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Everyone should speak SQL!

Do you know that you use databases everyday? Actually databases are everywhere. When you log  in, your credentials are validated against a database. When you are querying google or bing, a large amount of data get filtered to provide you adequate results. Even your phone contact list is a database too. Etc.

More interestingly, we have entered in the era of data. For example, “Wal-Mart, a retail giant, handles more than 1m customer transactions every hour, feeding databases estimated at more than 2.5 petabytes—the equivalent of 167 times the books in America’s Library of Congress”.

Data

big-data_conew1 by luckey_sun (some rights reserved)

This accumulation of diverse data makes it possible to do many interesting things: spot behavioral or business trends, prevent diseases, extract unknown knowledge, detect fraud and prevent crime and so on.

Such advanced data analytics and data science is out of the scope of this article. First, I will present you what is SQL and what it looks like. Secondly, I will assess the advantages of learning SQL and tell you what is the expected level you should reach.

What is SQL?

SQL (pronounce it “sequel”) stands for Structured Query Language and it is the primary language to interact with Relational Database Management Systems (RDBMS) which are based on the relational model as invented by E. F. Codd.

RDBMS are widely used in the world of databases management systems. There are several alternatives like hierarchical model, object-oriented databases or graph databases. So there are several query languages like SPARQL for RDF graphs or MDX for multi-dimensional analytical databases. Each fits for a specific purpose.

In a relational model, all data are represented in terms of tuples, grouped into relations. More explicitly, data are stored in tables with related tables.

Relational data

Let’s talk of SQL. SQL is a language with a high level of abstraction, similar to natural language, then accessible to everyone.

4 sub-languages

SQL is divided in several sub-languages:

  • Data Definition Language (DDL) statements that are used to define the database structure or schema.
  • Data Manipulation Language (DML) statements that are used for managing data within schema objects.
  • Data Control Language (DCL) statements
  • Transaction Control (TCL) statements that are used to manage the changes made by DML statements.

Not all are necessary for everyone. While some are mainly used by well-defined professional (DDL by database architects, DCL by database administrators and TCL by programmers), DML should be known by everyone who uses databases.

The most known DML statements are the SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE and DELETE (a few people know the other useful statements like the MERGE which is an upsert operation, e.g. INSERT or UPDATE).

As you may see the commands are quite intuitive (SELECT for section for example).

Required level at performing DML queries

SQL queries are quite intuitives. Here is an example:

SQL statement anatomy

Sql statement anatomy by SqlPac. CC-BY-SA-3.0-MIGRATED

As you can imagine, the language allows complex queries with aggregate and analytic functions, recursion, even pattern matching in the Oracle dialect. Since it is a high level language, you have to be very careful with such advanced functionalities to get reliable results.

To understand the power of this language, take a look at the following image. It is the standard way to join data from several table into adequate sets.

SQL join

The different types of SQL join and their outputs as determined by sets, by arbek

Basic level

For basics purpose, you have to know the basics of a relational databases, being able to perform simple SELECT, INSERT and DELETE statements with the restricting WHERE clause and the ordering ORDER BY clause. You should also learn how to deal with dates and nulls, how to use the GROUP BY statement and built-in single row functions.

Intermediate level

For intermediate level, you should know every concepts which are taught in the Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Databases Jump Start (and how to implement it the dialect of the RDMBS you use).

Advanced level

At an advanced level, you should be able to became Oracle certified expert and pass the Oracle Database SQL Expert 1Z0-047 exam.

The advantages of speaking SQL

No more Excel crashing

The RDBMS are designed to be extensively used and do not crash so easily.

Answer advanced questions by yourself

Once the DBAs allowed you to connect to the appropriate databases, you can answer business questions in an advanced manner (far more powerful than Excel spreadsheets). No more need to rely on pre-built reports!

Reproducibility

SQL queries can be saved and then be checked and re-used.

And last, but not least:

Being well-paid

Since employers seek for this skill, you may earn more money. Actually most of people use SQL in a bad way and being certified is a great advantage.




KIC 8462852 is kind of Wow!

