UMBC ebiquity
2008 May

Archive for May, 2008

Phoenix twittering from Mars

May 31st, 2008, by Tim Finin, posted in AI, Social media, Twitter

MarsPhoenix is twittering from the North polar region of Mars.

Here’s a great picture of my deployed arm with the scoop on the end: I can’t wait to dig in the dirt next week. 10:14 PM May 29, 2008 from web

Phoenix is even carrying on conversations with some of its more than 10,000 followers.

@infoholic Yup, I can dig into frozen ground as hard as concrete. The scoop has special blades and a powered “rasp” to scrape ice. Cool! 11:09 PM May 29, 2008 from web in reply to infoholic

My first thought was that I wouldn’t want to be there when NASA gets the cell phone bill for little Phoenix. But then I read the story in the NYT, Phoenix to Earthlings: I’ve Landed! Awesome!, and found that,like a lot of important entities, Phoenix has people who do this for it.

“For users of Twitter, a Web microblogging service, the Phoenix Mars lander has been sending pithy news “tweets” to the cellphones and computers of interested ‘followers.’ As of late Friday, the Phoenix lander had 9,636 followers at Twitter, more than triple the number of a week earlier. According to, it ranks No. 30 among all Twitter feeds in the solar system.

Of course, the messages are not coming from Mars. Instead, Veronica McGregor, the news services manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has been playing the part of Phoenix each night after she gets home from work, forwarding questions to the science team and then posting answers.”

Feedburner to include AdSense ads starting next week

May 30th, 2008, by Tim Finin, posted in Blogging, Web, Web 2.0

A post on the Feedburner blog, Into the wild: AdSense for feeds, annunced that Google will start integrating AdSense ads into feeds next week.

“… publishers already in the FeedBurner Ad Network will continue to see premium CPM ads directly sold onto their content, but with the added bonus of contextually targeted ads that will fill up the remainder of their inventory. … And with AdSense, you’ll know that your back-filled ads are using the strongest contextual ad engine, ensuring the most relevant and profitable ads are delivered to your subscribers. … For publishers who are not yet placing ads in their feeds, any publisher who meets the requirements to join the AdSense program will also be able to use AdSense for feeds. You will be able to manage your feed ad units directly from AdSense Setup tab, and track performance right on the AdSense Report tab. …”

Provenance Tracking in Science Data Processing Systems

May 28th, 2008, by Tim Finin, posted in Semantic Web

Maybe we should think of data provenance as being like a recipe. Recipes for preparing food are more than just a list of ingredients and specify, often in great detail, how the ingredients are combined, cooked and served and also specify the cooking implements and their settings.

Curt Tilmes presented his PhD dissertation proposal yesterday on “Provenance Tracking in Science Data Processing Systems”. Curt works at at the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center and is responsible for managing the data processing of earth science climate research data. Curt has some very good ideas about how to capture all of the relevant provenance data for sophisticated scientific data. He’s using, of course, the Semantic Web languages (RDF and OWL) to express and share the provenance data.

Part of the problem is that you have to capture not just the inputs to a dataset, but how the inputs were processed to produce the dataset, including (ideally) the algorithms, software and hardware. As an easily grasped example to illustrate this, he referred to a recent post by Ray Pierre on the RealClimate blog, How to cook a graph in three easy lessons. This post demonstrates how Roy Spencer processes inputs from two common climate datasets (the Southern Oscillation and Pacific Decadal Oscillation indexes) to get the results that support the conclusion that global warming is due to natural causes and not human activity.

New API to make the New York Times programmable

May 26th, 2008, by Tim Finin, posted in Social media, Web 2.0

A post on, New York Times Joining the Social Networking Fray, says that the New York Times will release an API that “will allow users to ‘mash-up’ the NYT’s data — think layers on Google Maps.” The post quotes Aron Pilhofer, editor of interactive news, as saying that their goal is to “make the NYT programmable. Everything we produce should be organized data.”

This is good news. The newspaper business continues to lay off staff and offer buyouts as they predict declining revenues. These are talented and trained reporters, photo journalists and editors who do the hard work of discovering and writing the news. What they do can not be, and should not be, crowdsourced. The Times has the resources and experience to do this right. If they can show how to make up for some of the losses with innovations in their online presence, it will help the entire newspaper business by showing a way forward.

