Padre Faura's Notebook

Reflections from the Manila Observatory's Ionosphere Building

Space weather program of Manila Observatory

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Space weather program of Manila Observatory

Space weather program of Manila Observatory


My Name is NAO

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It is a creature perhaps from an another world clad in white armor like a Storm Trooper shorn of its helm, revealing two large ears like a stereo speaker but glowing like Tron disc blades.  Its deep set eyes stared into space like black coals burning in blue flame.  Its three-fingered hand grasped the air like claws, as if wielding an invisible light saber.  And from lips unseen, save for a tiny hole beneath its eyes, the creature spoke in a child-like voice reminiscent of the White Queen in Resident Evil:

“My name is NAO.”

NAO is an autonomous, programmable humanoid robot developed in 2004 by a French startup company Aldebaran Robotics.  NAO stands a little less than two feet and weighs like a baby.  With about 21 to 25 ways to move–the swaying and nodding of the head, the rotations of the arms and legs, the grasping of the fingers–NAO can walk like a toddler, pick up an object, or play football in RoboCup.

Mariel Dee, a BS in Applied Physics with Applied Computer Systems student in Ateneo de Manila University, had programmed the NAO robot during her internship at Nara Institute of Technology in Japan last 14-27 October 2013.

“One can program NAO,” she said, “by typing text commands directly to its computer processor.  But I programmed NAO using the Kinect.”

Kinect is a motion sensing input device developed by Microsoft for the Xbox 360 video game console.  Kinect has a camera that receives red, green, and blue (RGB) colors as input.  Kinect also has depth sensor which consists of an infrared laser and a CMOS APS–an active pixel sensor that determines the noise level at each pixel and uses its circuitry to cancel it out.  Kinect is the technology that powers games like Dance Central where you try to match the dance moves of your virtual dancer on the computer screen.  The closer your moves are to your virtual dancer, the higher your score.

What Mariel did is to make Kinect read her movements, translate them into skeleton frame motion, and use this as input in a language that NAO can understand.  The Kinect skeleton frame is made up of several joints.  The central spine consists of the head, shoulder center, spine, and hip center.  The arm  consists of the shoulder center, shoulder (side), elbow, wrist, and hand.  The leg consists of the hip center, hip (side),  knee, ankle, and foot.  In all there are 20 joints connected by 19 line segments.

In her program, Mariel made use of a limited number of NAO’s movements: walk forward and backward, walk sideways to the left and right, turn left and right, kick with right leg, bend down, push with hands.  But NAO is like a deaf boy trying to learn his first sign language.  For example, if  Mariel raises her right hand forward, NAO walks forward; if backward, NAO walks backward.  If Mariel raises her right hand to the sides, NAO walks sideways to the right; if her left hand, NAO walks sideways to the left.

“The main problem is how to make the program robust,” said Mariel.  “NAO should be able to obey commands even if it were posed by child or an adult whose heights and arm lengths are different.  So what I did is to compute the angles formed at the joints and use this as a Kinect input for NAO.  In this way, the lengths such as that  between the elbow and the wrist or from the shoulder to the elbow would not matter but only the angle formed by these two segments at the elbow.”

 The skeletal frame seen by Kinect looks like molecules in Chemistry, with the joints represented by atoms and segments by bonds.   In a way, what Mariel wishes to measure are the equivalents of body angles of a molecule.  For example, the body angle for a water molecule H-O-H at the Oxygen atom is 104.5 degrees.  But unlike molecules which have more or less fixed body angles, the body angles in a NAO robot have greater range of possible angles.

So can we now have robot combats as seen in old animes like Tosho Daimos or in more recent movies like Real Steel, with robots mimicking the actions of their human controllers?

“No.  We are not yet there.  But I am glad that after I left, the NAO robot that I programmed was showcased during an open house of the NAIST Robotics Laboratory.  NAIST is nice.  It is fun working there.  They still have other robots there like a humanoid face that mimics your emotions.  But NAO is so cute.”