Arecibo Observatory

Today I will talk about astrophysics, exobiology and, somehow, metaphysics. I will also submit a personal (counterintuitive) hypothesis that needs confirmation: the Wow! signal, the best clue on extraterrestrial existence ever recorded, may be topologically linked to the star what is hypothesized to be surrounded by a swarm of megastructures!

You have certainly heard of KIC 8462852 recently. It is a star located in the constellation Cygnus which exhibits some strange behavior. More explicitly, unusual light fluctuations were observed by the Kepler telescope (e.g. small non-periodic dips in brightness of inconsistent intensity occurs frequently, up to 22% down).

NGC 6866

Map of NGC 6866, Roberto Mura (KIC 8462852 is nearby)

Amongst the proposed scenarios, these fluctuations could notably be explained by a Dyson swarm which is a hypothetical structure that an advanced civilization might build around a star to intercept some of the star’s light for its energy needs (Type II civilization on the Kardashev scale).

That is why KIC 8462852 raises some hopes in finding an extraterrestrial civilization.

Is it serious to talk of extraterrestrial civilization?

As you may know, water and organic compounds are abundant in the universe. It is realistic to think that the life emerges where conditions for the emergence of life are found. Lee Smolin, a physicist and quantum gravity scholar even proposed a Cosmological natural selection theory (CNS), also known as fecund universes which I personally find interesting.

The hypothesis is cosmological natural selection, and its power, beauty and logic provide what may be the best scientific explanation for the existence of complexity and life in the universe.

 

CNS with intelligence (CNS-I) are models which attempt to bring intelligence and information theory into the CNS framework. They propose that accumulated end-of-universe, or more precisely, end-of-black-hole evolutionary intelligence may somehow aid in universe/black hole replication and selection within the multiverse. These models assume that any universe where emergent intelligence was able to play a less-than-random role in replication or selection might become replicatively favored, more resilient, or perhaps dominant in some multiversal environment, over lineages where emergent intrauniversal intelligence does not increasingly factor into replication, as in Smolin’s original CNS model. – Cosmological Natural Selection, evodevouniverse.com

Some people go further and defend the idea of an intrinsic support for intelligence emergence through a strong anthropic principle. Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin–Madison proposed the Integrated information theory (IIT) which is a framework intended to understand and explain the nature of consciousness. According to this theory, even subatomic particles possesses subjective experience. I admit it is a strong hypothesis that can sounds weird to you.

Arecibo Observatory

More interestingly, several scientists think that the dominant life form in the Cosmos is probably superintelligent robots which is not a stupid idea. Actually the most recent advances in NBIC tend to suggest that we are near the singularity, the moment where artificial intelligence overtakes human thinking (e.g. System that replaces human intuition with algorithms outperforms human teams and Kurzweil predicts that by 2045 computers will be a billion times more powerful than all of the human brains on Earth). I personally believe in the powerful combination of AI, information theory and semantic Web.

Considering all I have mentioned, and the tendency to break down barriers between scientific disciplines and even between metaphysics and science, I think that we will see both the singularity and the discovery of simple forms of life on potential candidates in our solar system (Enceladus and Mars for the best candidates… Titan or even Pluto for a radically different biology, maybe based on methane and tholins). Since we may soon reach the technological singularity, and considering both the number of potential habitable worlds in the universe and the age of some solar systems, the eventuality of advanced alien lifeforms should not be discarded so easily.

But, (yes, there is still a but), the so-called Fermi paradox that is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for such civilizations. Amongst all the hypothetical explanations, several allow the eventuality of abundance of alien life which would be really difficult to identify.

Detection of advanced civilization and the Wow! signal

One of the well-known techniques to identify an “advanced” civilization is to monitor electromagnetic radiation for signs of transmissions from civilizations on other worlds. It is hypothesized that we are able to discover a civilization through their radio signals.

Wow! signal

To my opinion, such a civilization would emit in a detectable manner on rare occasions. That is precisely the point. The Wow! signal “was a strong narrowband radio signal detected by Jerry R. Ehman on August 15, 1977, while he was working on a SETI project at the Big Ear radio telescope of The Ohio State University”. The best candidate of extraterrestrial radio emission that hasn’t been detected again.

A link between the Wow! signal and KIC 8462852?

