Monday, May 19, 2008

China Mourns

People across China observed 3 minutes of blaring silence (very moving Youtube Video) at exactly one week mark of the earth quake, to be followed by 3 days of national mourning. I'm not sure it's inappropriate to talk about hooters at this time or not, but I decide to pull a earlier post for later.

Internet rules
A report emerges about how a college student who was originally from the hilly disaster zone helped military to find a copter landing area by posting on an online forum. She recalled a flat-top high ground behind her friend's house. The posted information finally caught authority's attention after being widely circulated by the online community. Internet rules.

CCTV Benefit Concert
It's not much of a concert. I caught a glimpse of it through pplive. It almost left me wonder if one had to donate in order to be invited, or the other way around, i.e. if you were invited you were required to contribute. It had an eerie feel of taxation. But hey, if it helped the donation drive I ain't complaining.

Another noticeable contrast was between the TV presenters and ordinary people from SiChuan - heroes and victims of the earthquake. I sometimes had difficulty in comprehending what did people mean when they said someone in the media of being "not real". I sort of saw it here. The TV presenters - I'm not doubting their heart-felt sorrow or patriotic urge, it just came off that way - appeared as corny as hell despite their empathetically emotional, poem-reciting style.

In contrast, those invited special guests - from army generals to school children - couldn't be more real. Some of them were stoic and resolute, some vulnerable, some feisty. Others were uncomfortable showing emotions on the TV, like the daughter of the teacher who gave up life in order to protect his students. However, all of them are very genuine and plain touching.

Notes to CCTV presenters: such disaster and natural outflow of emotions need little embellishment or fanfare. Keep it real.

The damning science of quake prediction
Probably taking the extra caution, and responding to the criticism of not able to warn about the risk of earthquake, the government issued an unusual aftershock warning(said of 6-7 Richet Scale) in SiChuan.

Before that, many people were critical towards the seismic department, arguing that it should be more aggressive toward warnings, even if the evidence was not strong enough.

This time, the warning was issued. Cities, including mega cities like Chendu and Chongqing, turned into sleepless chaos. But the actual quake never came, except a mild aftershock in remote WuPing.

It really highlights the dilemma in quake prediction. (read one of the novel prediction method here) I'm no expert in seismic science, far from it. But I suspect quake prediction is a bit like any statistical prediction. It subjects to two errors, type-I and type-II error. one comes from the error in rejecting the hypothesis that a quake is coming, another comes from the error in rejecting the hypothesis that a quake isn't coming. Under normal circumstances, the second assumption is the operating norm, otherwise a society couldn't function properly. That's one of the reason an earthquake is rarely predicted, along with the low predicting power of the science.

Now under the operating assumption that a (following) shock is coming, it takes more to reject the hypothesis. The resulting chance of warning, as oppose to under the no-quake pre-assumption, is bigger. This is what I suspect of the most recent warning. Unfortunately, the probability that warning doesn't materialize also increases. You run the risk of throwing people's lives into mayhem and stressing them out.

ultimately the best use of seismic research is probably in long-run prediction, much like in stock market research - even though you can't generally predict the short-run price movement, but you can have an idea of the long term direction. So appropriate building codes etc can be set up and enforced accordingly.

It's no easy business.

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