Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Less Reasons To Leave Your Apartment

Why leave you apartment to see a city, when you can see everthing from your desk using internet mapping software? I know, we are not there yet, but the speed at which these mapping tools develop is breathtaking. In recent days we saw the the announcement of Ask.com's (formely Ask Jeeves) better maps with

walking directions, dragable location pins that automatically recalculate directions, the ability to right-click on a spot on a map to add it to a route, aerial photography that can be combined with regular street views, and the ability to print aerial shots for a fee.
We also we heard of the amazing new street level pictures on Microsofts Virtual Earth: you can click on the map in selected cities and see what would look like to stand on the ground at this position. They even created a game like interface in which you can drive around in the city, showing actual images of the city. Granted - A9 did this first, but Microsoft seems to have a much higher number of images.

Google Base Starting To Make Sense?

Let's face it: while this Google Base thing sounded exciting at first, it turned out to be kind of dull. Google Base seemed poised to organize all the worlds data in a structured format - but then all but ignored the problems that make this a hard task. Multiple schemas for the same class of items? (Not our problem) Interface to extremely heterogenous data? (Just expose the underlaying data model) Trust? (T.. what?) Linking and reuse? Any kind of access control?
At the same time Google did not offer any decent API that would have enabled people to easily build applications on top of the Google Base data. I was really starting to wonder ....

But then, this announcement and even more this article by TechCrunch explained everything (well, something): Google is now offering a payment service, specifically it allows Google Base items to be sold, facilitating the transaction through Google Payments.

So Google Base is meant to be an internal infrastructure on top of which Google will continue to add other applications. In Addition, now with Google Payments in place, the Google Base + Payments combination will become a major competitor for Ebay and Amazon. And while I'm still not a fan of handing Google a monopoly on too much data, I very much welcome this development: one internet titan challenging the near monopolies of two others ... I predict this will lead to lower ebay fees and a better and faster user interface for ebay :-).

Monday, February 27, 2006

Scientific Blogging

I'm quite often wondering what it may mean the be a "scientific" or "academic blogger". Does it include to write about an review papers? Could many scientific bloggers replace or at least complement the traditional peer review system? Never arrived at a real conclusion - but came accross this site: http://www.postgenomic.com/ today. It is a portal site to life science blogs. With "most talked about academic papers", an online impact tracker for journals and more .. very nice.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Plane Spotting About To Get More Exciting

Always thought that spending your time standing on an airport and taking pictures of planes is kind of boring, but this technology may make it a lot more appealing to the mainstream: A swedish company has developed flares (burning stuff ejecting from airplanes as decoys for shoulder terrorist launched missiles) that could be used by commercial airplanes (without burning everything within a couple of miles from the airport).
The picture to the left shows how it looks when a large airplane ejects flares - and now imagine O'Hare at night (yes, according to wikipedia at least military transport planes eject flares preventatively - (when used in dangerous areas, that is))

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Interesting Link

Most promising web 2.0 software for 2006 and Web 3.0, 4.0 and 10.0.

An article and photos about ENIAC (seen by some as the first electronic computer, unveiled 60 years ago).

The New Scientest has a special issue about robots, and knight ridder newspapers has more about the use of robots in iraq

Search engine for code.

Prototype of chip based on magnetism instead of electrical transistors

And the weird category: Slime powered robot and the Air Force is about to control your thoughts.

The political Link: Out with the old, an article by philosopher Richard Sennet about the role of the old in a society that needs fewer and fewer people to function.

Last weeks Interesting Link.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day

(also known as "Single Awareness Day", short SAD)

A happy Valentine's Day especially to those, like 90% of the current visitors that get here be searching for something like "valentins pictures" (note the missing "e"). Alright 90% may be a bit too high, but I had a look at this sites logs and 13 of the last 20 visitors to this site where looking for pictures or cards for valentine's day.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Segregated Internet

So this is a debate people concerned about the future internet should be aware of:

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation is considering making changes to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and one of the ideas being floated is that network providers should be allowed to offer preferential service to some of their customers instead of providing a neutral data carrier service.
Now some of the big telecoms companies want to be able to sell premium services for things like streaming video or voice over IP, and some people are worried that this will eventually lead to a segregated internet.

More by Bill Thompson(shortest), Cringely and Lawrence Lessig. Wikipedia on Network Neutrality and Virtual Karma with a funny dialog that may happen in 2019 after the big telcos got their way.

Friday, February 10, 2006

MPAORIAA Warning Parody

A really great parody of the MPAORIAA warnings. You know: these message that accuse you of stealing the moment you start to watch the DVD you just bought. For some reason these message tend to be absent on illegal copied movies - I would even go as far as to say that this is pretty reliable criteria to check if a DVD is legal: it is legal if it accuses you of stealing.

But honestly, I'm totally at a loss to understand what the entertainment industry things when they put these message on their DVD's. I recently bought a box with 5 DVD - and EVERY SINGLE ONE started with "You wouldn't steal a car ... ", implying that I would "steal this DVD". This made me think ... really made me think who of my friends would like accept a copy of these DVDs*. And don't even get my started about the messages in cinemas: I'm not staying at home to download the movies, I AM paying 8 euros to watch 30 minutes of commercials and to be annoyed by people eating chips - only to be accused of stealing again. Simply the fact that I'm interested in movies makes me guilty in their eyes. And the german movie industry used to be pretty explicit about what they consider a fair punishment for beeing interested in movies: to get thrown in jail and be raped by other inmates**.

