Journal requires authors to include Wikipedia article with submissions

December 18th, 2008

Scientific journals are undergoing rapid evolution as they adapt to the Web and various forms of social media. As reported by Nature (Publish in Wikipedia or perish) and in ReadWriteWeb, the journal RNA Biology is experimenting with a connection to Wikipedia. Articles submitted for publication about new RNA molecules must also include a draft Wikipedia page that summarizes the work. The journal will then peer review the page before publishing it in Wikipedia.

Here are the guidelines from the RNA Biology site:

“To be eligible for publication the Supplementary Material must contain: (1) a link to a Wikipedia article preferably in a User’s space. Upon acceptance this can easily be moved into Wikipedia itself together with a reference to the published article.

At least one stub article (essentially an extended abstract) for the paper should be added to either an author’s userspace at Wikipedia (preferred route) or added directly to the main Wikipedia space (be sure to add literature references to avoid speedy deletion). This article will be reviewed alongside the manuscript and may require revision before acceptance. Upon acceptance the former articles can easily be exported to the main Wikipedia space. See below for guidelines on how to do this. Existing articles can be updated in accordance with the latest published results.”

This is definitely an interesting and forward looking idea. Yet, I can not help having the cynical thought that it’s also a great way for the journal to boost it’s page rank.

UMBC to host FIRST Lego League Maryland state championship

December 18th, 2008

UMBC will again host the 2008-09 FIRST Lego League Maryland State Championship on January 31, 2009. FIRST Lego League (FLL) an international competition for elementary and middle school students that is run by the FIRST organization with support by Lego. FLL teams use Lego Mindstorms kits to build small autonomous robots built with a limited number of sensors and motors that complete to perform predefined challenge given tasks.

“Guided by adult mentors and their own imaginations, FLL students solve real-world engineering challenges, develop important life skills, and learn to make positive contributions to society. FLL provides students age 9-14 with an opportunity to challenge their math and science skills in an internationally recognized competitive environment. FLL combines a hands-on, interactive robotics program with a sports-like atmosphere. Teams of up to 10 players focus on team building, problem solving, creativity, and analytical thinking to develop a well thought out solution to a problem currently facing the world – the Challenge.”

UMBC’s FLL activities are led by Mechanical Engineering Professor Anne Spence.

UMBC hosts Baltimore site for two day Global Game Jam

December 10th, 2008

Registration is now open for the Global Game Jam at UMBC, January 30-February 1, 2009! The Global Game Jam is a game development contest sponsored by the International Game Developers Association and held simultaneously in 41 sites across the globe. At 5PM local time, each site will be told the parameters of the game they all must produce. Participants pitch ideas, form teams, and get to work producing the best game they can in 48 hours. The Global Game Jam participants do not have to be UMBC students, and the Jam is open to participants of all levels of skill and experience. More information is available on the UMBC GAIM blog.

UMBC to offer special course in parallel programming

December 9th, 2008

There’s a very interesting late addition to UMBC’s spring schedule — CMSC 491/691A, a special topics class on parallel programming. Programming multi-core and cell-based processors is likely to be an important skill in the coming years, especially for systems that require high performance such as those involving scientific computing, graphics and interactive games.

The class will meet Tu/Thr from 7:00pm to 8:15pm in the “Game Lab” in ECS 005A and will be taught by research professors John Dorband and Shujia Zhou. Both are very experienced in high-performance and parallel programming. Professor Dorband helped to design and build the first Beowulf cluster computer in the mid 1990s when he worked at the NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Shujia Zhou has worked at Northrop Grumman and NASA/Goddard on a wide range of projects using high-performance and parallel computing for climate modeling and simulation.

CMSC 491/691a Special Topics in Computer Science:
Introduction to parallel computing emphasizing the
use of the IBM Cell B.E.

3 credits. Grade Method: REG/P-F/AUD Course meets in
ENG 005A. Prerequisites: CMSC 345 and CMSC 313 or
permission of instructor.

[7735/7736] 0101 TuTh 7:00pm- 8:15pm

StackOverflow asks programmers to pick their favorite cartoons on programming

December 9th, 2008

Stack Overflow has a popular question asking Whats your favorite programmer cartoon?. Nearly 150 have been submitted to date, commented on and sorted by community votes. You’ll recognize a lot of these — XKCD and Dilbert dominate — but I saw many I’d never seen before.

Here’s how Stack Overflow describes itself.

