myUMBC goes Web2.0

August 31st, 2007

myUMBC is the student, faculty portal for UMBC students. It has served as an internal website andmyumbc is an important resource for the community. Every UMBC student has at some point used it to register for classes, request for transcripts or view account information. For long it had been a very functional and utilitarian site but thanks to the commendable efforts from OIT, it has been completely revamped – and I must say that they have done a fantastic job at it! In the world of AJAX and Web2.0, I am proud to say that myUMBC is not left behind. I really like what they have done in terms of making it more like a social media site. Students can perform the regular tasks like register for classes etc, but the most interesting feature is that they can share their calendars, receive alerts, interact with the campus community and share videos: A true hallmark of user generated content. Another neat feature is that we can vote for events digg style — making them ‘pawpular’ (Go Retrievers!). I think it is fantastic that UMBC is now making its internal site ready for the myspace, facebook and youtube generation. THIS is the future of all intranets — be it in academia or corporate world.

Who you gonna believe, me or your lying flagella

August 30th, 2007

BacteriaScience Daily has a short item, Social Parasites Of The Smaller Kind about a recent study on cooperation and cheating among Bacteria.

Cooperation is widespread in the natural world but so too are cheats — mutants that do not contribute to the collective good but simply reap the benefits of others’ cooperative efforts. In evolutionary terms, cheats should indeed prosper, so how cooperation persists despite the threat of cheat takeover is a fundamental question. Recently, biologists at the Universities of Edinburgh and Oxford have found that in bacteria, cheats actually orchestrate their own downfall. In the study, reported in the September issue of The American Naturalist, the team explored the impact of cheats in populations of the notorious pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa. These bacteria cooperate to scavenge iron from their environment, but mutant cheats do not contribute their fair share of scavenger molecules and instead simply steal the iron supplies of others.

Game theory is truly the mathematics that matters for autonomous organisms.

(spotted on Freakonomics)

UMBC to get new IBM Q21 cell-based blades

August 30th, 2007

IBM has announced the new Q21 cell processor blade. UMBC’s newly established Multicore Computing Center (MC2) will install a set of Q21s when they are available later in the year. The Q21 is both smaller and more powerful than the existing IBM Q20 cell processor blade.

Managing bank puke with the Semantic Web

August 29th, 2007

The Economist has a short article on the development of the Semantic Web, The web: some antics, that highlights two startups whose business models are based on integrating personal information.

The article’s summary of what the Semantic Web is a bit light, but does mention SPARQL.

“The semantic web is so called because it aspires to make the web readable by machines as well as humans, by adding special tags, technically known as metadata, to its pages. Whereas the web today provides links between documents which humans read and extract meaning from, the semantic web aims to provide computers with the means to extract useful information from data accessible on the internet, be it on web pages, in calendars or inside spreadsheets. It does so using a trio of new technologies: the Resource Description Framework (RDF), the Web Ontology Language (OWL), and the SPARQL query language. Together, they allow computers to group objects and their features—from prices and measurements to locations and user ratings—into meaningful relationships and hierarchies, by analysing their associated metadata.”

One of the startups is a TripIt which integrates travel information:

“His intention is that people should be able to dump all of their travel details (electronic tickets, car-hire bookings, hotel reservations and so on) straight from any reservation site into a central repository, which TripIt will run. Then RDF, OWL and SPARQL—or, at least, TripIt’s implementations of them—will sort the information. The software will group the data appropriately and annotate the result with weather forecasts, driving directions, restaurant recommendations and even the travel plans of friends and family.”

The other is Wesabe which is working in the domain of personal financial information.

“Another area where the semantic web may make a contribution is personal finance. Even if they have not heard the term, most people will be familiar with the idea of what a company called Wesabe refers to as “bank puke”. This firm, which is also based in San Francisco, plans to make money by clearing up such puke and turning it into useful information. The idea is that its customers will be able to feed their bank statements, credit-card accounts and so on into the system as if they were throwing reams of paper onto an accountant’s desk.”

Bank puke, I love it! The phrase, I mean.

(spotted in a message from Mark Montgomery in public-owl-dev)

Protecting the U.S. nuclear arsenal from spam

August 26th, 2007

In yesterday’s Washington Post Security Fix blog, Brian Krebs posts that “Pharmacy Spam Blogs At U.S. Nuclear Safety Lab“.

“The Web site for the institution charged with safeguarding the safety and integrity of the U.S. nuclear arsenal has been inadvertently hosting advertisements and blogs that link to illegal prescription drug sites hawking everything from generic painkillers to erectile dysfunction medication, Security Fix has learned. Dozens of pages belonging to the official Web site of Lawrence Livermore National Labs appear to have been seeded with the unauthorized advertisements.”

Ouch! I’ve some some sympathy for LLNL — we’ve been burned several times when we have not kept our software up to date and a vulnerability is discovered. On the other hand, we don’t share LLNL’s mission of being “responsible for ensuring that the nation’s nuclear weapons remain safe, secure, and reliable”. At least it is somewhat reassuring that the compromised LLNL sites are not directly involved with the core mission of nuclear safety, but focused on conferences, speech research and publicity.

The spam doesn’t seem to be associated with blogs, per se. It’s a bit hard to tell what the context is since the sites are off line, so you have to poke around in Google’s cache and the Internet Archive.

