An Integrated System Model for Electric Grids

September 12th, 2010

The second talk in the smart grid seminar series will feature Virginiia Tech Professor Robert Broadwater who will talk on Integrated System Model for Electric Grids at 4:00pm on Monday 20 September 2010 on UMBC’s South Campus. Here is the abstract.

“A fundamental concept in software engineering is to discover and model all “fundamental objects”. An object-oriented model that includes all fundamental objects in the problem domain can be used to solve all problems in the problem domain. For utility systems such models can contain millions of objects consisting of customers, structures, equipment, and measurements. Here such a model is referred to as an Integrated System Model (ISM). A single ISM may span multiple utility systems and include interdependencies. The Distributed Engineering Workstation may be used to build an ISM, that for an electric utility models transmission, sub-transmission, primary distribution, secondary distribution, and all customers in a single model. Using an ISM for both collaborative designs and real time, distributed calculations and control will be discussed. The fundamental software paradigm used to implement ISM technology, generic programming, will be considered. Demonstrations with ISM models will be provided. The progress made in implementing ISM technology at utilities will be reviewed.”

Facebook Browser gets a low F1-score in my book

September 12th, 2010

Facebook has rolled out Facebook Browser as what sounds like a simple and effective idea — recommend pages based on on a user’s country and social network. My impression is mixed, however. While I like it’s top recommendation for me, I am already a fan. It’s suggestions for the celebrities category are a bust — Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Mark Levin, Red Green and Bill O’Reilly. And Movies? Don’t even go there! Maybe it’s trying to tell me I need a new set of friends? Inside Facebook summarizes Facebook Browser this way:

“Facebook has launched a new way to “Discover Facebook’s Popular Pages” called Browser. It shows icons of Pages that are popular in a user’s country, but factors in which Pages which are popular amongst their unique friend network. When the Page icons are hovered over they display a Like button. Browser could cause popular Pages to get more popular, widening the gap between them and smaller Pages, similar to the frequently criticized and since abandoned Twitter Suggested User List.”

I think the idea is sound, though, and I like my Facebook friends. So, my conclusion is that Facebook needs to tweak the algorithm.

Google, China and Cyber-security

September 11th, 2010

The US Army War College publishes Parameters as the “US Army’s Senior Professional Journal”. The summer issue has an article by Fort Leavenworth analyst Timothy L. Thomas, Google Confronts China’s Three Warfares, that discusses alleged recent Chinese hacking attacks on Google, censorship, Google’s reactions, and other related events. His article concludes:

“The Chinese probes of the world’s cyber domains have not ceased. Recently, Canadian researchers uncovered a massive Chinese espionage campaign targeting India. In their report, Shadow Network, they outlined the massive campaign emanating from Chengdu, China that harvested a huge quantity of data from India’s military and commercial files. China’s activities against Google and India (and their reconnaissance activities in general) portend a much broader pattern, a long-term strategy to hold military and economic assets of various nations hostage. There are a number of Chinese books that support this supposition. Gaining the high ground in international digital competition is becoming a national objective for the Chinese. China’s previous activities certainly afford them a political advantage in any future conflict.”

UMBC hosts Frontiers of Multi-Core Computing Workshop

September 11th, 2010

UMBC’s Multicore Computational Center will host the Second Workshop on Frontiers of Multi-Core Computing on 22-23 September 2010. The workshop will involve a wide range of people from universities, industry and government who will exchange ideas, discuss issues, and develop the strategies for coping with the challenges of parallel and multicore computing.

“Multi- (e.g., Intel Westmere and IBM Power7) and many-core (e.g., NVIDIA Tesla and AMD FireStream GPUs) microprocessors are enabling more compute- and data-intensive computation in desktop computers, clusters, and leadership supercomputers. However efficient utilization of these microprocessors is still a very challenging issue. Their differing architectures require significantly different programming paradigms when adapting real-world applications. The actual porting costs are actively debated, as well as the relative performance between GPUs and CPUs.”

The workshop is free but those interested should register online. See the workshop schedule for details on presentations and timing.

