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Supercomputer's Model of Human Contact Simulates Swine Flu

A group at Virginia Tech is working with the U.S. Department of Defense to tackle the H1N1 outbreak

2 min read

6 May 2009—An extravagantly detailed computer model of the U.S. population is taking a crack at understanding the H1N1 ”swine flu” outbreak. The model, built by researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, in Blacksburg, Va., is composed of realistic representations of the major ways that people in the United States come into contact with one another—in other words, real-world social networks. Last Thursday, the U.S. Department of Defense began using the model to provide recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services, according to the Virginia Tech engineers.

In the model, called EpiSimdemics, real cities are represented as groups of artificial people whose demographic attributes match data from the last census and land-use databases. By seeding the model with a handful of infected individuals in a manner that mirrors the real cases—say, 45 teenagers in one part of New York City—the model can run hundreds of simulations to illustrate possible future infection patterns across a population of between 50 million and 60 million in nine regions, according to Madhav Marathe, a deputy director of Virginia Tech’s Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory (NDSSL). In one experiment, for example, the model was asked to determine the impact of school closures on flu transmissions.

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Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
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A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar
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You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

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