Disclaimer: The following hypothesis needs further investigations but is still interesting to be shared with you.

The Wow! signal appears to have come from the northwest of the globular cluster of M55 in the constellation Sagittarius, near the Chi Sagittarii star group.

How the Wow! signal and KIC 8462852 could possibly be related? Let me explain it.

Almost everyone think that the universe is infinite and flat. In the Poincaré Dodecahedral Space (PDS) model, the universe is a dodecahedron (a spherical 3-manifold). Such a topology can be detected.

An international team of cosmologists, led by a researcher from Paris Observatory, has improved the theoretical pertinence of the Poincaré Dodecahedral Space (PDS) topology to explain some observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). In parallel, another international team has analyzed with new techniques the last data obtained by the WMAP satellite and found a topological signal characteristic of the PDS geometry.

– The Poincaré Dodecahedral Space model gains support to explain the shape of space, Observatoire de Paris

The correlated circles of universe from WMap data suggests that the universe is a dodecahedron. It means that several directions in the space would actually be the same.

PDS

Visualization of the matched circles solution reported in Roukema et al. 2004

In an ideal world, KIC 8462852 and the Wow! signal would be located in the same area. Which could be the case in a universe with a PDS topology.

Guess what?

If you superimpose the WMap correlated circles (“they would represent the same physical points but observed from different directions due to topological lensing”) onto a sky map then you will see that the Wow! signal and KIC 8462852 are possibly in the same direction in a PDS topology !

As far as I know, both maps were made according to the galactic coordinate system that make the superimposition a valid one. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Superimposition

Tadaa! The maps superimposition.

As you may see, the Wow! signal & KIC 8462852 are located in different directions… but in a PDS topology these directions are actually the same. Indeed, the Sagittarius area where the Wow! signal has originated and the Cygnus area where KIC 8462852 is located are in two correlated areas (i.e. the same physical point in a dodecahedral universe).

I must confess, there is uncertainty in the exact location (still large area considered) and the PDS theory is still not fully proven but this raises new hopes for finding extraterrestrial life!

PS:

The aim of science is to seek the simplest explanation of complex facts. We are apt to fall into the error of thinking that the facts are simple because simplicity is the goal of our quest. The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be “Seek simplicity and distrust it.” – Alfred North Whitehead




The benefits of mind mapping

An handmade mind map

Today, I’m back with a new post. I will present the advantages of using mind maps over concept maps.

Mind map guidelines

 

A mind map example: guidelines

Information mapping

There are plenty of information mapping techniques. However, I chose to consider only 2 sort of them which are often seen as rivals : concept maps and mind maps.

Structural difference

Organization

Both techniques can be used by engineers, educators, technical writers, psychologist to organize knowledge.

Concept map

More precisely, the former are used to structure knowledge by using link between words or phrases (mainly by engineers). They exhibit a hierarchical structure.

Electricity Concept Map

 

A concept map

Mind map

… where the latter can be considered as spider diagrams (such diagrams are an extension to Vienn-Peirce diagrams and Euler circles which “express constraints on sets and their relationships with other sets”) and are used mainly for brainstorming and visual thinking.

An handmade mind map

 

An handmade mind map

So what is exactly the difference? Actually both techniques are similar in radial structure but differ in that the latter are simplified by focusing around a single central key concept. That’s the point.

Rigorous vs creative

In one hand, concept mapping is rather advantaging logical thinking and tend to be precise and verifiable. In the other hand, mind mapping equally combine logical thinking with creativity in that they are more personal and stimulating.

Benefits

I found a picture of Philippe Boukobza that summarize the differences and similarities of both approaches but I would like to present you the true benefits of mind mapping.

Shared advantages

Both techniques improves comprehension and memorization.

Specific ones

Mind mapping exhibits specific benefits which don’t always exist in concept mapping:

  • extensive use of icons and visual metaphors
    • studying easier
    • better memorization
  • fun
    • Improves contribution in teamwork
  • easy to use
  • better thinking
    • deeper understanding
    • excellent overview
      • whole picture
      • understanding of connections
      • Avoid to post review and structure ideas in note taking
    • clarity and conciseness

When?

