Logicomix: graphic novel of the quest for the foundations of mathematics

September 26th, 2009

LogicomixThe NYT reviewed Logicomix by writer Apostolos Doxiadis and Berkeley CS professor Christos Papadimitriou.

“First published last year in Greece (where it became a surprise best seller), the comic book — er, graphic novel? — is the brainchild of Apostolos Doxiadis, previously the author of a not-bad mathematical fiction called “Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture.” For expert assistance on logic, Doxiadis called on his friend Christos Papadimitriou, a professor of computer science at Berkeley and the author of a novel about Alan Turing.”

It looks great. Amazon is out of stock for the harccover version, but there are other online sources that have copies and I’ve ordered one for the ebiquity lab. The paperback version will be released on Monday.

Here’s how the Logicomix site describes it.

“Covering a span of sixty years, the graphic novel Logicomix was inspired by the epic story of the quest for the Foundations of Mathematics.

This was a heroic intellectual adventure most of whose protagonists paid the price of knowledge with extreme personal suffering and even insanity. The book tells its tale in an engaging way, at the same time complex and accessible. It grounds the philosophical struggles on the undercurrent of personal emotional turmoil, as well as the momentous historical events and ideological battles which gave rise to them.

The role of narrator is given to the most eloquent and spirited of the story’s protagonists, the great logician, philosopher and pacifist Bertrand Russell. It is through his eyes that the plights of such great thinkers as Frege, Hilbert, Poincaré, Wittgenstein and Gödel come to life, and through his own passionate involvement in the quest that the various narrative strands come together.”

Next stop: Land of Lisp

September 24th, 2009
Land of Lisp

It looks like the release of Conrad Barski’s long awaited graphic text on Lisp is getting closer. You can now order it from Amazon, although the publication date is listed as April 28, 2010. Conrad’s site says that it’s “due out this Fall” and the publisher’s site says “Coming March 2010”. I hope we don’t have to wait until next Spring.

Conrad Barski, Land of Lisp: Learn to Program in Lisp, One Game at a Time!, No Starch Press, 2010.

Here’s the description from the publisher’s site.

“Lisp is a uniquely powerful programming language that, despite its academic reputation, is actually very practical. Land of Lisp brings the language into the real world, teaching Lisp by showing you how to write several complete Lisp-based games, including a text adventure, an evolution simulation, and a robot battle. While building these games, you’ll learn the core concepts of Lisp programming, such as data types, recursion, input/output, object-oriented programming, and macros. And thanks to the power of Lisp, the code is short. Rather than bogging things down with reference information that is easily found online, Land of Lisp focuses on using Lisp for real programming. While not a cartoon guide like our Manga Guides, the book is filled with author Conrad Barski’s brilliant Lisp cartoons (featuring a Lisp alien and other characters) that are sure to appeal to many Lisp fans and, in the tradition of all No Starch Press titles, make the learning more fun.”

For more information, see the comments on Hacker News.

Privacy concerns about new Netflix Prize data

September 22nd, 2009

The New York Times reports that the data for the Netflix Prize 2 will include more information about the anonymous users:

“Netflix was so pleased with the results of its first contest that it announced a second one on Monday. The new contest will present contestants with demographic and behavioral data, including renters’ ages, gender, ZIP codes, genre ratings and previously chosen movies — but not ratings. Contestants will then have to predict which movies those people will like.”

As others have noted this will make it much easier to “de-anonymize” individuals in the collection.

As an experiment, I checked the zip code where I grew up and found that it had about 3900 people in the 2000 census. So, given an age and gender you would have a set of about 40 people. With just a little bit of additional information, one could narrow this to a specific individual.

For example, Narayanan and Shmatikov showed (Robust De-anonymization of Large Sparse Datasets) that this could be done with the dataset from the first Netflix Grand Prize by mining information from IMDB. Think of how much more powerful such attacks would be with the new dataset.

$1M Netflix Prize goes to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos

September 21st, 2009

Netflix announced today that BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos team was awarded the $1M Netflix Grand Prize.

“It is our great honor to announce the $1M Grand Prize winner of the Netflix Prize contest as team BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos for their verified submission on July 26, 2009 at 18:18:28 UTC, achieving the winning RMSE of 0.8567 on the test subset. This represents a 10.06% improvement over Cinematch’s score on the test subset at the start of the contest. We congratulate the team of Bob Bell, Martin Chabbert, Michael Jahrer, Yehuda Koren, Martin Piotte, Andreas Töscher and Chris Volinsky for their superb work advancing and integrating many significant techniques to achieve this result.”

Netflix announced that it will hold a new Netflix Prize 2 contest with details to be released.

What about the Ensemble’s last-minute entry, the one that seemed to top BellKor’s?

“Team BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos edged out team The Ensemble with the winning submission coming just 24 minutes before the conclusion of the nearly three-year-long contest. Historically the Leaderboard has only reported team scores on the quiz subset. The Prize is awarded based on teams’ test subset score. Now that the contest is closed we will be updating the Leaderboard to report team scores on both the test and quiz subsets.”