“Stack Overflow is a programming Q & A site that’s free. … We don’t run Stack Overflow. You do. Stack Overflow is collaboratively built and maintained by your fellow programmers. Once the system learns to trust you, you’ll be able to edit anything, much like Wikipedia. With your help, we can build good answers to every imaginable programming question together. No matter what programming language you use, or what operating system you call home — better programming is our goal. Stack Overflow is as frictionless and painless to use as we could make it. We believe finding the right answer to your programming questions should be as easy as falling into the pit of success. And maybe even a little fun along the way.”

It’s a bit overwhelming, but it’s fun to check in on the questions that are most popular, like the cartoon question. You can follow questions about your own narrow interest by subscribing to the RSS feed for appropriate tags (e.g., python, AI, or Semantic Web.). You can also search for questions based on a set of key words, like those mentioning games and AI

Measuring programming language popularity

December 4th, 2008

What programming language skills are most in demand? Which languages are hot and which ones are in decline? Is COBOL on the endangered language list? Such questions are of interest to all of us in the IT field and maybe especially to students preparing for careers.

TIOBE programming language trends November 2008The TIOBE Programming Community Index tracks the popularity of popularity of 150 programming languages, from ABC to XSLT, based on the number of hits for a simple query (“ programming”) run against five web search engines. The top ten in their November 2008 index are, in order: Java, C, C++, Basic, PHP, Python, C#, Delphi, Perl and JavaScript.

They also provide trend data since 2001 for the top twenty languages (e.g., Logo) and an composite overview of the top ten. Finally, they provide some aggregate information by paradigm and type regimen as well as some analysis and observations.

“There are number of interesting changes this month. First of all Perl is at an all-time low, whereas Delphi is still on the rise. Delphi is competing for TIOBE’s “Language of the Year 2008 Award” together with C++ and Python. Another interesting trend concerns visual programming languages. These languages are becoming really popular. Most of them have an educational nature for new programmers. Logo, certainly the oldest visual programming language, enters the top 20 this month. The new StarLogo TNG implementation from MIT is probably one of the major causes of this success. Alice, developed by Carnegie Mellon, is new at position 34, whereas Lego Mindstorms’ programming language NXT-G is at position 37. In the tables below some long term trends are listed about categories of languages. The object-oriented paradigm is at an all time high with 57.9%. The popularity of dynamically typed languages seems to be stabilizing (see trend diagram below).”

This is a good resource, although their methodology only measures some aspects of language popularity and seems to include variations due to changes in the underlying search engines on which they rely. In the past when I have taught our undergraduate programming languages course, I used to estimate the demand for language-specific programming skills by running a set of queries against For students, knowing the current demand for skills is obviously of special interest.

Amazon Remembers: See it, snap it, buy it

December 3rd, 2008

Just in time for Christmas, Amazon has released a new service via an iPhone app that let’s you snap a photo of an object you desire and sometime later in the day find out how you can buy one like it on Amazon.

Here’s how the NYT Bits blog described it in Invades the Apple App Store:

“There is, however, one unusual and noteworthy aspect of the app called Amazon Remembers, which Amazon is calling “experimental.” The tool lets users take a photograph of any product they see in the real world. The photos are then uploaded to Amazon and turned over to the far-flung freelance workers in Amazon’s Mechanical Turk program, who will try to match them with products for sale on The results will not be instantaneous (between 5 minutes and 24 hours, the company says), but the idea is to entice consumers to buy products from Amazon instead of its offline rivals.”

Too bad we are in a recession depression.

Reverse engineering RBAC policies using ILP

December 1st, 2008

In this week’s ebiquity meeting (10:30am 12/2, ITE 325), Kishor Datar will talk about his research on “Reverse engineering of RBAC policies using ILP”. Here’s the abstract.

Role Based Access Control (RBAC) is a predominant model used for advanced access control. A variety of IT vendors have provided RBAC implementations in their systems. RBAC provides great flexibility and breadth of application. System administrators can control access at a level of abstraction that is natural to the way that enterprises typically conduct business. These features of RBAC make it suitable for deployment over a variety of web applications like social networks, academic suits etc.

As use of RBAC on the web is increasing, it becomes important for an attacker to know the details of RBAC policies like role hierarchy, constraints in place to effectively attack the system. The question is: can we infer the RBAC details given the access attempts by users of the system?

In Inductive Logic Programming (ILP), background knowledge and negative and positive examples are specified in a logic language. The ILP system generates a hypothesis in logic language that best represents the given set of examples and background knowledge.

If access attempts by the users of RBAC system are stated as facts, and with some background knowledge about the organization’s structure, ILP systems should be able to tell the underlying RBAC characteristics of the system. In this talk I will introduce a possible approach towards identifying RBAC policies using ILP systems like Progol.