UMBC wins 2009 Pan-Am College Chess Tournament

December 31st, 2009

GM Leonid Kritz, UMBCUMBC won the 2009 Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship yesterday with perfect score of 6.0 points. This year’s tournament was held in South Padre Island, Texas on December 27-30

This is from the UMBC press release:

“Capping a near-flawless performance over the past four days at the tournament in South Padre Island, Texas, the Retrievers topped a team from the University of Texas-Brownsville today to secure the title outright for the first time since 2005.

Today’s win completed a perfect 6-0 match record for the tournament, known as the “World Series of college chess.” UMBC’s dominant performance is all the more impressive given the high quality of the 28-team field this year, said Alan Sherman, director of the school’s chess program.

Today UMBC topped UT-Brownsville’s “B” team, 4-0, to complete the march to the title. But the Retrievers most of the hard work yesterday, winning decisive matches over two of the strongest teams in college chess. The Retrievers topped UT-Dallas, 3 to 1, in the early match, and then got past UT-Brownsville’s “into today’s action. The tournament also included teams from Yale, Princeton, NYU, Stanford and University of Chicago.

The Pan-Am is the most celebrated intercollegiate chess tournament in the Americas. Since its 1946 inception, dozens of universities throughout the Americas have participated. The tournament is open to any college or university team from North, South, or Central America.

Since 2003, the teams representing the top four schools in the Pan-Am have met again in the spring to compete for the President’s Cup in an event sponsored by the U.S. Chess Federation — the “Final Four of Chess”. In 2010 the University of Texas Brownsville will host the final four, UMBC, UTD, UTB and Texas Tech, in April.

You can get information on the tournament and the games at monroi.

Learning to love your robot

December 22nd, 2009

The new Scientist has an article, Learning to love to hate robots, on recent research on how humans and robots interact and ways to improve the relationships. The most popular robot in such “opposite relationships” is, of course, the little Roomba. Searching for roomba on Flickr produces more than 5000 pictures taken by their human friends.

“A six-month study of how Roomba affected households, conducted by Ja-Young Sung at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, backs up that finding. “Some people saw it as a lifetime partner – they had a real emotional attachment to it.” Even those who returned to their previous cleaning routine didn’t blame the robot, instead saying it was their routine that was at fault.”

See their 2009 CHI paper, “Pimp My Roomba”: Designing for Personalization.

The little guy is pretty savvy — it knows how how to get ahead even if it doesn’t have the fastest cores on the block: manage expectations.

“One study by Jodi Forlizzi at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, highlights how popular culture can affect a robot’s reception. People she introduced to Roomba, a robotic vacuum cleaner made by iRobot of Bedford, Massachusetts, compared it with their knowledge of robots that explore Mars, forming low expectations of Roomba’s abilities. But making a bad first impression seemed to help Roomba; it invariably surpassed expectations, helping people bond with their machine.”

See How Robotic Products Become Social Products: An Ethnographic Study of Cleaning in the Home.

Twitter hacked by Iranian Cyber Army

December 18th, 2009

TechCrunch is reporting that Twitter is down due to an attack by someone claiming to be part of the ‘Iranian Cyber Army’. Since Twitter is now down, we can’t show a screen shot, but Techrunch reports that a similar defacement is live at

Picture 1

    Iranian Cyber Army

    U.S.A. Think They Controlling And Managing Internet By
    Their Access, But THey Don’t, We Control And Manage
    Internet By Our Power, So Do Not Try To Stimulation
    Iranian Peoples To….


    Take Care.

foaf:mbox_sha1sum considered harmful

December 17th, 2009

The foaf:mbox property is very useful since it is ‘inverse functional’ and can thus serve as an ID for a foaf individual. This lets us infer that two foaf profiles with the same mbox refer to the same person.

Since publishing your email address invites spam, many people use the foaf:mbox_sha1sum property instead of mbox. mbox_sha1sum is also inverse functional but doesn’t reveal your private information (i.e., email address).

Abell on has an interesting post, Gravatars: why publishing your email’s hash is not a good idea, that shows how to crack an MD5 hash of a person’s email address given a little information about the person. (note: The gravitar service supports globally recognized avatars.)

The idea exploits the fact that a few free email services (e.g., gmail, hotmail, yahoo, aol) account for a large fraction of email addresses and using a person’s full name, one can generate likely ‘username’ possibilities. Given an email hash and a persons first and last name, one can generate hashes of likely email addresses until a match is found.

Abell was able (!) to crack 10% of the email addresses for 80,871 users in an hour with a simple Haskell program.

The same attack can be used on foaf:mbox_sha1sum properties, especially since a foaf profile will very handily provide the other useful information about the person. Given the extra information available in many foaf profile (e.g., nick, school homepage) one might even expect better results.

As vulnerabilities go, this doesn’t seem like a very dangerous one. The use of mbox_sha1sum is usually justified as a way to avoid having your email address harvested by spambots. I doubt that spammers would think it productive to spend an hour of computing time to get 1000 email addresses.

Mathematical model predicts insurgent attacks

December 16th, 2009

Mathematical model predicts insurgent attacks

A paper just published in Nature, Common ecology quantifies human insurgency, describes a mathematical model that can be used to predict the the sizes and timing of violent events within different insurgent conflicts.

“We propose a unified model of human insurgency that reproduces these commonalities, and explains conflict-specific variations quantitatively in terms of underlying rules of engagement. Our model treats each insurgent population as an ecology of dynamically evolving, self-organized groups following common decision-making processes. Our model is consistent with several recent hypotheses about modern insurgency is robust to many generalizations, and establishes a quantitative connection between human insurgency, global terrorism and ecology. Its similarity to financial market models provides a surprising link between violent and non-violent forms of human behaviour.”

See also a note in Nature News, Modellers claim wars are predictable and this TED talk by one of the authors, Sean Gourley, on the mathematics of war.

The TED blog has more information and portions of an interview with Gourley.


Stanford AI pioneers reunite

December 8th, 2009

Today’s NYT has a short essay by John Markoff, Optimism as Artificial Intelligence Pioneers Reunite, on a recent reunion of researchers from the early days of the Stanford AI Laboratory.

MIT team finds 10 red balloons, wins DARPA network challenge

December 5th, 2009

Game over. DARPA has announced that the MIT Red Balloon Challenge Team won the DARPA Network Challenge and its $40,000 prize. The MIT team received the prize for being the first entrant to identify the locations of all ten red balloons.

Locations of the ten red ballooons in the DARPA network challenge

The MIT team used a kind of inverse pyramid scheme to encourage people to collaborate.

MySpace in the digital Cambrian period

December 5th, 2009

Financial Times has a long article describing the The rise and fall of MySpace. It’s a story full of bad timing, missed opportunities, suits vs. geeks, personalities, and, I suppose, random chance events. I hope at least a few fossils from our age will be preserved for future generations to study.

Visualizing social media use in 16 countries

December 5th, 2009

Trendstream’s Global Web Index has a visualization, Global Map of Social Web, that shows the uptake of different social media systems in 16 countries around the world.

Map of the Social Web
Full size pdf

It’s a little busy, but it overlays a lot of information over the world map.

“The map visualises the number of active bloggers, social networkers, video sharers, photo uploaders and microbloggers. The length of the curve represents the penetration and the size represents the universe size. We have also included the actual numbers so you can use and apply the universe estimates.”

I was surprised to see the variation in popularity of the different modalities.

(via Mashable)