(Spotted on ReadWriteWeb)

Faviki uses Wikipedia and DBpedia for semantic tagging

May 26th, 2008, by Tim Finin, posted in AI, Semantic Web, Social media

Faviki is a new social bookmarking system that uses Wikipedia articles for tags. It actually uses URLS in the DBpedia namespace that correspond to Wikipedia pages. The immediate benefits of this approach are several:

  • Users select tags from a large, common tag space. The ‘meaning’ of each tag ca be understood by reading the associated Wikipedia page. This makes it more likely that resources that share a tag, even if assigned by different people, are actually related.
  • Since the universe of tags is derived from Wikipedia, it is generated, kept current and maintained by a large and diverse set of people.
  • The tags have structured information associated with them and are part of broader-than, narrower-than lattice. It is not clear to me how much reasoning Faviki does with the linked data or when. But there is clearly a lot of potential here.
  • There is an opportunity to make the tagging system multi-lingual, since Wikipedia has articles in multiple languages and supports a way to link equivalent articles expressed in different languages.

The downside, of course, is that you lose the freedom and ease of most open tagging approaches — using the words and phrases that come immediately to mind.

The Faviki system is related to our own Wikitology project, which is exploring the use of using Wikipedia terms as an ontology, and also to Harry Chen’s Gnizer tagging system, which is an RDF-based social tagging system. Our current Wikitology work is focused on mapping text and entities from text into a set of terms derived from Wikipedia and salted with additional data from Dbpedia and Freebase.

One interesting research question is whether it’s possible to combine the ease of using user-generated tags with the power of mapping them into tags in a structured or semi-structured knowledge base.

Deriving knowledge bases from Wikipedia and using them in innovative is a very exciting topic that is sure to receive a lot of work in the coming years.

(spotted on ReadWriteWeb)

Ten essential numbers you need to know to be successful, and why

May 26th, 2008, by Tim Finin, posted in Humor

Numbers make the world go around. Here are ten digits that form the foundation for success. Mastering these can enrich not only your professional life, but your personal one as well. The path to successful integer management is not hard and you can start today. Many common mistakes can be avoided by mastering these ten digits. Once you have these down, you can put them together in various ways to improve your personal mathematics, unleash success, and accomplish your life goals. Remember: you are in control.

nine. Often confused for a six, nine is significant partly because it’s the largest single digit integer. Don’t listen to people who try to muddy he issue by talking about other bases — you are living in a base 10 world. Or should be. Nine is a perfect square, to boot. It’s a keeper.

eight. Crazy, some say, but as a child I developed a soft spot for this snowman of an integer. When I learned that it was two cubed, I knew it was special.

seven. Lucky seven. Seven-up. 7-11. Seventh son of a seventh son. Need we say more?

six. Wikipedia sums it up nicely: “6 (six) is the natural number following 5 and preceding 7.” It has found its niche and is a perfect fit.

five. Now five is definitely odd and considered untouchable, a combination that some find unique. You need five for a basketball team and, well, just look at one of your hands or feet.

four. Lots of things come in fours: bridge games; corners on a a square; Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice; and apocalyptic horsemen. Most vehicles have four wheels.


Int. Semantic Web Conf. workshop details

May 23rd, 2008, by Tim Finin, posted in iswc, Semantic Web

The 7th International Semantic Web Conference (ISWC) has an exciting program of thirteen one-day workshops that will be held on October 26 and 27. The deadlines for submitting papers vary. See the individual workshop pages for detailed information on their scope and structure and for information on submitting papers and participating.

The final scheduling of the workshops, assigning them to the 26th or 27th, has not yet been done.

The Missouri Mom (Lori Drew) case — Privacy Issues and New Legal Theories ?

May 22nd, 2008, by Anupam Joshi, posted in GENERAL, Privacy, Social, Social media, Web

As the news media have all reported, Lori Drew has been indicted for her role in the death of a teenager. You may recall that this person, with her daughter and her friend, created a fake MySpace account, pretend to befriend another teen, and then “dump” her. The other teen committed suicide.  Opinions are split on whether being mean to a person, even to a kid, is a criminal offense that should lead to prosecution, as opposed to societal opprobrium.

What interested me however that of the four counts of the indictment, three had to do with violating the Terms of Service –in particular creating a fake profile, and using this fake profile to obtain information from the server. This was done under federal laws that criminalize unauthorized access — things like hacking into a server. So does this mean that the legal theory being advanced by the US Attorney for the Central District of California is that creating a fake account on an internet service is criminalizable if the ToS of the provider say that you should give accurate information ?  Certainly many experts that USA Today talked to seem to think so. No more creating accounts with fictitious names at newspaper sites that many people can use ? How about using the right name, but messing up some of the information ( income level, demographics) at each site so that they can’t datamine you ? Or not providing the right contact information (, so that they can’t sell it to telemarketers ? Or any of the various other things that people routinely do in terms of providing incomplete or incorrect information. The penalty now can be criminal, not just a shutting down of access to the site concerned. Hmmm…….

