Elevators get smart

December 31st, 2004

“Mitsubishi Electric Corporation developed a technology that combines RFID tags and cameras for controlling elevators. With their technology, elevators don’t make people wait for them. Instead, they wait for people.

By combining RFID and image processing, they claim that their system could tell if a person wanted to use an elevator or was just walking near an elevator (without any intention to use an elevator.)”

The smart elevator idea sounds great. But I think some research chanllenges remain. For example, how to accurately detect and determine the intetion of users? If a person is pacing back and forth in front of an elevator, should the elevator believe that the person intends to use the elevator?

How about security? Assume that the elevator allows any person with a valid RFID to ride to the restricted floors. Without other means to verify the identity of the person, will the elevator allow an unauthorized person to ride the restricted floors if the person possess a valid RFID?

Robots eating insects to power themselves…

December 31st, 2004

CNN has a very intriguing article about robots that don’t required batteries. Instead, they power themselves by eating houseflies. Is this the next step toward the Matrix’s vision where humans are bread in fields as futuristic power sources?


Changes at Tucana Technologies

December 29th, 2004

According to Danny Ayers, the VCs pulled the plug on Tucana Technologies. The report comes from the blog of David Wood, who now says:

Tucana Technologies is undergoing some major structural changes that will impact the way our technology is fielded and supported. Watch this space to get the announcements when they come.

The official board position that was posted here a while ago has been changed. In an effort to avoid confusion, I am not going to report their position until it is final.

Blogshares: a stock market for blogs

December 29th, 2004

BlogShares is a fantasy stock market where weblogs are the companies. Players invest fictional dollars on shares in blogs. Blogs are valued by their incoming links and add value to other blogs by linking to them. Prices can go up or down based on trading and the underlying value of the blog. If your blog is not yet in their database, you can easily add it.

Blogshares is a product of Santa Cruz Tech which also has QuackTrack, billed as the “The world’s largest browsable blog index”. It looks like the two sites are driven off the same database. Another interesting service they have developed is padbot. Send it simple questions by SMS or email and it responds with relevant information.

By the way, we recommend EBB as a strong buy.

When Inspector Gadget met Paris Hilton

December 27th, 2004

Smart Mobs has an item pointing to a NYT story describing the difficulties that Wal-Mart and others are having with their RFID programs. But the really interesting link in the post was to an older story on Prada’s high-tech flagship store in NYC. Reading it provides a good lesson for those of us mesmerized by cool technologies.


December 27th, 2004

Lonopono is an interesting client program that’s part browser and part RDF database. It’s a java based system released as a free beta version and leverages lots of new technology (e.g., eclipse, jena, jxta). As you surf the web, Lonopono automatically detects links to RSS and OPML feds and enables you to add them to your hierarchical folder store. Your stored information, links and feeds can be shared via peer-to-peer connections. They claim to use OWL, but its not clear how or when or why. It’s said to be easy for users to extend the functionality via any of several scripting languages (e.g., JavaScript, Python, Tcl/Tk, Groovy), so maybe this is how one can take advantage of the discovered RDF content. The beta has some pieces missing (I think) but it’s worth looking into.

folksonomy is the new black

December 26th, 2004

Interest in ontologies has gone down and up over the past 20 years and its been very strong in the last five years. Designing a good ontology for a complex real world topic is hard and made especially so by the usual goal that it be relatively independent of any small set of driving tasks. There are so many ways you can go wrong — too simple, too complex, too philosophical, to pragmatic, non-extensible, too big, too small, too brittle, too loose. And how do you evaluate the one you come up with? Sometimes it seems that ontological engineering requires graduate level training in way too many advanced topics — knowledge representation, logic, databases, philosophy.

While the semantic web movement hasn’t changed any of these problems, it has opened up new avenues by making this a problem by and for the web — an open, distributed, heterogeneous environment in which people and software agents create, publish, search for, combine, exchange and use information.

One interesting phenomenon is a number of sites which are using what some call folksonomies — informal tagging systems developed bottom up by their users. Examples of sites that use folksonomies include flickr, furl, del.icio.us and Google’s gmail. As a way to build an ontology, you can’t get much simpler that this — the tags form a flat one-level taxonomy of classes. You can attach a set of tags to an object (URL, picture or email message) and find objects indexed by a set of tags. What you can’t do are things like (i) define relations between tags (e.g., declare that rdf is a subtag of semanticWeb or that NYC and newYork are equivalent); (ii) form combinations of tags other than intersection (e.g., find pictures tagged as domesticatedAnimals OR pets but NOT cats); and (iii) define and use properties (e.g., this picture depicts an animal whose owner is a person with lastname=”finin”).