As part of the final submission, teams were required to submit papers describing the approach. Here are the three that the winning team delivered.

The New York Times Bits blog also has an article, Netflix Awards $1 Million Prize and Starts a New Contest.

Project Gaydar and privacy in Facebook and other online social networking systems

September 20th, 2009

Today’s Boston Globe has an article on online privacy provocatively titled Project ‘Gaydar’ that leads with a story of an class experiment done by two MIT students on predicting sexual orientation from social network information.

“Using data from the social network Facebook, they made a striking discovery: just by looking at a person’s online friends, they could predict whether the person was gay. They did this with a software program that looked at the gender and sexuality of a person’s friends and, using statistical analysis, made a prediction. The two students had no way of checking all of their predictions, but based on their own knowledge outside the Facebook world, their computer program appeared quite accurate for men, they said.”

I suspect that many will read the article and think that such an analysis can be easily done on their own Facebook information. While I’m not a Facebook expert, I assume that the vast majority of its users employ the default privacy settings which do not allow non-friends to see personal information including gender and the ‘interested in’ attribute, which can be used as a proxy for sexual orientation.

Still, the problem of protecting privacy in online social networking systems is a very real one. The Boston Globe story also mentions work by Murat Kantarcioglu on predicting political affiliations (see Inferring Private Information Using Social Network Data).

“He and a student – who later went to work for Facebook – took 167,000 profiles and 3 million links between people from the Dallas-Fort Worth network. They used three methods to predict a person’s political views. One prediction model used only the details in their profiles. Another used only friendship links. And the third combined the two sets of data. The researchers found that certain traits, such as knowing what groups people belonged to or their favorite music, were quite predictive of political affiliation. But they also found that they did better than a random guess when only using friendship connections. The best results came from combining the two approaches.”

The article also mentions Lise Getoor‘s work on discovering private information by integrating work across Facebook, Flickr, Dogster and BibSonomy (see To Join or not to Join: The Illusion of Privacy in Social Networks with Mixed Public and Private User Profiles).

“Those researchers blinded themselves to the profiles of half the people in each network, and launched a variety of “attacks” on the networks, to see what private information they could glean by simply looking at things like groups people belonged to, and their friendship links. On each network, at least one attack worked. Researchers could predict where Flickr users lived; Facebook users’ gender, a dog’s breed, and whether someone was likely to be a spammer on BibSonomy. The authors found that membership in a group gave away a significant amount of information, but also found that predictions using friend links weren’t as strong as they expected. “Using friends in classifying people has to be treated with care,” computer scientists Lise Getoor and Elena Zheleva wrote.”

Botprize: a turing test for game bots

September 12th, 2009

Botprize is yet another variation on the classic Turing Test. Does setting the evaluation in the context of a online multi-user video game really change the nature of the test? At least this does have real practical values. The computer game industry is very competitive and having more realistic and interesting computer-controlled entities make a game more successful. Technology Review has a short story, A Turing Test for Computer Game Bots on the contest.

“A new contest could help develop better AI for games and other applications.

Can a computer fool expert gamers into believing it’s one of them? That was the question posed at the second annual BotPrize, a three-month contest that concluded today at the IEEE Computational Symposium on Intelligence and Games in Milan.

The contest challenges programmers to create a software “bot” to control a game character that can pass for human, as judged by a panel of experts. The goal is not only to improve AI in entertainment, but also to fuel advances in non-gaming applications of AI.

The contest has been completed, but the results have not yet been announced. The BotPrize web site currently says:

The 2009 BotPrize Contest has been decided!

Complete results will be posted soon, but here is a summary of the results:

None of the bots was able to fool enough judges to take the major prize. But all the bots fooled at least one of the judges.

The most human-like bot was sqlitebot by Jeremy Cothran. The joint runners up were anubot from Chris Pelling and ICE-2009 from the team from Ritsumeikan University, Japan. Jeremy and Chris are both new entrants, and the ICE team were also runners up in 2008.

… more details to follow in the next 24 hours.

Contestants created bots for Unreal Tournament 2004 which communicate with the game server via the GameBots interface.

The TR story continues.

“This year’s BotPrize drew 15 entrants from Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, Spain, Brazil, and Canada. Entrants created bots for Unreal Tournament 2004, a first-person shoot-’em-up in which gamers compete against each other for the most virtual kills. For the contest, in-game chatting was disabled so that bots could be evaluated for their so-called “humanness” by “physical” behavior alone. And, to elicit more spontaneity, contestants were given weapons that behaved differently from the ones ordinarily used in the game.