As you may conclude, such approach is useful for:

  • brainstorming
  • essay planing
  • studying
  • solving problems
  • generating creative ideas
  • creating presentations

I hope you found this technique useful and will use it in a near future.

If so, there are several software which can help to to create such mind maps.




Cognitive science specialists, what a big deal!

Brainstorming

I’m back with a first true post regarding a discipline that I like immensely because of its tendency to be helpful to users, customers, companies… and humanity.

Today, we will assess the advantages of recruiting cognitive science specialists. You will see that such profiles are interesting not only for research but also for companies. It’s time to consider to recruit cognitive science specialists.

Graph

Cognitive science? eh?

You may wonder what I mean by “cognitive science”. That’s why I will explain a bit about this in fashion interdisciplinary field. Fashion in that is the “C” of the NBIC acronym which stands for Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information technology and Cognitive science that refers to the converging technologies (and sciences) for improving human performance.

A definition

I will first introduce a definition by Jean-Pierre Desclés:

This field is the study of the Mind in relation to its material substrate, the brain. It is understood through both the comprehension of the neurobiological aspects and the modeling of observable “intelligent” behaviors [such as perception, memory or planning].

This study of cognition, by the way of models (logical, mathematical, probabilistic and computer/information model) encompasses the mind-brain relations not only in humans but also in animals and complex computers […].

In a broader way, I would define the cognitive science as the study of the cognitive processing of information (according to the prevailing information paradigm), in either natural or artificial systems.

A little bit of history

Disclaimer: This section is related to history of science and can easily be skipped… but at the cost of  lacking of some interesting deeper understanding of the essence of cognitive science!

Phrenology

This field, by nature interdisciplinary, developed through 3 ages and their respective complementary paradigms:

Cybernetics and the formalisation of the “self” idea, from the Macy’s conferences (1946-1953) is the starting point of cognitive studies. It “studies the flow of information in complex artificial systems and natural ones”.

Followed by cognitive science emergence in reaction to the “black box model” of behaviorism (where “psychology can be accurately studied only through the examination and analysis of objectively observable and quantifiable behavioral events, in contrast with subjective mental states“):

  1. Cognitivism (top down approach) and the introduction of two work hypothesis (representationalism and computationalism), 1950-1980 – “the thought is a symbolic process and knowledge is readily shifted between different memory registers”
  2. Connectionism (bottom up approach), which models mental states as the emergent processes of interconnected networks of simple processing units, early 1980knowledge is represented in the weights of the connections between neurons and is shaped by weighting during learning
  3. Embodied cognition where “Many features of cognition are embodied in that they are deeply dependent upon characteristics of the physical body of an agent” (RA Wilson and L Foglia, Embodied Cognition in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) … grounded in an environment – “the mind and body work together to form cognition”

I must confess, this description of the evolution is, on purpose, simplistic. Actually it is far more complicated with mutual feedback loop, co-occurence of paradigms, origination from several other theories like structuralism, mediated reference theory and many more. If it was so simple it would not be studied as a standalone speciality!

5-keys insights

Multi-Layer Neural Network

To summarize, in his book The Blank Slate (2002), psychologist Steven Pinker identified five key ideas that made up the cognitive revolution:

  • “The mental world can be grounded in the physical world by the concepts of information, computation, and feedback.”
  • “The mind cannot be a blank slate because blank slates don’t do anything.”
  • “An infinite range of behavior can be generated by finite combinatorial programs in the mind.”
  • “Universal mental mechanisms can underlie superficial variation across cultures.”
  • “The mind is a complex system composed of many interacting parts.”

Interdisciplinarity required

From the early stages of its precursor cybernetics, the interdisciplinarity is inherent to the cognitive science. Since its emergence, the field strengthened relations between several fields and generated new topics of research to in fine create new relations between distant fields.

Cognitive science hexagon

At the academic level, cognitive science is constituted of legacy core disciplines those are:

  • analytic philosophy
    • Greek phi Didot.svg of language
    • Greek phi Didot.svg of mind
    • epistemology
  • psychology
    • cognitive ψ
    • engineering ψ
  • linguistics
    • psycholinguistics
    • cognitive linguistics
    • transformational grammar
  • neuroscience (not only computational)
  • artificial intelligence
  • anthropology

At all levels, the use of formal sciences for description, modeling and simulation (i.e. logic, mathematics, computer science) is compulsory.

