Tuesday, March 28, 2006

In Vivo - In Silico

Virtual Virus:

Using a real-life virus as a model, researchers have built a virtual version using more than a million digital atoms.
Scientists have previously simulated small pieces of living cells, but researchers say this is the first digital simulation of an entire life form.
I see this article as evidence for the next computer driven revolution of science: scientific theories not expressed, shared and combined in natural language but as simulations and knowledge bases.

This may also be a major application area for the "Semantic Technologies" currently developed (as opposed to the "Semantic Web" - for which all this OWL stuff is too complicated anyway).

Of course I'm neither the only nor the first to say this: you can read more about this in Grand Challenges For IT Research or Natures Future of Scientific Computing.

Image Annotation on the Semantic Web

A week ago the Semantic Web Best Practices and Deployment Working Group has published their first public working draft of "Image Annotation and Semantic Web":

The goals of this document are (i) to explain what the advantages are of using Semantic Web languages and technologies for the creation, storage, manipulation, interchange and processing of image metadata, and (ii) to provide guidelines for doing so. The document gives a number of use cases that illustrate ways to exploit Semantic Web technologies for image annotation, an overview of RDF and OWL vocabularies developed for this task and an overview of relevant tools.
The document surely needs a lot more work (I was surprised that XMP isn't even mentioned) but is already a valuable resource. I especially liked the Tools Overview where I found jpegRDF, a java tool that can add, extract, query, and augment RDF embedded in JPEG images. Seems not to be industrial strength yet, but its open source and surely a good starting point.

A while we're talking about W3C news: The Rule Interchange Format (RIF) Working Group has published the First Public Working Draft of RIF Use Cases and Requirements

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Future Of Scientific Computing

Nature has a great special on the future of scientific computing:
In the last two decades advances in computing technology, from processing speed to network capacity and the internet, have revolutionized the way scientists work. From sequencing genomes to monitoring the Earth's climate, many recent scientific advances would not have been possible without a parallel increase in computing power - and with revolutionary technologies such as the quantum computer edging towards reality, what will the relationship between computing and science bring us over the next 15 years?
The issue has been sponsored by Microsoft and hence all articles are online for free. This sponsorship has been part of Microsofts "Towards 2020 Science" initiative, which also resulted in an interesting report 2020 Science; again with a focus on computing and science.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Call For (Many) Papers

For a couple of weeks I did not find the time to post "the interesting link", so now I have a pretty large collection of ontology/Semantic Web related CfPs waiting:

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids

No color on the frontpage ... time for another random picture. This picture shows part of a light installation that stood in the center of Karlsruhe. Different installations where showing pictures from different fairy tales. This picture is from the The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids installation.

Amazon Stores Your Data

Once again I'm amazed by the new opportunities oppening up for skilled internet developers. Amazon::

Amazon S3 is storage for the Internet. It is designed to make web-scale computing easier for developers.

Amazon S3 provides a simple web services interface that can be used to store and retrieve any amount of data, at any time, from anywhere on the web. It gives any developer access to the same highly scalable, reliable, fast, inexpensive data storage infrastructure that Amazon uses to run its own global network of web sites. The service aims to maximize benefits of scale and to pass those benefits on to developers.
The best is: no setup cost, no minimum fee. For example its less than 1$/month to store 1GB and transfer 4GB !

Monday, March 13, 2006

Computer: Evolve!

Nice application of evolutionary algorithms:

To that end, Bonabeau is trying to build applications compelling enough that people will take the time and get the results they want. One of his first applications, demonstrated at the O'Reilly conference, is a filter for images that allows a naive user to improve digital photos without understanding complex tools like Adobe Photoshop, by choosing from mutations of the picture to make it better. "My grandmother doesn't know anything about improving pictures," says Bonabeau, "but she knows which pictures of her grandchildren she likes."
Other planned offerings from Icosystem include an interior-decorating aid and name-selecting software that checks whois information as well as patent and trademark data to make sure company names are available as .coms and are not trademarked.

In France, the hunch engine has already been used by postal workers to build optimal carrier routes that fulfill management's requirements, while allowing workers to optimize for intangible benefits. "There could be a nice family or a cafe they liked," says Bonabeau.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Microsoft About To Save The Net?

Lawrence Lessig has written a very interesting article for wired.