This is not a great leap forward for classification theory and the basic approach is quite common (e.g., see the use of faceted classifications in library science or polyclave classification systems in Biology), but what is interesting is letting a community of people develop and share folksonomies in a natural way with the hope that consensus vocabularies will naturally emerge.

Flickr, furl and del.icio.us allow you to make public your tags and tagged objects and to search over those of others, introducing an interesting social dimension. In the natural course of things, users will tend to converge around a set of tags to denote a common shared concept. This is accelerated by the fact that, for del.icio.us and furl, users are tagging objects from a common universe of URLs. Simple statistical techniques can reveal tags that are related or similar in that they’ve been used by different people to classify a common object. If shared consensus sets of tags do emerge in these communities as they grow, it will be significant.

Can we extend the expressive power of these systems, say by using RDF and introducing some of the features of RDFS and (even) OWL, resulting in folksologies. It’s a good question. We can do it, of course, but will the result be as easy for people to learn and use? That’s an even better question.

The Dark Room

December 25th, 2004

The Dark Room is a very cool puzzle done with flash.

Unlock your cell phone

December 24th, 2004

On my trip to India, I carried my Nokia 3650, which is a tri-band phone and should just work nearly anywhere in the world. Little did I know that most cell phone companies and even manufacturers lock the phones so that the phones will not work in other networks and will not even accept other SIM cards. So though designed to work almost anywhere the locking “feature” does not let you use it unless you unlock it first. I don’t know what the current policies are of wireless service providers. But it seems they charge anywhere between 50 and 75 USD to unlock it, if at all they agree to do so.

I found this useful site that helps you unlock your cell phone(for free). Read the instructions carefully, you only have 5 chances to enter the correct unlocking code.

Trycktill.com | Unlock your mobile phone for free!

Visualize your RDF data

December 22nd, 2004

Visual Browser is a Java application for visualizing a graph of RDF data. When you mouse over a link, a popup window shows the details. Visual Browser uses Jena to access the data from a file or database and both MySQL and Postgres are supported. The visualization can be modified by a perspective file, encoded in XML, that can specify the colors and shapes for different types of nodes, the nodes to hide, lables for properties, etc. Visual Browser uses the open sourced TouchGraph tools for graph-based interfaces.

Kowari 1.1.0 pre-release 2

December 22nd, 2004

A new version of Kowari (1.1.0 pre-release 2) is available. “Kowari is a Java based, non-SQL database for the storage of RDF providing a lightweight, scalable, transaction safe environment.” This release also includes a sample application to demonstrate the capabilities of resolvers. In Kowari, a resolvers processes queries against data contained in a file, a database or some other data source. The worked example demonstrates extracting ID3 tag information from mp3 files in support of an audio application. Kowari is an open source system originally developed by Tucana Technologies, an Australian firm that manufactures the Tucana Knowledge Server commercial product based partially on Kowari.

Media’s dissolution and reassembly

December 21st, 2004

Recently there has been quite a lot of buzz about media dissolution and reassembly driven by the Web/RSS/Blogging. It probably reached the zenith when Slashdot reported today on the Media in 2014. I found some interesting related comments on the earlier RedHerring’s 2005: The year the media will turn inside out blog and Mitch Ratcliffe’s Media Transformation is inevitable blog.
Some snippets from RedHerring make an interesting read.

Everything is up for grabs. Audiences. Marketing channels. The very shape of advertising, marketing, and promotional spending. BzzAgent, a system that distributes product to individual bloggers for reviews, demonstrates what happens when companies’ primary promotional goal is to win evangelists to their products rather than to attract new customers.
The next year will see the kinds of evolutionary moments in media like those that last took place in warm puddles of ooze to produce man, ape, and slime mold. Media’s dissolution and reassembly will be the biggest story of 2005.

These comments and others raise some interesting questions. In the past new forms of media, be it television or radio, have co-existed well with the age old newspapers. Will the web’s next evolution, change all this? Think of it — it’s been a while since I visited my favorite(not any more) news publisher.