Written by Quirino M. Sugon Jr

February 17, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Reviving Padre Faura’s Notebook for disaster risk and damage quantification

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I am reviving my blog, Padre Faura’s Notebook, for disaster note-taking.  I am currently subscribed to Google alerts whenever there are storms, floods, and earthquakes in the Philippines.  I could not anymore post them in Manila Observatory’s Facebook page because doing so would dilute the Observatory’s brand.  But I will continue to make notes about these disasters in this blog in order to quantify disaster risk and damage which is the main research agenda of Manila Observatory.

As of now, there is no uniform measure for all types of disasters.  I would like to propose several parameters: area covered, number of people, total cost of damage.  How to correlate these data with the intensity of the typhoon or earthquake is what I wish to solve.


Written by Quirino M. Sugon Jr

November 2, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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Be Excellent at Anything by Schwartz and Gomes: a Summary

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Be Excellent at Anything

Be Excellent at Anything

I read “Be Excellent at Anything: Four Changes to Get More Out of Work and Life” by Tony Schwartz with Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy, Ph.D.  The book has lots of enjoyable medical details that makes one read for more: it’s a summary of many years of  scientific research done by many authors.  The book has 5 parts, so I guess the first 4 parts are the  changes that we need to be excellent; the 5th part would be just the summary.    But each part is also divided into several chapters.  So what I shall do is to summarize each chapter into a single sentence (mostly verbatim quotes from the book).  What is good about the book is that it summarizes the big ideas of each chapter in about one page of text.  I’ll start from here.

  1. Human beings need four sources of energy to operate at their best: physical (sustainability), emotional (security), mental (self-expression), and spiritual (significance).
  2. We create our highest value not by focusing solely on our strengths or ignoring our weaknesses but by being attentive to both.
  3. The more our behaviors are repeated and routinized, the more they occur without conscious effort and the less energy they require.
  4. We’re most effective at work when we alternate between active forms of renewal, such as exercise and play, and more passive forms, such as meditation, napping, and sleep.
  5.  Sleep deprivation takes a powerful toll on our health, our emotional well-being, and our cognitive functioning.
  6. A short nap of twenty to thirty minutes can powerfully enhance performance over the subsequent two to three hours, and that we are healthier and more productive when we take regular vacations.
  7. Ideally, we should be doing some form of at least moderately intense physical activity six days a week for twenty to forty-five minutes a day.
  8. Small, frequent meals serve us better than two or three large ones; don’t skip breakfast.
  9. For organizations there are optimal times of the week during which to take on the most challenging work and other times that makes sense for administrative tasks, for creative and strategic thinking, and for relationship building.
  10. Do not spend too much time in the Survival Zone where we feel  a sense of threat or danger, because doing this has significant costs to our health, performance, and relationships.
  11. The Golden Rule of Triggers is “Whatever you feel compelled to do, don’t,” which means that we must resist the urge to act when we are feeling triggered.
  12. We can’t change the facts, but we do have a choice about what stories–positive or negative–we make out of them.
  13. Because of the impact of “bad” is stronger than “good”, the first rule for an effective leader is the same as it is for doctors: above all, do no harm–which means avoiding devaluing emotions such as anger, intimidation, disparagement, and shame.
  14. Unlike computers, human beings are incapable of multitasking because our brains cannot focus on two cognitive tasks at the same time; instead, do things one at a time, with each task about 1.5 hours at most.
  15. Control internal chatter by practicing meditation; control email by setting aside regular times to reflect on priorities and focus on challenging tasks.
  16. Train also the right-brain hemisphere–creative and big-picture thinking, openness to learning, and empathy–by meditation, drawing, daydreaming, or other activities that don’t demand logical sequencing or a specific outcome.
  17. Most people focus better when they’re given more freedom to choose where and when they do their work and are held accountable only for the value they deliver.
  18. Cultivate spiritual energy through a clearly defined purpose and values.  These must be taken with genuine humility in order to free us of the need to protect an image or stand above others, allowing us instead to accept, embrace, and learn from our limitations.
  19. Once you’ve defined what you most enjoy doing and do best, the spiritual challenge is to put those skills in the service of something beyond your immediate self-interest.

