelligence, is attracting great attention across many industries, even food production, according to research published in the International Journal of Society Systems Science.
Darrell Burrell of Florida Institute of Technology, in Fort Lee, Virginia, USA, and colleagues point out that given the growing world population, which is expected to reach almost ten billion by 2050 there is an urgent need to develop properly sustainable agricultural practices and ensure food security at a much higher level than has ever been attempted in the past. This, they suggest, might only be possible with the rapid development of technologies such as AI.
With a global population of around 7.8 billion people in 2021, there are at least a billion people who suffer chronic hunger and malnutrition. This crisis is a result of inefficient food production and distribution systems, the team says and undeveloped agricultural land. We need a process improvement initiative to address this problem now, but also to create contingency for the growing population.
"These new technologies are creating the need for new educational and new awareness programs to inform and train farmers on the existence and utilities of these new advances," the team writes. Agricultural students and others need to be taught about robotics, computer science, cybersecurity, information security, and engineering, and other tools that will be needed to on farms of the future. They add that the technologies need to be opened up to parts of the world where food security is not guaranteed and people are chronically hungry too. Humanitarian aid and hunger aid must be apportioned to developing and underserved countries to help them advance food security and solve this global problem.
Burrell, D.N., Burton, S.L., Nobles, C., Dawson, M.E. and McDowell, T. (2020) 'Exploring technological management innovations that include artificial intelligence and other innovations in global food production', Int. J. Society Systems Science, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp.267–285.
Blending rules for 3D printing bone
By combining synthetic polymers and natural materials it is possible to increase the range of characteristics that might be fabricated using 3D printing of components, according to research published in the International Journal of Nano and Biomaterials. In a proof of principle, the team has demonstrated how one such blend emulates the material properties of bone.
Gajanan Thokal and Chandrakant Patil of Amravati University in Maharashtra, India, have investigated the potential of blends of polyamide (PA12) and nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) with formic acid solution. The team used scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to investigate the structures of the components they produced using 3D printing of these blends. Standard stress and strength tests were also carried out as well as porosity measurements.
Ultimately, the team demonstrated that certain formulations could mimic the structure and characteristics of bone, perhaps opening up the possibility of printing 3D prosthetic bone parts for surgical repair and replacement. Such materials might have greater biocompatibility than conventional metal implants, the team suggests. There are also the advantages of improving the load bearing and re-implantation opportunities when a prosthetic implant ultimately wears out with use. In addition, such blended materials might well have improved bonding and implantation with the surrounding tissue due to their porous nature when compared with solid metal components.
The team points out that the specific type of bone their blended material emulates is that of the goat. As such animal trials of implants based on this substance might be carried out in this animal prior to their being used in humans although the specific formulation would inevitably require some modification for human use.
Thokal, G.N. and Patil, C.R. (2020) 'Finite element analysis of synthetic and natural polymer blends made by 3D printing', Int. J. Nano and Biomaterials, Vol. 9, Nos. 3/4, pp.105–122.
Measuring up for fashion
An international research team has reviewed how big data might be useful in the realm of fashion retailing. They offer their conclusions in the International Journal of Management Concepts and Philosophy.
Dag Øivind Madsen of the School of Business, University of South-Eastern Norway, Emmanuel Sirimal Silva of the University of the Arts London, and Hossein Hassani of the University of Tehran, Iran, suggest that big data is disrupting the fashion industry in unprecedented ways and has revolutionized traditional business models. "Leading fashion brands and new start-ups are both using big data analytics to improve business operations and maximise profitability," they explain. In their work, take stock of the research literature in this area and summarise the fashion industry's current position.
The team points out that there is evidence of many fashion brands actively engaging with social media whilst the most proactive fashion brands such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Michael Kors, and Pink Boutique, to name but a few, are already making the most of their online presence. They add that they have found evidence indicating that brands such as Zara, H&M, ASOS, Adidas, Hugo Boss, Macy's, Montblanc, Tory Burch, GAP, and Ralph Lauren are using big data analytics to improve their operations.