Each expert judge on the prize panel took turns shooting against two unidentified opponents-one human-controlled, the other a bot created by a contestant. After 10 to 15 minutes, the judge tried to identify the AI. To win the big prize, worth $6,000, a bot had to fool at least 80% of the judges. As in last year’s competition, however, none of the participants was able to pull off this feat. A minor award worth $1,700, for the most “human-like” bot, was awarded to Jeremy Cathran, from the University of Southern California, for his entry, called sqlitebo.”

A modern Turing Test scenario

September 4th, 2009


HealthBase semantic search is very positive about the Semantic Web

September 3rd, 2009

HealthBase is a ‘semantic search engine’ for healthcare information that is driven by content mined from “millions of authoritative health sources” including WebMD, Wikipedia, PubMed, and Mayo Clinic’s health site. Techcrunch first described it as the ultimate medical content search engine but then had a follow up article reporting that HealthBase thinks you can get rid of jews with alcohol and salt. Language Log had some more fun exploring HealthBase.

We thought we’d see what HealthBase thought of the Semantic Web and it turns out that if you are experiencing the Semantic Web as a condition there are several recommended treatments.


and as a treatment itself, HealthBase is pretty positive.


Roesch on Effective Network Security in a Dynamic World

September 3rd, 2009

Martin Roesch will speak on Effective Network Security in a Dynamic World to kick off UMBC’s 10th Annual Visionaries in IT forum on Wednesday September 30.

Martin Roesch, a respected authority on intrusion prevention and detection technology and forensics, will discuss why today’s network security isn’t getting the job done. He will also share his vision on where network security is heading in the future. Why must network security be intelligent to be effective? Why must it provide full network visibility, relevant context, and automated impact assessment and IPS tuning? How can network security adapt to dynamic networks and threats in real time?

Roesch is the founder and CTO of Sourcefire, a network security company based in Columbia MD. Roesch is also well known as the creator of the widely used Snort network intrusion detection and prevention system.

The breakfast meeting is free and open to the public, but registration is required. It will take place at the Westin BWI hotel (map, 1110 Old Elkridge Landing Road, Linthicum, MD 21090, (443) 577-2300) 7:30am – 9:00am on Wednesday 30 September 2009.

Can infodemiology help manage a Swine Flu pandemic?

September 2nd, 2009

The Washington Post reports that Flu Trackers Encourage Patients to Blog About It. There was quite a bit of discussion about this back in April with the first wave of H1N1 (swine flu) concerns (e.g., Google flu trends: Web searches as sensors). The article mentions Google Flu Trends and HealthMap, but I was surprised with some of the new ideas people are exploring that the article mentions. Plus, I learned a catchy new term for this: infodemiology.

One idea is to further exploit mobile phone technology.

Boston-based HealthMap’s automated system sends out an hourly Web “crawler” that hunts for flu information in seven languages. Its creators on Tuesday launched a cellphone application called “Outbreaks Near Me” that can alert users to illnesses nearby. “If you move into a zone where there’s an outbreak, your phone would actually alert you,” said John Brownstein, assistant professor of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital in Boston, where HealthMap is based. The application also allows users to send back to HealthMap their own flu alerts.

And another is to recruit a population sample willing to serve as active sensors by reporting their own status and experiences.

Locally, Maryland has launched a “flu watcher” program in which volunteers report their health conditions weekly via the Internet. Project officials say the state is the first in the country to have such a system: the Maryland Resident Influenza Tracking Survey.

“We get people to sign up online and give us their e-mail address,” said Rene Najera, an epidemiologist with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “They give us their county of residence, their month and year of birth. We don’t get too personal with them. We just want some basic demographics. Every week . . . we send them a survey . . . ‘Did you have any fever? Did you have any cough? Did you have any sore throat in the week previous?’ ” he said. If the answer is yes, more detailed questions are asked. So far, 740 people across the state have signed up.

And the Maryland system is not the only one — see the Australian Flutracking system for another, which gets responses from about 6,000 people.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore have developed a system called FluLog that will use Bluetooth to locate people who had been in proximity to someone who has become infected.

It’s a high-tech version of a process called “contact tracing,” said Mehul Motani of the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Engineering. Typically, he said “when you have a suspected case, you interview the suspected case, and you ask them: ‘Where have you been? . . . Who have you been in sustained contact with?’ ” The idea is to locate others who might get sick.

Many of these systems have serious privacy issue, of course. But the examples discussed in this article (only some of which are mentioned here) are all voluntary.

It would be great if some of these systems could expose data as RDF making it available as part of the web of linked data.

Five college majors on the rise, three in Information Technology

September 1st, 2009

Yesterday’s Chronicle of Education had an article on 5 College Majors On the Rise. It’s gratifying to see that three of them are relevant to IT and computing: service science, health informatics, and computational science. Of course, now is a difficult time for universities and Departments to mount new majors or even tracks. Most schools in the US have had two years of budget cuts due to the recession and/or decline in their endowments. But this is a positive sign for the computing disciplines, which had suffered declines in enrollments after the dot com bubble burst seven years ago.