Manila Observatory’s Brown Bag Lectures: Some suggestions for topics

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Since most of the speakers would be talking about scientific stuff in Manila Observatory’s Brown Bag Lectures, for a change, I would like to give a talk on some things I learned from books that may be useful to Manila Observatory.  Here are some topics to choose from:

1.  “Duct Tape Marketing: the World’s Most Practical Small Business Guide” by John Jantsch.  MO needs to market itself as Philippines premiere scientific institution.  The core marketing message must be applied from the level of the porter and up.

2.  “Getting Things Done: The Art of stress-free productivity” by David Allen. How to collect all tiny bits of things to do in order to free your mind from the stress of trying to remember everything.  Includes effective use of calendars, task lists, and file folders.  Also includes how to sort your emails and loose papers.

3. “Built to Last: Successful habits of visionary companies” by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.  Some insights may be useful for understanding how MO lasted for 150 years and how it could last for another 150 years.

4.  “The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer” by Jeffrey Liker.  Discusses how to speed up business processes, improve quality,and cut costs in any industry. Also discusses how to create a learning institution and just-in-time production.

This is all for now.  Maybe talks like these would encourage Admin and network guys to give similar talks:

1.  “Finance for dummies: how to prepare program budgets with inflation and depreciation”
2.  “W3C web standards: What it means for the MO website”
3.  “Latest library technology that would be useful to MO”
4.  “Philippine Internet backbones: How is MO in connected?”

The important thing is this: everybody shares whatever they know to help Manila Observatory become better.  This is not just the job of scientists.

Rebranding Padre Faura’s Notebook as a management blog: a review of my other blogs

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I haven’t blogged on Padre Faura’s Notebook for quite a while.  The reason for this is that its former functions were taken over by my other blogs.

My blogs/websites are roughly divided according to three types: Catholic, Physics, and Personal.

A.  My Catholic WordPress blogs

  1. Monk’s Hobbit, “The Dark Ages is at hand,”  is my blog for Philippine religion and culture, especially those that concerns Jesuits and Ateneo de Manila University
  2. Ateneo For Life is my blog for the promotion of the culture of life specifically in Ateneo de Manila University.  But I made my blog private, because I will not use Ateneo’s name unless there is a Jesuit behind the movement
  3. St. Holbytla’s Monastery, “Reading Tolkien in the light of Faith” is my blog for the Catholic reading of the Lord of the Rings.  I haven’t updated it for more than two years, though there are still many ideas in my head that needs to written.
  4. Ateneo Latin Mass Society.  There are four admins in this Facebook page.  We post here all updates about the activities of the Ateneo Latin Mass Society.  The original Yahoo group is not active enough, because frequent email conversations clog the mail box.
B.  My Physics Blogs
  1. Ateneo Physics News, “Physics News and Features from Ateneo de Manila University,” is my blog to promote the Department of Physics of Ateneo de Manila University by news and features.  I always have this radar for what I think is newsworthy, then I interview people, and write the news or features.  The audience is primarily those in Ateneo de Manila University and the Physics Department’s alumni.
  2. Ateneo Physics Teacher, “Mastering the art of physics teaching,” is my blog primarily to help teachers teach physics.  There are physics of everyday life, laboratory experiments, sample exam questions, and teaching methods.
  3. Ateneo Physics Handbook, “Documenting courses, policies, and programs of the Physics Department,” is my blog for anything that would be useful for making a handbook for the teachers and students in the Department of Physics of Ateneo de Manila University.  I also post there announcements in Ateneo Blueboard that affect the department.
  4. Ateneo Physics Laboratories is my blog for scientific notes, such as links to resources on a particular topic that would be useful for writing a research proposal or journal article.  I shall change its tagline to “Physics research notes and reviews.”  The main tab headers are the Department’s Laboratories.
  5. Ateneo Physics Archives, “Archive of Physics related publications in Ateneo de Manila University,” is my repository for all the department’s publications.  I only post the abstracts and give the links to the original papers.
  6. Physics Department’s Facebook Page.  This is my hub for all articles posted in the Department’s blogs, and also some articles about the department I culled from other sites.  This FB page is also my storage area for pictures whose url adresses I link to whenever I post pictures in the department’s blogs.  In this way, we don’t have to worry about space upgrades and we can use our WordPress blogs forever without paying WordPress anything.
  7. Ateneo de Manila University’s Department of Physics.  This is the department’s homepage.  It’s crazy url is bad marketing, so I don’t use it in my calling card; I use  Soon I shall change the homepage to  I only use the department’s site as a link hub.  Once you click on the tab headers, they go the individual physics blogs.
  8. Manila Observatory’s Facebook page.  This is where I place the links to articles I cull from Google Alerts about Manila Observatory.  (Do you know that there is a place–probably a hotel with a roof deck with observations–that also refers to itself as the Manila Observatory?)
  9. Geometric Algebra, “Beauty shall save physics,” is my blog on geometric algebra.  I rebranded it as a blog solely about my thoughts on the subject.
  10. Geometric Algebra Facebook Page.  This is where I post links to articles on geometric algebra and Clifford algebra that I cull from Google Alerts.

