Scientific American special issue: will technology kill privacy?

August 30th, 2008

Scientific American\'s special issue on The Future of Privacy, September 2008.The September 2008 Scientific American is a special issue on The Future of Privacy. The issue has a good range or articles that all look like they are well worth reading and touch on all of the theme in our new MURI project on assured information sharing.

USPTO rejects Dell cloud computing trademark application

August 27th, 2008

Dude, you're getting a Cloud Computer TM. It turns out that we may not have to fear hearing “Dude, you’re getting a Cloud Computer®!” in the future after all.

Bill Poser noted on Language Log that the US Patent and Trademark Office has refused Dell’s application to register the term cloud computing as a trademark. In a office action report, the USPTO said:

“Registration is refused because the applied-for mark merely describes a feature and characteristic of applicant’s services. … As shown in the attached Internet and LEXISNEXIS® evidence, CLOUD COMPUTING is a descriptive term of art in the relevant industry.”

Database researchers identify hot research topics

August 25th, 2008

Databases are a fundamental technology for most information systems and especially those based on the web. A group of senior database researchers met recently to assess the state of database research, as documented in site. So, where did the Semantic Web fit into their vision?

“In late May, 2008, a group of database researchers, architects, users and pundits met at the Claremont Resort in Berkeley, California to discuss the state of the research field and its impacts on practice. This was the seventh meeting of this sort in twenty years, and was distinguished by a broad consensus that we are at a turning point in the history of the field, due both to an explosion of data and usage scenarios, and to major shifts in computing hardware and platforms. Given these forces, we are at a time of opportunity for research impact, with an unusually large potential for influential results across computing, the sciences and society. This report details that discussion, and highlights the group’s consensus view of new focus areas, including new database engine architectures, declarative programming languages, the interplay of structured and unstructured data, cloud data services, and mobile and virtual worlds.”

On the site you can read the post-meeting report, view the participants presentations on DB research directions and talks and discuss the report on a Google group.

It’s a good report with lots of interesting things in it and definitely worth reading, but I was disappointed to find that it makes no mention of the Semantic Web, RDF, OWL, ontologies, AI, knowledge bases, or reasoning. Here’s a word cloud (generated with wordle) generated from the report, which provides a 10,000 foot view of it’s content.

word cloud generated from The Claremont Database Research Self-Assessment Meeting report

The reports says that it was “surprisingly easy for the group to reach consensus on a set of research topics to highlight for investigation in coming years”. Those topics are:

  • Revisiting Database Engines
  • Declarative Programming for Emerging Platforms
  • The Interplay of Structured and Unstructured Data
  • Cloud Data Services
  • Mobile Applications and Virtual Worlds

There is clearly overlap between the database and semantic web communities in the first three topics.

Fall 2008 weekly ebiquity meetings: 10:30am Tuesdays

August 24th, 2008

We plan to hold our weekly ebiquity meetings on Tuesday mornings, from 10:30 to 12:00 in ITE 325b starting on September 2. We’ve not yet received confirmation that the large conference room will be available, so it’s possible that the room will change or even the day. By meeting at 10:30am we hope that Dr. Joshi will be able to join us via the Internet while he is in India. When the time changes later in the Fall we may need to start the meeting at 10:00am.

Our meetings are open and we encourage new students who are interested in our research and joining the group to drop in. We usually ask someone to present something for each meeting — either their own work, an emerging topic or problem, or an interesting new paper. Our initial meeting will be more informal, but returning members should be prepared to describe how you spent your summer and new students to introduce themselves.

As usual, you should watch the ebiquity web site for announcements of the weekly events and/or subscribe to the UMBC ebiquity events feed.

If we do need to change to room or day of the week we will send out another message early in the coming week and make a new update this post on the ebiquity blog. But for now, please reserve Tuesdays from 10:00 to 12:00 for our weekly ebiquity meeting.

Game designer Sid Meier to talk in Baltimore Sept 4

August 23rd, 2008

Mark Olano posted news on the UMBC GAIM blog that legendary game designer Sid Meier will give a presentation for the at 8:00pm on Thursday, September 4th. The talk, which is free and open to the public, will be held a the The Engineering Society of Baltimore in Baltimore.