We who celebrate the brilliance of the Internet - and in particular, its end-to-end open design - tend to ignore the maliciousness that increasingly infects it. The Net was built on trust, and it lacks an adequate mechanism to prevent fraud. Thus, it's no surprise that phishing expeditions nearly doubled last year - and phishing is just one of many evils proliferating online. It's only a matter of time until some virus takes out millions of computers or some senator's identity is stolen. When that happens, the liberties inherent in the Internet's early design will erode even faster than the liberties said to be protected by the Constitution.
The InfoCard system will first be distributed with Vista, Microsoft's newest Windows OS, set for release this year. The system effectively adds an "identity layer" to the Internet, accomplishing what security companies have been promising for years: making it difficult to falsify an identity and easy to verify your own. Here's how it works: Users' computers (and potentially cell phones and other devices) will hold files called InfoCards that give encrypted sites access to authenticated information about the user. An American Express InfoCard, for example, might carry your name, address, and account number, all authenticated by American Express. When a Web site requests personal data, you choose whether to release that information, securely and with the verification of the card's issuer.

The description of the InfoCard system isn't entirely clear to me (especially not how its supposed to curb phishing) - but I totally agree with his assesment ...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Web Office Is Nigh

The first real challenger to Microsofts Office is finally ready to emerge ... and it is - no big surprise here - Google. They have Email (Outlook Express) for a while now, recently we heard of the Google Calendar (Outlook?) and now they bought Writely (kind of like Word). Frontpage (aka Google Pages) is in beta for a few weeks now, Access (known as Google Base) has been around for months now. That leaves Excel (I wonder if Dan Bricklin is willing to sell) and PowerPoint of course.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Microsofts Semantic Web Clipboard

Microsoft has created an (demo) application - the "Live Clipboard" - that extends the clipboard user model to the web. It allows to copy structured data from the web or local applications and paste that data to local applications and other web sites while retaining the structure. For example you can copy the information about an event that is represented in the event microformat and paste it to your local Outlook application or your Google calender. In the case of copying to the local outlook the Live Clipboard tool takes care of translating the event microformat to a format outlook can understand; in the case of the Google calendar website, it is expected that the website can understand the XML format. You can learn more about this on Ray Ozzie's Blog there you also find a screencast explaining Live Clipboard in detail. .

The release of such an application could be a very big step towards the realization of the Semantic Web !

(All-) Seeing Computers

It is my believe that "seeing computers" is an area where we will see great improvements in the coming years; making computers understand pictures is the next low hanging fruit in AI.

I wrote about "Smart Spy Cams" (surveillance cameras combined with image recognition software) that are a part of this trend, as usual the newest about these comes from Britain. In addition to automatically identifying the number plates of each car that passes by, they also want to detect peoples speaking on mobile phones and those not wearing seatbelts.

Drivers talking on mobile phones or failing to wear seatbelts could find themselves tracked down through a widened use of road surveillance cameras, under proposals due to be floated in parliament tomorrow.

Microsoft research is also working on image recognition software and showed some advances at their recent TechFest.

Researcher Larry Zitnick demonstrated the ability to query the Internet by snapping a digital photo and automatically uploading it to a program that recognized elements of the object pictured and pulled up a related Web site. For example, he took a photo of the Kellogg's logo on a cereal box, and the computer screen automatically displayed the cereal maker's home page.
Another imaging program on display was a virtual "mirror" that records and analyzes a video image of a person or item in front of it and responds by displaying images of other people or things, recorded previously, who were wearing similar clothes or had other similar characteristics. Researcher Andy Wilson said it's more of "an art piece" than anything else, but he pointed out that it also explores a practical challenge of the digital world.
But remember that especially the first one is a very ambitious task and is currently only working for a very small number of objects - It'll take a couple of years until you can use your mobile phones camera to query the internet.

Friday, March 03, 2006

United Internet's Business Conduct

For the benefit of my German readers I want to share some of my experiences with trying to end a contract with 1und1, a part of the United Internet Group (other parts are GMX, Web.de and Schlund+Partner); After my experiences in the last days (some of them are described below) I can only recommend to stay away from United Internet.

First step: "Vertragshotline" (hotline for contract issues) - thats around 1,92€ a minute (mobile phone, its slightly cheaper from a landline) for the chance to listen to bad music - it took them 20 minutes to make things worse.

Next step: trying to figure out a fax number that I could use to fax the cancellation - too bad, seems like they have forgotton to put that on their website. Even worse that fax numbers for 1und1 that you can still find on other web sites are not working anymore (can this be a coincidence?)
But there is a special web site: vertrag.1und1.de that you can use for contract cancellation. Thats nice, so I select my contract, they tell me "please do not end the contract"... alright ... then force me to answer a questionaire about my reasons to cancel (you have to fill it out for the process to continue) and then tell me that "for security reasons"* I get an authentification code that I have to tell to the people on the service hotline that I need to call in order to get a code that will allow me to download a form that I have to sign and send to a Fax number that I'll find on this form, WTF? Luckily I live pretty close to 1und1 and will just bring it there personally - but from what I read on other internet pages - I expect them to ignore the letter anyway.

So, anybody thinking about making a contract with 1und1 should be aware that this seems to be a lifetime commitment (at least).

* read as: to secure their profits (and they are making big profits, last year they had a 12.5% profit margin)