C.  My Personal Sites

  1. My Facebook page.  It’s private, so I won’t link it here.  It is only for friends.
  2. My Google Plus page.  It’s a public page.  It’s sole purpose is to collect all my blog articles in a single repository.
  3. My Linked in page.  It is a semi-public page, with my CV publicly visible.  I don’t blog in Linkedin.  But Linkedin sends out very helpful articles about higher education which I regularly read.

C.  Padre Faura’s Notebook

So amidst all these blogs, where does Padre Faura’s Notebook fit in?  I think PFN will be my blog as I grapple with the job of being the manager of the Ionosphere Research Building.   A better term would be a steward.  As the Lord said to Peter:

“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute [the] food allowance at the proper time? 43Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so. 44Truly, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property. (Lk 12:42-44)

I have been reading lots of books on management, business, finance, operations research, marketing, sales, branding, search engine optimization–anything that would help me become a better leader and manager (and secretary and toilet bowl cleaner).  I’ll write about what I learned from my reading here.  Maybe others can learn from my joys and mistakes.  My aim is to institutionalize best practices, so that the Ionosphere Building and Manila Observatory can grow like a mustard seed into a big tree, while being rooted in the heritage of its glorious past.

Written by Quirino M. Sugon Jr

January 15, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Study guide for Jackson’s Classical Electrodynamics: Electrostatics 1.1-1.4

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by Dr. Quirino Sugon Jr.

Physics Department, Ateneo de Manila University

J.D. Jackson, Classical Electrodynamics, 2nd ed. (John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1965), pp. 27-33.

At the start of a 3 hour Saturday class, the students will be quizzed regarding their basic understanding of the assigned text.  The quiz will be 15 minutes long and shall cover the questions listed below.  In this way, our discussion in the class would be faster and deeper.

1.1 Coulomb’s Law

A.  Physical Intuition.  Choose a word or phrase inside the parenthesis that makes the statement true.  Write your answer on the space before each number.

  1.  If the magnitude of one of the charges increases, the force between the two charges (decreases, increases).
  2. If the distance between the two charges increases, the force between the two charges (decreases, increases).
  3. The force of a charge on another charge is (along, perpendicular) to the line joining the two charges.
  4. A positive and a negative charge (repel, attract).
  5. A positive and a positive charge (repel, attract).
  6. If there are two charges acting on a third charge, the net force on the third charge is the (sum, difference) of the force vectors acting on the third charge.
  7. Glass has a (lower, higher) electric susceptibility compared to air.
  8. A metal (is, is not) a dielectric.

1.2 Electric Field

A.  Identification.

On the space provided before each number write the term corresponding to the description given.

  1. Force per unit charge acting on a given point.
  2. A particle with a negligibly small charge used to measure the force on the particle’s position.
  3. The product of the charge and the electric field acting on it.
  4. The law that governs the force between two charges.
  5. A mathematically improper function whose value is zero every except at a particular point wherein its value shoots up to infinity.
  6. The limit of a Gaussian curve which becomes narrower and narrower, but higher and higher, in such a way that the area under the curve is always constant.
  7. Unit of charge in cgs system.

