ISWC 2008 social network

September 29th, 2008

Attending conferences is very much of a social activity. They provide opportunities to meet and interact with a large group of people that share an interest in a topic. More over, you probably know or at least know of, many of them. One reason to attend conferences is to extend and strengthen your professional social network through these interactions and shared experiences.

We’ve set up a ISWC 2008 social networking site for participants of the Seventh International Semantic Web Conference. Conference attendees can register for free and use the site to connect with other participants, coordinate meeting plans, share comments on events and talks, figure out who is who at the conference, etc.

We are using CrowdVine for this site. Our package allows us to define a calendar where we can list talks and other events, which we’ve only just begun populating. Users can rate, comment on or discuss these calendar items.

If you plan on attending ISWC 2008, please check it out and register.

Sprint launches XOHM WiMax service in Baltimore

September 29th, 2008

USA Today has a story, Sprint takes wireless service to the max in Baltimore, on Sprint’s new WiMax system for the Baltimore area.

“Monday, Sprint will launch wireless WiMax services in Baltimore, marking the beginning of what could become a new era in mobile broadband. The mobile data network — which will be marketed under the Xohm brand name — is designed to cater to the needs of laptop and home broadband users, not cellphone users.

Prices will start at $10 for a day pass, good for 24 hours of unlimited usage. Monthly service starts at $35. There are no contracts. To use the service, Baltimore customers will have to buy a special WiMax “aircard” or modem, which cost about $45 apiece. There are also special launch discounts, including a $50-a-month plan that offers subscribers unlimited data usage for life.”

Xohm is pronounced “zome”, by the way.

The xohm site has pricing details, which seem to be $35/month for home, $45/month for mobile, and $50/month for both. For home use, they do have a modem that you can hook up to a home router. The $50 fee is good for as long as you are a member, which could be a great deal. I know someone who only pays $5/month for Sprint’s basic all-you-can-eat EDVO service because he was an early adopter.

Speed? They claim that it will be “Comparable to basic DSL and Cable internet service” with a footnote stating “Comparison based on basic DSL and cable plans offering download speeds of 786 kbps (DSL) and 1.5 Mbps (cable) as of September 2008.”

The site says that DC and Chicago are next in line for the service and Dallas, Fort Worth, Boston, Providence, Philadelphia are in the works.

Of course, there are lots of details to check into (e.g., if I buy service in Baltimore, can I use it when in Chicago), but this looks very interesting. Maybe Sprint can make WiMax work.

Mobile texting now more popular than calling in US

September 29th, 2008

The NYT has a short note (Letting Our Fingers Do the Talking ) on a new Nielsen Mobile report on texting use in the US.

“In the fourth quarter of 2007, American cellphone subscribers for the first time sent text messages more than they phoned, according to Nielsen Mobile. Since then, the average subscriber’s volume of text messages has shot upward by 64 percent, while the average number of calls has dropped slightly.”

Average Number of Monthly Calls vs. Text Messages Among U.S. Wireless Subscribers




Qtr 1, 2006



Qtr 2, 2006



Qtr 3, 2006



Qtr 4, 2006



Qtr 1, 2007



Qtr 2, 2007



Qtr 3, 2007



Qtr 4, 2007



Qtr 1, 2008



Qtr 2, 2008



Source: Nielsen Mobile

The article also points out that “Teenagers ages 13 to 17 are by far the most prolific texters, sending or receiving 1,742 messages a month”. The Nielsen data shows that this age group sends two orders of magnitude more data than people over 65.

Average Number of Monthly Calls vs. Text Messages Among U.S. Wireless Subscribers by Age (Q2 2008)




All Subs



12 & Under



Ages 13-17



Ages 18-24



Ages 25-34



Ages 35-44



Ages 45-54



Ages 55-64



Ages 65+



Source: Nielsen Mobile

Note that texting is more popular than calling for all but the last three age groups.

Keep your lab motivated

September 28th, 2008

Sometimes worse is not better, it’s just very bad. Here’s a good motivational poster for those of us who express ourselves in code or formal models.

According to Wikipedia, "On September 21, 1997, a divide by zero error in the USS Yorktown (CG-48) Remote Data Base Manager brought down all the machines on the network, causing the ship’s propulsion system to fail."

Evri helps you search less and understand more

September 27th, 2008

Evri is another entry into the ‘semantic search’ space and has recently opened up a beta site with the slogan Search less, understand more. Evri is an startup launched by Vulcan Inc, a company founded by Paul Allen in 1986 as a private investment and R&D firm.

Here’s part of how Evri describes itself on their (FAQ).

What is Evri doing? Evri is creating a map of connections between people, places, and things on the web. You’ll use this map to find the things you’re interested in. Instead of searching by keywords and looking for relevant results, Evri will lead you to other relevant articles, images, and video based on what you’re reading.

Where does Evri get its information? We search the World Wide Web and gather content from as many highly regarded information sources as we can find, and we’re adding more sources all the time.”

Saying that Evri does ‘semantic search’ is not quite right — their initial focus is on providing widgets for blogs and other web sites that use the text on the page to recommend links to other, related information.