Meier is a very influential figure in the game industry and helped to establish the popular simulation game genre through his games like Pirates, Railroad Tycoon and Civilization. He is currently Director of Creative Development for Firaxis Games and has been inducted into the Computer Museum of America Hall of Fame and the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in computer gaming. Here’s the title and abstract for his talk.

    Game Programming: Oh say, can you C?
    Sid Meier and members of the Firaxis development team

    Programming a computer game: There are three types of programming in games: (1) game play on one end, (2) engine on the other, and (3) the layer in between that allows the two others to communicate. Each type of programming is different from the others. Programmers are drawn to one or another type of programming because of its power or beauty. Sid has developed a flexible style of programming that allows him to make instantaneous changes at the game play level. An engine programmer needs a bit more conformity to step in where someone else left off. The programmers in the middle have fun because they can make the other two “worlds” talk to each other. Sid and other speakers will discuss the different types of programming and how they “play nice” together.

If you plan to attend, email for further announcements and updates.

I’ve attended talks at the Engineering Society building, which is on Mt. Vernon Place in Baltimore, which should be easy to get to on the MTA bus that stops at UMBC. It’s a grand old building that was fun to be in.

Can range voting save us from politicians?

August 21st, 2008

The short article Scoring the Candidates in the current Technology Review introduces the concept of range voting and argues that it would prevent third-party spoilers in elections as well as give voters more say, Arrow’s impossibility theorem notwithstanding. Heaven knows we need *something* to save us from modern political life, a least in the USA.

The article describes ongoing research by our UMBC colleagues Alan Sherman and Rick Carback along with Warren Smith on voting technology. Of course the article points out that similar results were obtained by honeybees and also by the citizens of Sparta. Still, neither group submitted their work for peer review publications.

Since votes are a fundamental mechanism for group decision making and collaboration, this approach might have wide applicability to social media. I wonder if there are any Semantic Web onologies out there that capture different voting systems.

The site has lots more information.

Frontiers of Multicore Computing at UMBC, 26-28 Aug 2008

August 18th, 2008

The UMBC Multicore Computation Center is hosting a free workshop on Frontiers of Multicore Computing 26-28 August 2008 at UMBC. The workshop will feature leading computational researchers who will share their current experiences with multicore applications. A number of computer architects and major vendors have also been invited to describe their road maps to near and long-term future system developments. The FMC workshop will focus on applications in the fields of geosciences, aerospace, defense, interactive digital media and bioinformatics. The workshop has no registration fees but you must register to attend. More information regarding hotel accommodations, tutorials, exhibits and access to the campus can also be found at the website.

Members of the UMBC ebiquity lab will make presentations on our current and planned use of multicore and cloud computing for research in exploiting Wikipedia as as knowledge base and also in extracting communities from very large social network graphs.

Pandora Internet radio service threatened by high fees

August 16th, 2008

Peter Whoriskey’s Washington Post article, Giant of Internet Radio Nears Its ‘Last Stand’, describes how Pandora and other webcasters are struggling with the high per-song fees they are now required to pay.

“Pandora is one of the nation’s most popular Web radio services, with about 1 million listeners daily. Its Music Genome Project allows customers to create stations tailored to their own tastes. It is one of the 10 most popular applications for Apple’s iPhone and attracts 40,000 new customers a day. Yet the burgeoning company may be on the verge of collapse, according to its founder, and so may be others like it.

Last year, an obscure federal panel ordered a doubling of the per-song performance royalty that Web radio stations pay to performers and record companies. Traditional radio, by contrast, pays no such fee. Satellite radio pays a fee but at a less onerous rate, at least by some measures. As for Pandora, its royalty fees this year will amount to 70 percent of its projected revenue of $25 million, Westergren said, a level that could doom it and other Web radio outfits.”

On of the arguments that SoundExchange, the organization that represents artists and record companies, makes for increasing the fees is that Internet radio stations have not been active enough in generating revenues from playing their songs.

“Pandora makes advertising money only from spots placed on its Web page, not on audio ads that run between songs. Other stations are similarly struggling to persuade companies to pay for advertising in the new medium.