Since we were last hacked in early July, we’ve been monitoring visits to our web site that seem suspicious and see many attempts every day to gain access, typically through crude password guessing and more sophisticated SQL injection attempts.

IBM gift establishes UMBC Multicore Computing Center

August 25th, 2007

Cell processor
With support and collaboration from IBM, UMBC has established the UMBC Multicore Computing Center to investigate applications of new parallel processing technologies, including the Cell Broadband Engine (CBE) developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba. We will integrate 12 IBM BladeCenter QS20s, each with dual 3.2-GHz CBEs into our existing Bluegrit supercomputing cluster, which includes a a 116 core PowerPC cluster. The new processors will be connected by Gigabit Ethernet and 20-Gbit/second Infiniband links.

The new UMBC MC2 will be a supercomputing facility available to the entire UMBC campus as well as some external collaborators. It will managed by ebiquity faculty Milton Halem (Director) and Yelena Yesha (Associate Director). In the ebiquity lab, we plan on exploring how to exploit cell processors to dramatically speed up processing for scientific computing, processing semantic web data, analyzing social networks and text and data mining.

A diagram of principal programing paradigms and their relationships

August 19th, 2007

Over at Lambda the UltimatePeter Van Roy posted a nice diagram of “all the main programming paradigms and their relationships”. It’s an interesting diagram and worth studying.

Maryland: East Coast Hub For Gaming

August 16th, 2007

lLick to see map of Maryland game, modeling and simulation companiesThe Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development has published a a new directory that lists dozens of companies and facilities in Maryland focused on Modeling and simulation. These include companies that develop and publish games as well as others that develop products and services that use the same technology for non-game applications.
Read more on the GAIM blog at Maryland: East Coast Hub For Gaming

Wikipedia original sin

August 15th, 2007

Right now, the server seems overloaded, but this is definitely an interesting service. A note on Wired, Vote On the Most Shameful Wikipedia Spin Jobs, describes it as follows:

“Caltech graduate student Virgil Griffith just launched an unofficial Wikipedia search tool that threatens to lay bare the ego-editing and anonymous flacking on the site. Enter the name of a corporation, organization or government entity and you get a list of IP addresses assigned to it. Then with one or two clicks, you can see all the anonymous edits made from those addresses anywhere in Wikipedia’s pages.”

Virgil is actually now a research associate at the Indiana University School of Informatics where he is a member of the the Phishing Research Group. Check out Wikiscanner.

History of my blog

August 15th, 2007

Or maybe it’s the end of history.

history of my blog

Rubic’s cube solvable in 26 moves

August 13th, 2007

Rubic’s cubeNortheastern Computer Science PhD student Daniel Kunkle has proven that any configuration of a Rubik’s cube can be solved in 26 moves or fewer moves. The previous upper bound was 27.

D. Kunkle and G. Cooperman, “Twenty-Six Moves Suffice for Rubik’s Cube”, Proceedings of International Symposium on Symbolic and Algebraic Computation (ISSAC ‘07), ACM Press, 2007, 235–242.

The number of moves required to solve any state of Rubik’s cube has been a matter of long-standing conjecture for over 25 years — since Rubik’s cube appeared. This number is sometimes called “God’s number”. An upper bound of 29 (in the face-turn metric) was produced in the early 1990’s, followed by an upper bound of 27 in 2006. An improved upper bound of 26 is produced using 8000 CPU hours. One key to this result is a new, fast multiplication in the mathematical group of Rubik’s cube. Another key is efficient out- of-core (disk-based) parallel computation using terabytes of disk storage. One can use the precomputed data structures to produce such solutions for a specific Rubik’s cube position in a fraction of a second. Work in progress will use the new “brute-forcing” technique to further reduce the bound.

Note that their approach used seven terabytes of distributed disk to hold tables needed for the algorithm.

See Cracking the Cube in Science News for a good overview. (spotted on Boing Boing)

Semantic Web is for sale. Literally. Sort of.

August 13th, 2007

Sigh. The Semantic Web is for sale. Literally. Sort of.

Subject: and on sale
Date: Mon, 13 Aug 2007 15:20:25 -0000
From: flashjack_jumping <flashjack_jumping>

* *and ** on sale

please submit offers to <info at>

they should roughly start at 10k USD

pierre __._,_.___

We know only too well how this scheme works, as we’ve been burned several times ourselves. You register a nifty domain and for a pittance. Then, a year or two later you are warned that your domain is about to expire. Several times. Maybe you tell yourself that you’ve got to remember to take care of that (repeatedly) or perhaps the messages end up in your spam bucket (that’s our excuse and we’re sticking to it). Or maybe you are busy actually trying to create the Semantic Web.

In the mean time, useless, low-life Internet bottom-feeders are running scripts that identify domains with good pagerank and/or hot names that are due to expire soon. They use any of several services or scripts to try to grab the registration the moment it expires (for a pittance) and then try to sell it back to the original owner or a competitor or even some spammer who would like to have a page with a good initial pagerank.

Doing this is not illegal and it’s probably part of the brilliance that is capitalism. But it is very damaging to one’s Karma. And I pity the poor immigrant who’s strength is spent in vain.

I hope that the bottom dweller who did this doesn’t get his 10K USD for this.