An account of the Estonian Internet War

May 20th, 2008, by Tim Finin, posted in Security, Social media

Gadi Evron has written an account of the “Estonian Internet War” in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. Evron is a security architect for Afilias Global Registry Services and one of the founders of the Zeroday Emergency Response Team, a group of volunteers who create emergency patches against zero day attacks.

His article, Battling Botnets and Online Mobs — Estonia’s Defense Efforts during the Internet War , is non-technical and gives a good good explanation of what happened and the underlying cultural and political issues.

“What would happen if tomorrow the Internet ceased to function? To most critics, and particularly state officials and policy makers, the possibility that the Internet could one day suddenly disappear is no more than a mere speculation, a highly improbable concept. On May 2007, the events that took place in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, proved everyone wrong. On that day, Estonia fell victim to the first-ever, real Internet war. This article delves into the political context that shaped the incident and analyzes some of the key lessons and policy implications that emerged as a consequence.”

Many expect that understanding, predicting and preventing such events will be critical issues in the coming decade. The distributed and social nature of the Internet and Web create an environment that can be exploited to attack an organizations, whether it is a government, a political movement, a company, the Church of Scientology, a NGO or an advocacy group.

Spotted on IP list.

PhD proposal: Context and Policies in Declarative Networked Systems

May 19th, 2008, by Tim Finin, posted in Semantic Web

UMBC PhD student Palanivel Kodeswaran will present his dissertation proposal on Use of Context and Policies in Declarative Networked Systems at 3:30 on Tuesday May 20 in ITE 325. Dissertation proposals are public and visitors are welcome. If you are a PhD student and are (or should be!) working on your own proposal, going to these is a good way to prepare. You can see what’s involved, what work and doesn’t and what kind of questions you can expect. See the link above for the full abstract, but here is a teaser.

“In this thesis, we propose to build a declarative framework that can reason over the requirements of applications, the current network context, operator policies, and appropriately configure the network to provide better network support for applications. … In particular, the contributions of this thesis are (i) Developing a framework for using context and policies in declarative networked systems (ii) Runtime adaptation of network configuration based on application requirements and node/operator policy (iii) Formalize cross layer interactions as opposed to ad hoc optimizations (iv) Simulation and test bed implementations to validate and evaluate proposed approach.”

RPI group developing Second Life robot

May 18th, 2008, by Tim Finin, posted in Agents, AI, GAIM, Social media

AP reports that an RPI group is developing a robot for Second Life, Researchers teach ‘Second Life’ avatar to think. Actually, it’s a robot with the brain of a four-year old pre-schooler.

“Edd Hifeng barely merits a second glance in “Second Life.” A steel-gray robot with lanky limbs and linebacker shoulders, he looks like a typical avatar in the popular virtual world. But Edd is different.

His actions are animated not by a person at a keyboard but by a computer. Edd is a creation of artificial intelligence, or AI, by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who endowed him with a limited ability to converse and reason. It turns out “Second Life” is more than a place where pixelated avatars chat, interact and fly about. It’s also a frontier in AI research because it’s a controllable environment where testing intelligent creations is easier.

“It’s a very inexpensive way to test out our technologies right now,” said Selmer Bringsjord, director of the Rensselaer Artificial Intelligence and Reasoning Laboratory.”

There’s more information in an article on Virtual World News. Apparently the goal is not to build interesting Second Life Bots using a variety of hacks, but to demonstrate human-like behaviour using more principled techniques.

“RPI is looking, initially, at a “theory of mind” for children, specifically with a false-belief test. In the real world, a child (age 4) would be shown a person placing a teddy bear in a cabinet. When the first person leaves, a second person would move the bear to another spot, like a refrigerator. When asked where the first person will look for the bear, they usually answer with the refrigerator due to a lack of understanding of other people. In Second Life, an automated theorem prover and procedures for converting conversational English into formal logic make up the brain of “Eddie,” the four-year-old avatar. When posed the above problem, Eddie responded as the human child would.”

Here’s a video of Eddie in action.

The Psychology of Social Networking on KQED Forum show

May 16th, 2008, by Tim Finin, posted in Social media

Akshay Java pointed out an interesting radio program, Psychology of Social Networking, that’s available online for streaming or download.

“Psychologists have long studied social networks, and the growing popularity of sites like MySpace and Facebook provide fertile territory for research. Stanford University even has a class called “Psychology of Facebook.” What do our online profiles say about us?”

The hour long segment was originally broadcast on May 12 on the KQED Forum program. Host Michael Krasny interviewed two guests:

It’s a good show that explores why social networking sites gave become ubiquitous and popular, ow they work, and why they work.

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