*: Of course I would never actually do such an illegal thing, much less admit to it in writing.
**: Sadly this is NOT hyperbole, they actually had a commercial that would show a young man arriving in jail with other inmates taking about how cute he is and who saw him first and hence could "have him". The spot would end with the message: firm but just.

The Interesting Link

Self-Taught: Software That Learns By Doing, the beginning is boring, but it gets better. I for one hadn't heard of "partial programming with Alisp" or "convolutional networks" before.

Rumours mount over Google's internet plan, "Google is working on a project to create its own global internet protocol (IP) network, a private alternative to the internet controlled by the search giant, according to sources who are in commercial negotiation with the company."

Wikis at work - use of wikis in large cooperations
What happened to the Robot Age?
Sodoku Science
Last Telegram send

Upcoming Conferences and Workshops:
4th Workshop on Principles and Practice of Semantic Web Reasoning PPSWR'06 at the ESWC 2006.
The Second International Workshop on Contexts and Ontologies: Theory, Practice and Applications (C&O-2006) at the ECAI 2006.
International Symposiom on Temporal Represenation and Reasoning.
17th European Conference on Machine Learning (ECML) and the 10th European Conference on Principles and Practice of Knowledge Discovery in Databases (PKDD).
First International Workshop on Semantic Web Annotations for Multimedia.
1st Workshop: From Wiki to Semantics
2nd Workshop on Scripting for the Semantic Web.
The Eighth International Conference on Electronic Commerce (ICEC'06).
ESWC06 Workshop on Scripting for the Semantic Web.

The Political Link:The The suffering in Congo, much more important than any cartoon.

Last weeks Interesting Link (actually thats now more than two weeks, but I was just too busy)

Why Not Give Google A Key To Your House?

Alright, so Google announced a new version of its desktop search software. The most interesting feature of which is, that you can have a shared index for multiple computers. The problem with this feature is, that in order to use it you must agree to have your data stored on a Google Server*.

As usual lots of people are getting very exciting about it, so I felt the need for a sceptic voice:

  • Google is not good. Google is a publicly traded company, as such it is its goal to make money (for its shareholders), it will only follow its motto ("Don't be evil") as long as it does not interfere with this goal.
  • Google Desktop is part of a "plot" of Google to get access to data stores that are searchable exclusively through Google. Once Google has enough exclusive data, it will have a monopoly in the search market and will be very hard to challenge. This will stiffle innovation in the long run.
  • You are already giving Google an incredible amount of data about your personal life. Be aware that this data is not totally safe - neither from hackers nor governments. Google may later decide to use this data in ways you don't like - if by this time you are totally dependent on Google you may not have an alternative but to agree.

Don't get my wrong - I like Google and would love to work there (Heck, I'm even publishing this using a (great) free service supplied by Google). I don't consider it evil for a company to try to make money - but there seem to be lots of people that think Google is somehow a special, magical company - thats a view I don't share!

* Although it seems that this is only temporarly. The data is only stored on the Google Server until it is transfered to all your computers. Only data that is indexed after you enabled the shared index is shared. Any computer receives only the data about files indexed on other computers after(!) this computer enabled shared indexing. So assume that you have a computer A at work and computer B at home - you enabled the shared index functionality on your computer A on the 10th of February and on computer B on the 1st of March. Now the Google Desktop Index of computer B will only contain those files indexed on computer A after the 1st of March (and those from computer B - obviously).

100th Post

Time to celebrate - this is my 100st post to this Blog! (and this used to be my "apartment cat")

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Data Privacy Protection in the Age of Data Mining

From the article "US plans massive data sweep":

"We don't realize that, as we live our lives and make little choices, like buying groceries, buying on Amazon, Googling, we're leaving traces everywhere," says Lee Tien, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "We have an attitude that no one will connect all those dots. But these programs are about connecting those dots - analyzing and aggregating them - in a way that we haven't thought about. It's one of the underlying fundamental issues we have yet to come to grips with."

Data privacy is one of the areas where Germany law actually is quite advanced. It already talks explicitely about the dangers data integration may pose. You can learn about the German "Bundesdatenschutzgesetz" (Data Security Law) in this excellent article from Siemens.

W3C Content Label Incubator Group

From the charter of the recently createdW3C Content Label Incubator Group:

In its earliest days, W3C recognized a need to be able to describe content according to a defined vocabulary. This could be done for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to, child protection. The result was the PICS system which, despite early promise, has achieved limited support.
The underlying need for such a system is, however, undiminished.
The first objective must be to review the use cases and establish a set of requirements. Some relevant questions for this stage might be:
  • Are the use cases clear enough?
  • Should further use cases be added?
  • Can a scalable method of creating metadata for the Web be trustworthy?
  • What role can digital signatures play?
  • What other techniques can be drawn upon?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


The SEKT Project has written a new Semantic Web book:

It provides a comprehensive overview of the state-of-the art in Semantic Web research and key technologies. It examines how Semantic web technology is being applied in knowledge management ("Semantic Information Access") and in the next generation of web services. It addresses the issues of (semi-) automatic ontology generation and metadata extraction. It discusses ontology management and evolution, covering language - independent ontology evolution, ontology change request specification, and ontology dependency. It includes contributions by the top authorities in the field and illustrates the theoretical concepts with three case studies on industrial applications in digital libraries, the legal sector and the telecommunication industry. It is suitable for undergraduates and graduate students, academics, industrial researchers in the field and industrial personnel who are tracking WWW technology developments in order to understand the business implications.