They have now identified five main drivers for the use of big data analytics in the fashion industry. The first one is that big data can allow trend prediction. Secondly, it can facilitate waste reduction. Thirdly it can be used to improve the consumer experience and engagement, and marketing. Fourthly, big data can be utilized to improve quality control and reduce the spread of counterfeit garments. Finally, big data can shorten supply chains.
There remain challenges the team has found as the industry seeks to model its markets and consumer behaviour but big data is weaving the way forward.
Madsen, D.Ø., Silva, E.S. and Hassani, H. (2020) 'The application of big data in fashion retailing: a narrative review', Int. J. Management Concepts and Philosophy, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp.247-274.
Alternative approaches to understanding critique in the field of design studio teaching are discussed in the Journal of Design Research. Jason McDonald of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah and Esther Michela of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee, USA, suggest that rather than viewing critique as being primarily about educational outcomes, such as accumulating design knowledge, or socializing students to a particular profession, they hope their insights will help students move forward as individuals.
In design education the term "critique" is flexible, the researchers explain it is just as likely to refer to a range of activities in which students receive feedback on their work as being a formal "jury evaluation" of their output. It can also simply be an in-class discussion among instructors and students or even informal, out-of-class help among students themselves. Unfortunately, it is well recognized that critique can be harmful, dominating, and oppressive, in many ways rather than a valuable educational and learning tool.
While the teaching and socialising aspects of critique remain important, their new perspective is not so much about facilitating the management of the students' education but more about help students take up specific ways of life that are made available through studio participation. The incentive for finding a new approach in this context is that the conventional critique approach exists in a high-stakes form and can have a detrimental effect on a student's wellbeing rather than a positive one. There is a definite need to create healthier studio culture that provides education in a more positive environment. Critique acts upon students and can change them not necessarily for the better.
The team recognizes that the pros and cons of critique may well be understood by many educators already. "Our intent," they write, "has not been to propose wholly unprecedented ideas about how critiques can take place." They add that rather, "Our aim was to develop a way of speaking about critiques that considers their foremost purpose to be supporting students who are pressing into forms of the self that are opened up through studio participation."
McDonald, J.K. and Michela, E. (2020) '‘This is my vision’: how students depict critiques along with themselves during critiques', J. Design Research, Vol. 18, Nos. 1/2, pp.57–79.
Mentally healthy days
Let's get physical – The poor and disadvantaged tend to report higher rates of mental health issues. It's almost as if social inequality can lead to personal problems. Work published in the International Journal of Behavioural and Healthcare Research, discusses the potential for physical activity to improve mental health in the context of race, ethnicity, and gender and the link with social inequality.
Jake Jennings of the Department of Economics at California State University, Chico and Iris Buder of the Department of Economics at Idaho State University in Pocatello, USA, explain that many steps have been taken in efforts to address inequality and inequities, but there remains a long road ahead before the gaps are closed. They write how "Positive mental health is more than the 'absence of a mental disorder;' it is integral in a person's ability to fulfill productive activities, find employment, handle adversity, cope with normal stresses of life, and contribute to society." Low socioeconomic status often correlates with poor mental health and a lack of access to the means to remedy that situation.
The team has now looked at how much physical activity might improve mental health despite inequalities for people of different race, ethnicity, and gender. Researchers have used cross-sectional, longitudinal, and experimental methods to analyse reporting of the number of mentally or physically healthy days in connection to socioeconomic factors, such as income, education, wealth, and occupation. The present team has now used the US Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data to show the mitigating effects of physical activity on the number of mentally unhealthy days people experience.
"We believe that this work has important public policy implications, as it can help shape and target policies aimed at increasing physical activity levels," the team writes. Physical activity is good for one's overall health. The new research provides policymakers with new insight into how physical activity might be employed to boost the number of mentally healthy days an individual has.
Jennings, J. and Buder, I. (2020) 'The mitigating impact of physical activity on mentally healthy days: differential effects based on race, ethnicity and gender', Int. J. Behavioural and Healthcare Research, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp.103–116.
How the blockchain can unshackle markets
The blockchain that underpins digital currencies can be used much more widely to create smart contracts and immutable and protected digital products and services. The potential of this innovation is only now being recognised but looks set to start an intellectual and innovation revolution that will have as great an impact on society as the invention of the internal combustion engine did on transport and the internet did on communications.