B. Physical Intuition.  

Choose a word or phrase inside the parenthesis to make the statement true.  Write your answer on the space provided before each number.

  1. If the charge is positive the electric force is (parallel, opposite) to the electric field.
  2. The electric field surrounding a negative charge points (towards, away) from the charge.
  3. The vector drawn from the first point to the second point is the difference of the position vectors of the (first and second points, second and first points).
  4.  If the product of the two charges is positive, the force on the first charge due to that of the second charge is (along, opposite) the vector drawn from the first charge to the second charge.
  5. If the charges are so small and numerous that they can be described by a charge density function, then the electric field at a point in space is computed using a (summation, integral).
  6. The integral of the Dirac delta distribution over all space is equal to (zero, one).
  7. The Dirac delta distribution for three dimensional space is equal to the (sum, product) of the Dirac delta distributions along the x-, y-, and z-axis.
C.  Symbols
Identify the symbol or group of symbols corresponding to the description given.  Write your answer on the space provided before each number.
  1. Electric field
  2. Electric charge
  3. Force
  4. Force on an electric charge due to an external electric field
  5. Position of charge 1
  6. Position of charge 1 with respect to charge 2
  7. Position of charge 2 with respect to charge 1
  8. Distance between charges 1 and 2
  9. Product of two charges
  10. Cube of the distance between charge 1 and charge 2
  11. Electric force between two charges
  12. Position of a test charge with respect to charge 1
  13. Electric force due to charge 1 as a function of the position of the test charge
  14. Charge density as a function of position
  15. Volume of an infinitesimally small box
  16. Dirac delta distribution that is zero everywhere except at the position x = a where the value is infinite.
  17. Dirac delta distribution that is zero everywhere except at the position (X_1, X_2, X_3).
  18. Charge distribution function for a collection of point charges
1.3 Gauss’s Law 

A. Physical Intuition.  

Choose a word or phrase inside the parenthesis to make the statement true.  Write your answer on the space provided before each number.

  1. If a positive charge is inside a spherical surface, the dot product of the electric field and the outward normal vector to the surface is (negative, positive).
  2. If a negative charge is inside a spherical surface, the dot product of the electric field and the outward normal vector to the surface is (negative, positive)
  3. If a positive charge is not enclosed by the surface, then the flux of the charge’s electric field through the surface is (negative, zero, positive)
  4. If a negative charge is enclosed by the surface, then the flux of the charge’s electric field through the surface is (negative, zero, positive)
B.  Symbols
Identify the symbol or group of symbols corresponding to the description given.  Write your answer on the space provided before each number.
  1. Electric field of a point charge
  2. Charge of a point charge
  3. A small patch of area
  4. Unit normal vector to the surface
  5. Angle between the electric field and the normal vector to the interface
  6. Distance of a point on the surface from the point charge.
  7. Solid angle
  8. A small solid angle
  9. Surface
  10. Component of the electric field along the unit normal vector to the surface
  11. Integral over a close surface
  12. Flux of the electric field through the surface
  13. Sum of charges enclosed by the surface
  14. Differential volume in three dimensions
  15. Volume enclosed by the surface
  16. Area vector
1.4 Differential Form of Gauss’s Law

A.  Identification.

On the space provided before each number write the term corresponding to the description given.

  1. A theorem which relates the total flux of the vector field through a surface and the divergence of the vector field integrated over the volume bounded by the surface
B.  Symbols
Identify the symbol or group of symbols corresponding to the description given.  Write your answer on the space provided before each number.
  1. Vector field
  2. Surface
  3. Volume enclosed by the surface
  4. Flux integral of the vector field
  5. Divergence of the vector field
  6. Integral over the volume
  7. Charge density
  8. Differential form of Gauss’s law for electrostatics
  9. Integral form of Gauss’s law for electrostatics.