Evri appears to have developed an underlying ontology that is used to organize their knowledge of “people, products and things”, capturing both a type taxonomy and relations. Some of this is revealed in the beta**2 part of their site, Evri’s Garden. There is a query system over their knowledge base complex search queries.

The current push, though, seems to be to get bloggers to add an Evri widget to their blogs that will pop up a window with links to related articles and information.

This is an interesting development that is worth watching.

ISWC 2008 call for participation: register online by Oct 9

September 26th, 2008

Register online for the 7th Int. Semantic Web Conf. by Oct 9

There is still time to register online for ISWC 2008, the Seventh International Semantic Web Conference, which will be held in Karlsruhe Germany on on 26-30 October 2008. Register online by October 9 to save 100 eu and take advantage of special ISWC hotel offers which are good if made four weeks in advance.

The ISWC program booklet has the complete schedule with further details on the ISWC site. The program includes much for practitioners, researchers, students, and business people, including both experts and those new to the concepts and technology. The days before the start of the main conference include the Doctoral Consortium, 11 half and full-day tutorials, and 13 workshops. The conference features 10 keynote and invited talks, 57 submitted paper presentations, 55 poster presentations, 32 demonstrations, a panel, a series of lightning talks, exhibits of products and services, and social events including guided tours, a reception, a banquet and dancing.

Wall Street’s collapse may be IT program’s gain

September 26th, 2008

Virtually all information technology programs in the US and Europe saw their enrollments drop significantly after the dot com bubble deflated in 2001. Students decided to pursue other majors, even though the IT job market remained strong — it just wasn’t insanely strong.

At UMBC, the number of our Computer Science majors fell by almost 50%, even though the number of BS degrees we produced declined only slightly. Our Information Systems Department suffered an even greater decrease in their undergraduate programs.

One of the popular alternatives students moved toward was business, especially finance, banking and trading, where young people with good analytic skills who were willing to work hard could do very well.

Computer World has an article, Wall Street’s collapse may be computer science’s gain, that speculates the flow will reverse.

“The collapse of Wall Street may help make computer science and IT careers attractive to students who abandoned these fields in droves after the pop of the last big bubble, the dot-com bust of 2001.
    William Dally, chairman of the computer science department at Stanford University, said that for the last several years, he has watched some students interested in technology go into banking and finance because those fields could be more lucrative.
    “Many thought they could make more money in hedge funds,” Dally said. He said students are returning to computer science because they like the field and not because it can necessarily make them rich.”

My only regret is that the IT industry (including the academic sector) didn’t get a multi-hundred-billion dollar federal bailout back in 2000.

(h/t to Marie desJardins)

Can you surf the web and chew gum at the same time?

September 26th, 2008

The NYT has an article (Get Off the Internet, and Chew Some Gum) on an ad campaign by Cadbury advocating that young people spend less time on the Internet and more being up close and personal, after, of course, sweetening their breath with Dentyne.

“The campaign, called “Make face time,” was created by McCann Erickson for Dentyne, a brand owned by Cadbury, the No. 2 gum maker in the United States after Wrigley. The ads feature happy people embracing and kissing — their breath presumably freshened by Dentyne — as an alternative to pounding their BlackBerrys or sending electronic messages to their Facebook friends.” (src)

Somewhat ironically, the ad campaign is going into high-gear now with a Web component. There is also a three minute version at

“It opens with a warning announcing that it will shut down after three minutes. “When people are surfing the Web, they’re missing the best part of life — being together,” it reads.”

When I viewed it, however, it was against a background of PHP error messages. Maybe that’s part of the message — get off the Web, it’s run by flaky machines that speak in strange and unnatural languages.

UMBC’s Zeynep Tufekci was quoted in the NYT article as a skeptic.

“That strategy could be a gamble, as the ads focus on exactly the people who are most passionate about these digital tools.

“I think most college kids would roll their eyes” at the ads, said Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who studies the way young people use technology to socialize. “In fact, they’re checking out these sites in the hopes that sooner or later it will end up in a hug or kiss.”

Ms. Tufekci said that the idea that social networking sites and other digital tools have separated people from those that matter in their lives will probably not sit well with the gum industry’s young customers.

“This is a false dichotomy,” she said. People use online tools as a way to be more social, she said, updating their acquaintances on what they are doing and making plans to meet in person. Her research has shown that people who use these tools have just as many offline friends and spend just as much time with them as people who do not socialize online.” (src)

Ths makes me wonder if the Dentyne lose its flavor on the Web post overnight.

(Apologies to The Happiness Boys)

DAPD special issue on Data Management in Social Media

September 23rd, 2008

We (Tim Finin, Anupam Joshi, and Akshay Java) are editing a special issue of Distributed and Parallel Databases on Data Management in Social Media. Manuscripts must be submitted by January 15, 2009 and should not exceed 25 pages in length. Authors will be notified by April 15 and camera ready copy will be due May 15. Submit papers online specifying article type S.I.: Data Management for the Social Web. For more information, sett the call for papers (pdf) or contact Anupam Joshi at

Social Media tools like blogs, wikis and social networking sites are providing new opportunities for us to connect and interact with each other. Many social theories that could once be researched only by conducting expensive surveys can now be studied and modeled due to the easy availability of large scale social annotations and explicit description of social relationships online. The rate at which blogs, videos, bookmarks and many other user generated content is growing presents several interesting research and data management questions. The opportunity to mine social media content for analyzing opinions, sentiments and trend identification has several applications in Web search, personalization, business intelligence and national security. This special issue of the International Journal of Distributed and Parallel Databases invites original research contributions on data management in social media. Topics include but are not restricted to the following.