“We’re taking this challenge very seriously,” Westergren said. “When we have our board meetings, the central topic is the revenue trajectory, not how happy our users are.” He said Pandora has a 30-person ad sales operation, or about 25 percent of its workforce. The company will soon start running subtler ads similar to those on National Public Radio, too, he said.”

Thanks, SoundExchange.

Wikimatix explains Google’s hot search trends

August 16th, 2008

Who is alisyn camerota and why are so many people suddenly interested in her?

Pundits often describe the Web as humanity’s giant, collective brain. So what are we thinking about today? Yesterday UMBC PhD student Akshay Java launched a new service, Wikimatix, that shows the Google’s 100 hot search terms for the past hour and tries to explain each with information extracted from Wikipedia.

At the top of his form, Akshay whipped up the system in a three hour break from writing his dissertation as a mashup of Google’s Hot Trends, Wikipedia, and Disqus.

Google’s hot trends gives an hourly list of the 100 Google search queries whose frequency has increased relative to the recent past. When you scan the list, the meaning of many of these is obvious — Michael Phelps or hurricane fay. But who or what is alisyn camerota and what’s up with the interest in opossum. Here’s where Wikimatix helps by annotating each of the hot terms with a snippet about it extracted from Wikipedia, along with links to the full article, a search for blog posts about the topic, and a place for users to add comments.

Here’s an example that shows some of the hot search trends from earlier this morning.

Screenshot from Wikimatix explaining Google hot search trends

Akshay’s post, Wikimatix: Wikify and Disqus Hot Search Keywords, has the details and ideas for improving the service.

Black bear caught near UMBC

August 15th, 2008

The Arbutus Times reports that a 140 pound black bear was caught in an area adjacent to the UMBC campus. The bear was apprehended while eating apples from a resident’s tree. Maryland officials had been tracking him for a month as he wandered across the state:

“The bear apparently had made several stops in southern Maryland before heading north through Anne Arundel County, then crossing into Halethorpe, according to Peditto, who heads the Wildlife and Heritage Service at the state Department of Natural Resources. “We had been tracking him for a month,” he said, noting that DNR staff kept track of citizen complaints to determine the bear’s progress. The pattern of complaints indicated the bear’s course of travel.”

Google opens AdSense for feeds

August 15th, 2008

Google has opened up it’s AdSense for feeds program to everyone, according to a post Google Launches AdSense for Feeds. I suppose that a significant fraction of people read blogs and other online sources through a feed reader and only infrequently visit the sites they follow. Google is in a good position to exploit this since it controls both a popular feed reader and a feed management system.

But I’m conflicted about this. One the one hand, our lab enjoy a small stream of revenue from the ads we have on our site, enough to keep the lab coffee pot supplied and occasionally buy carrots and fresh fruit donuts for the troops. On the other hand, it diminishes our experience of the world to have ads appear everywhere we look. Worse yet, hosting ads for others for money can tempt one to compromise her ethics in various ways to maximize revenue. Not that this is a new thing for human kind.

I’ve not yet seen any ads when I view feeds via Google’s feed reader. I’m not sure what that means. I checked the ad-bearing feed example mentioned in the goglesystem post (i.e., feed:// Looking at the atom feed, I see the ad, but it’s not displayed by Google’s Feed Reader nor by Safari.

Parallax: a better interface for Freebase

August 14th, 2008

David Huynh completed his PhD at MIT CSAIL last year and joined MetaWeb a few months ago, where he has been working on new and better interfaces to explore the data encoded in their Freebase system. He recently released Parallax as a prototype browsing interface for Freebase. Here is a video that shows the interface in action.

Freebase Parallax: A new way to browse and explore data from David Huynh on Vimeo.

Freebase is “an open database of the world’s information” that is constructed by a Wiki-like collaborative community. In many ways it is like the Semantic Web model, with two big differences: (1) the data is stored centrally rather than distributed across the Web and (2) the representation system is not based on RDF but rather uses a custom built object-oriented data representation language.

Freebase is a great resource. Much of the data is extracted from Wikipedia, so its content has a large overlap with DBpedia. But it is also relatively easy to upload additional information in various structured forms and many have done so, resulting in an extended coverage.

This is clearly a system in the Web of Data space along with the Linking Open Data effort and having it should offer a way for us all to explore the consequences of some of the underlying design decisions.