UMBC cyber defense team seeks new members

September 8th, 2010

UMBC’s Cyber Defense Team is looking for new members. In spring 2010 the team competed in the regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Championship for the east coast. In this competition, each team defended a mock corporate network against a horde of professional hackers in a fast-paced, real-time event over the course of two days. The competition is also a great way to network with government agencies and key companies in the security industry.

The UMBC Cyber Defense Team provides a great opportunity to gain practical, hands-on experience in information security, intrusion detection, cybersecurity, and network security. The team practices both penetration and defense of isolated networks similar to real business environments. The group will give introduction presentations 12-1pm on Wednesday, September 15th in ITE 201b and 1-2pm on Thursday, September 16th in ITE 325b.

No experience is required, but you should be motivated to learn about computer networks and systems security. Contact Justin McMillion at jmcmil1 @ for more information.

Cybersecurity as the seamy underbelly of information technology

September 8th, 2010

nextgov reports in ‘Scientists view cybersecurity as an intimidating conundrum’ on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recent look at cybersecurity.

“The Internet’s extensive cybersecurity vulnerabilities are so hard to fix that information technology researchers sometimes avoid studying the topic like they were steering clear of the seamy underbelly of a great metropolitan city, top scientists said on Thursday.

Jeannette M. Wing, who served as assistant director of the computer and information science and engineering directorate at the National Science Foundation from 2007 until recently, was called in by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to discuss specific areas in the networking and information technology sector that the federal government should be investing research and development funds in.

“I think cybersecurity . . . is the most difficult challenge. And it’s not just a societal and political challenge. It’s a technical challenge,” said Wing, who this summer returned to her post as head of the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University. “Leadership needs to come from the top since no one sector of government, industry and academia can address this challenge alone.”

PCAST is an advisory group of the nation’s leading scientists and engineers who directly advise the President on areas involving science, technology, and innovation. strengthening our economy and forming policy that works for the American people. PCAST is administered by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

You can see Dr. Wing testamony in this video.

Follow UMBC Ebiquity on Twitter, Facebook and/or your feed reader

September 7th, 2010

We are generating short status messages for Ebiquity news and pushing them out to Twitter and Facebook. The messages generally have a shortened links connecting back to the full item, which might be a new paper, an event or a blog post. This will be a convenient way to track what is new on the Ebiquity site for many.

Now there are three easy ways to enjoy fresh Ebiquity news:

  • Check out the Ebiquity twitter page and follow @ebiquity if you want to have our tweets show up in your stream.
  • If Facebook is your thing, you can go to the UMBC Ebiquity Research Group page and click on the LIKE button to have the short Ebiquity updates show up on your wall.
  • If you’re old school, you can also view our combined news stream on Planet Ebiquity and/or get it as an atom RSS feed for your favorite feed reader.

What are the hottest areas for a career in IT?

September 7th, 2010

According to a recent post in the Microsoft Careers JobsBlog the top three hottest new majors for a career in technology are

  • Data Mining/Machine Learning/AI/Natural Language Processing
  • Business Intelligence/Competitive Intelligence
  • Analytics/Statistics, specifically Web Analytics, A/B Testing and
    statistical analysis

Happily these are all strengths of the IT programs at UMBC. In fact, we have placed a large number of graduates at leading edge technology companies in the past few years, including Microsoft, Google, Amazon, IBM, and Yahoo.

SWSA seeks ISWC 2012 bids, 11th Int. Semantic Web Conf.

September 6th, 2010

Semantic WebThe Semantic Web Science Association (SWSA) is seeking statements of interest from organizations or consortia interested in hosting the 11th International Semantic Web Conference, ISWC 2012. The conference series moves regularly between the Americas, Europe, and the Asia/Pacific region and we expect that the 2012 edition will be held in the US Americas in late October or early November 2012.

Organizations wishing to host ISWC 2012 should contact SWSA President Professor James Hendler ( who will work with the SWSA members who are co-ordinating the bidding process for ISWC 2012.

The process comprises two stages. During the first stage, statements of interest are solicited through an open call that request responses using a simple form. Once the first phase is complete, SWSA will shortlist a number of applications, who will be invited to submit a full proposal, using a standard form and budget template. More information about the ISWC Conference Series and the bidding process for hosting a conference in the series can be found in the ISWC Conference Guide.