  • community detection and evolution in social media
  • recommendation systems
  • search in social media
  • event detection, trend identification and tracking in social media
  • influence, trust and reputation in social media
  • opinion/sentiment analysis, polarity identification
  • feed distillation and ranking blogs
  • mining microblogging and real time data
  • folksonomy, tag semantics, clustering and usage
  • advertising models for the social web
  • indexing social media content, index freshness
  • visualizing social network data
  • spam detection, social network spam and profile spam

Obama and McCain answer questions on Science policy

September 15th, 2008

Here are word clouds generated from the answers that US presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain gave to a set of 14 questions about science policy. Click on an image to see a larger size. Try to guess which is which and leave a comment. A link to the answer is after the word clouds.

“In November, 2007, a small group of six citizens – two screenwriters, a physicist, a marine biologist, a philosopher and a science journalist – began working to restore science and innovation to America’s political dialogue. They called themselves Science Debate 2008, and they called for a presidential debate on science. … Among other things, these signers submitted over 3,400 questions they want the candidates for President to answer about science and the future of America. Beginning with these 3,400 questions, Science Debate 2008 worked with the leading organizations listed to craft the top 14 questions the candidates should answer.

Candidate 1
Candidate 1


Candidate 2
Candidate 2


It wasn’t me — the Bot did it!

September 15th, 2008

The NYT has an interesting article, Stuck in Google’s Doghouse, on the importance of search engines to many businesses. Or maybe it’s about ad arbitrage and the ways that some Web business models are based on gaming search engines and Web advertising. In any case, it’s especially relevant in the light of the recently announced Google-Yahoo advertising deal.

One of the most interesting aspects to the story, at least to me, is who gets the credit or blame for significant decisions and events on the Web — people or machines.

“When Mr. Savage asked Google executives what the problem was, he was told that Sourcetool’s “landing page quality” was low. Google had recently changed the algorithm for choosing advertisements for prominent positions on Google search pages, and Mr. Savage’s site had been identified as one that didn’t meet the algorithm’s new standards. (As Google defines it, landing page quality includes a series of attributes — loading speed, user friendliness, relevancy, originality and dozens of other characteristics — that it deems appropriately “googly.”)” source

A more dramatic example of our brave new world was the $1B problem United Airlines stock had last week, as outlined in A Stock-Killer Fueled by Algorithm After Algorithm.

“What made a six-year-old article about a bankruptcy filing by United Airlines reappear on Wall Street traders’ screens on Monday as if it were fresh news, prompting a sell-off that erased $1 billion in the company’s market value in a matter of minutes? The path the article followed from forgotten archive entry to present-day stock-killer has begun to emerge, and it raises some interesting questions about how news rockets around the Web. Both human error and far-from-foolproof technology seem to have played a role in the episode, which involved a 2002 Chicago Tribune report; the web site of the Sun Sentinel, a Florida newspaper owned by the same company; the Bloomberg News financial wire service; and Google, all apparently unwittingly.” source

The automation is inevitable, IMHO, and probably a good thing. Of course, I reserve the right to revise and extend my remarks if my own ox is gored.

Feel paranoid that Google Chrome is spying on you? Apply UnChrome!

September 14th, 2008

I’ve seen the following attributed to Woody Allen:

    Question: what’s a three syllable word beginning with ‘P’ that means you think that everybody’s against you?
    Answer: perceptive.

unchromeIt’s fashionable in some circles to be paranoid about Google. If they ever do abandon their Don’t be evil informal motto then we are all in trouble. Search engines can gather a lot of information about a person’s interests. While Google is not the only search engine available, they have assembled quite an array of Web systems, including gmail, Google reader, Google groups, DoubleClick, Feedburner and many more. They would be in a good position to integrate a lot of information about a person’s behavior on the Web.

Enter Google Chrome.

If you own the browser, you can get the full range of a person’s Web activities. What worries some is that each Google Chrome installation contains a unique ID, which could be used to identify its user. The German company Abelssoft has released UnChrome as an application that effectively makes your copy of Google Chrome anonymous.

“Regarding to Google, “Google Chrome is a browser that combines a minimal design with sophisticated technology to make the web faster, safer, and easier”. Unfortunately, each Google Chrome installation contains a unique ID that allowing identifying its user. Google doesn’t make it an easy job to remove this ID.

UnChrome helps you with this task. It replaces your unique ID with Null values so that your browser cannot be identified any longer. The functionality of Google Chrome is not influenced by this. You only need to apply UnChrome once.”

I think this is paranoia rather than being perceptive, but just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.