In addition to the prominent use of bayesian inference, I should point out the emergence of a bayesian cognitive science where cognitive systems are assumed to behave like rational Bayesian agents in particular types of tasks : “The Bayesian approach assumes that cognition is approximately optimal in accord with probability theory” (Thagard, Paul, Cognitive Science in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition)).

Depending of the topic, more fields can be adjoined such as ethology, information science or educational sciences.

Applied cognitive science

Since its main subject is the study of information processing in either artificial or natural systems, the applications are infinite in this informational world (even intrinsically)!

You may now suppose that fields of application range from improving the coupling between humans and artificial systems to sensory substitution and you are (almost) right.

Professional areas

Actually, cognitive science specialist can encompass careers not only in:

  • Data/Information representation, filtering and retrieval
    • semantic Web
    • recommender systems
    • human-computer information retrieval
  • Intelligence analysis (in order to help to make key business decisions through the use of description, modeling and prediction)
    • behavioral analytics
    • customer analytics
    • business intelligence
  • Computer-human interaction and human factors (for a better experience and efficiency at using services)
    • interaction design
    • User eXperience design
    • information architecture
  • Multimedia design and multimodal interaction
    • for instance ubiquity
  • Artificial intelligence
    • Web intelligence
    • ambient intelligence
    • robotics
  • Natural Language Processing
    • text mining
    • speech recognition

But also in deviated fields:

  • Knowledge engineering and knowledge management
    • expert systems to help doctors
    • enterprise collaboration systems
  • Public health and pharmaceutics
    • behavioral neuroscience in preclinical studies
    • biostatistics
  • Social intervention and remediation
  • Education
    • innovative teaching
      • serious games
      • e-learning
  • Innovation
    • for instance by applying:
      • C-K theory of creativity
      • along with their mediation and catalyst skills
  • Science journalism

And much more!

Effectiveness & efficiency enhancement

Another thing I should mention is that such professional profiles are especially valuable in either industry or professional services company. For instance, a cognitive science specialist would make an excellent (techno) functional business analyst in a standard company.

In a well-suited environment, the point is that the cognitive science specialist has the ability to improve both the creativity process and the project efficiency. User-centered design (design thinking, …) allows one to design efficiently. By means of considering human needs at each stage of a project, such specialists reduce the risks of taking the wrong turn (leading to cost overruns).

Skills

Let’s tackle the most awaited part of this article!

Due to the diversity of academic curriculum, cognitive scientists and analysts may develop diverse skills. One professional who had a major in cognitive science may become specialized in recommender systems when another may be a specialist in Natural language processing.

Brainstorming

Specialization apart they share a common set of skills which is, by itself, uncommon right out of university:

  • Technical background
  • Analysis skills
    • Excellent reading comprehension, writing, and speaking skills
    • Talented at evaluating and interpreting ideas
    • Skills at explaining complex scientific research
  • Formalization skills
    • Skills at acquiring data, modeling and predicting
    • Ability to solve problems through the use of formal methods (statistics, logic, …)
  • Strong interdisciplinarity
    • Ability to act as catalysts of problem solving and innovation
    • Ability to act as mediators in teams
    • Ability to perform problem management
  • Project management and decision-making skills
  • Understanding of human needs in multiple professional areas

As you may conclude, such professionals acquired a specialized theoretical and practical background with a set of well-developed professional skills which allow them to hold critical and leading positions in teams.

With them, your business efficiency will improve and either users or consumers will enjoy a valuable experience.

Sounds interesting, right? Why don’t you try to hire several cognitive science analysts or project manager?

Think about citing

I hope you really enjoyed this first article. See you soon for a new article.




Hi everyone!

Sparkling water

This is the starting point of a new journey…

I start today a new blog intended to share with you some interesting thoughts on trending tech topics, philosophy and science. While having in mind considerations on humanity the posts should have the potentiality to act as a catalyst for your ideas and sparkle your imagination.

I hope that sounds interesting and I will try not to disappoint you.