The important dates for applying to host a Conference in 2012 are:

  • September 30, 2010: Deadline for receiving statements of interest
  • November 15, 2010: Notifications to shortlisted bids are sent out
  • January 15, 2011: Formal applications received from shortlisted bids
  • March 1, 2011: SWSA decides on location for the 2012 Conference

Google AI Challenge: Planet Wars

September 6th, 2010

The University of Waterloo’s computer science club is holding another Google-sponsored AI Challenge this Fall. The task is to write a program to compete in a Planet Wars tournament. Your goal is to conquer all the planets in your corner of space or eliminate all of your opponents ships. Starter programs are available in Python, Java, C# and C++ and support for Common Lisp, Haskell, Ruby and Perl is under development. The contest starts on September 10th and ends on November 27th. Sounds like fun!

Planet Wars is inspired by Galcon iPhone and desktop strategy game. Here’s a Planet Wars game in action.

Economist on mining social networks

September 4th, 2010

The Economist article Untangling the Social Web describes growing interest in business and government organizations in extracting information and making predictions by collecting and analyzing social network data. The article leads with an example of how mobile phone companies in the very competitive Indian market analyze their customer’s social networks to identify the most influential ones in order to “keep them on board with special discounts and promotions”. (See Social ties and their relevance to churn in mobile telecom networks.

According to the Economist, there’s a big market for such software.

“By one estimate there are more than 100 programs for network analysis, also known as link analysis or predictive analysis. The raw data used may extend far beyond phone records to encompass information available from private and governmental entities, and internet sources such as Facebook. IBM, the supplier of the system used by Bharti Airtel, says its annual sales of such software, now growing at double-digit rates, will exceed $15 billion by 2015. In the past five years IBM has spent more than $11 billion buying makers of network-analysis software. Gartner, a market-research firm, ranks the technology at number two in its list of strategic business operations meriting significant investment this year.”

The article also touches on more sophisticated systems that integrate additional information, including V.S. Subrahmanian’s work on STOP:

“Called SOMA Terror Organization Portal, it analyses a wide range of information about politics, business and society in Lebanon to predict, with surprising accuracy, rocket attacks by the country’s Hizbullah militia on Israel. Attacks tend to increase, for example, as more money from Islamic charities flows into Lebanon. Attacks decrease during election years, particularly as more Hizbullah members run for office and campaign energetically. By the middle of 2010 SOMA was sucking up data from more than 200 sources, many of them newspaper websites. The number of sources will have more than doubled by the end of the year.”

Is Twitters plan to log all clicks a privacy loss?

September 2nd, 2010

Twitter’s planned shortening of all links via its service is about to happen. The initial motivation was security, according to Twitter:

“Twitter’s link service at is used to better protect users from malicious sites that engage in spreading malware, phishing attacks, and other harmful activity. A link converted by Twitter’s link service is checked against a list of potentially dangerous sites. When there’s a match, users can be warned before they continue.”

Declan McCullagh reports that Twitter announced in an email message that when someone click “on these links from or a Twitter application, Twitter will log that click.” Such information is extremely valuable. Give Twitter’s tens of millions of active users, just knowing how often certain URLs are clicked by people indicates what entities and topics are of interest at the moment.

“Our link service will also be used to measure information like how many times a link has been clicked. Eventually, this information will become an important quality signal for our Resonance algorithm—the way we determine if a Tweet is relevant and interesting.”

Associating the clicks with a user, IP address, location or device can yield even more information — like what you are interested in right now. Moreover, Twitter now has a way to associate arbitrary annotation metadata with each tweet. Analyzing all of this data can identify, for example, communities of users with common interests and the influential members within them.

Note that Twitter has not said it will do this or even that it will record and keep any user-identifiable information along with the clicks. They might just log the aggregate number of clicks in a window of time. But going the next step and capturing the additional information would be, in my mind, irresistible, even if there was no immediate plan to use it.

Search engines like Google already link clicks to users and IP addresses and use the information to improve their ranking algorithms and probably in many other ways. But what is troubling is the seemingly inexorable erosion of our online privacy. There will be no way to opt out of having your link wrapped by the service and no announced way to opt out of having your clicks logged.