Writing in the European Journal of International Management, Tamir Agmon of both the Faculty of Management at Tel Aviv University, in Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel and the School of Business, Economics and Law at Gothenburg University in Gothenburg, Sweden, discusses how distributed digital technology unshackles individual creators and producers and even multinational enterprises from conventional firms, financial intermediaries, and event regulatory authorities in a way that was not possible in the pre-digital age.
"Major innovations are about reducing transactions costs," explains Agmon. "This has been true since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and it continues along the inventive process in the last 220 years." He adds that the nature of the emerging distributed, non-centralised, digital technologies are disrupting conventional markets right now, However, as with the motor car and the telephone before them, they have the potential to improve the welfare of many people by transforming the way we carry out transactions in the market in the future as workers, creators, and consumers.
Indeed, this new distributed digital technology could bring us closer to the hypothetical notion of the neoclassical perfect market model wherein limited productive resources are utilised in a more optimal manner than is possible with conventional approaches. It is likely that recognition of this revolution will emerge most rapidly in the realm of information and communications technology (ICT) before the concepts spread more widely.
Agmon, T. (2021) 'The new distributed digital technology world trade and MNEs: another step in the inventive process', European J. International Management, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp.135–145.
A new photo-sharing social network based on the blockchain could enhance the authenticity and credibility of data as well as precluding data tampering, according to research published in the International Journal of Technology Management.
Blockchain is the technology that famously underpins digital cryptocurrencies. Fundamentally, the blockchain is simply a ledger, a digital record of transactions. It is an open system that does not require a trusted third party as all transactions are logged in an immutable distributed public ledger that requires no central repository of data, it is entirely decentralized.
Jiang Duan, Li Kang, and Zhi Chen of The Blockchain Research Center of China at the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu and Tao Peng and Yifeng Wang Chengdu 9Broad Technology Co. Ltd also in Chengdu, suggest that some people are reluctant still to adopt certain social networking and social media technologies because of privacy and provenance concerns. They have developed a blockchain approach that addresses many of these concerns.
Given how many people billions of people currently use social networks and how many more might if given improved security and privacy there is obvious pressure for the development of such technology. There are an estimated 5 billion accounts on the well-known centralized social networks at the moment, which represents connectivity among a large proportion of the world's population.
The team's new blockchain consensus algorithm supports fast and frequent transactions and improves efficiency in a way that was not possible previously. Moreover, it is highly scalable and so should cope well with the vast numbers of potential users that are online. The system allows a user to claim and control ownership of their images and to putatively be rewarded financially for their use.
Duan, J., Kang, L., Chen, Z., Peng, T. and Wang, Y. (2020) 'A photo-sharing social network based on blockchain technology', Int. J. Technology Management, Vol. 84, Nos. 1/2, pp.70–85.
Virtual reality in education
Technology is providing educators with unimaginable tools that are rapidly coming to the fore especially because of restrictions due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Writing in an editorial in the International Journal of Smart Technology and Learning, Charles Xiaoxue Wang and Michele Garabedian of the Stork College of Education at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, USA, discuss the potential of virtual reality in education and prelude a special issue of the journal on this topic.
They define virtual reality (VR) as "any technology that provides its users an interactive computer-generated experience through text, audio, visual, spatial and/or speed messages within a simulated environment that engages its users in multi-sensory interactions and reactions". By this definition, augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and hybrid reality (HR) are also included in the purview of this issue. They point out that with current technology it is possible to seamlessly integrate VR in learning, training, and instruction in many different contexts.
Broadly, VR can offer different communication methods, immersive and reproducible learning environments adaptable for special needs, a unique perspective that promotes interaction and is low-risk. VR also opens up new perspectives that an educator might offer and gives learners novel opportunities for their response.
The number of research papers discussing VR had already begun to increase dramatically in engineering and medicine and more recently the number in educational research has surged too.
"Each article in this special issue offers a unique and significant perspective in exploration of VR and VR related issues," the authors write.
Editorial: virtual reality through the lens of educators – full editorial available as a free PDF here. Special Issue table of contents here.