Monday, July 24, 2006

Death Of A Meta Tag

About the history of the html "meta" tag:
The first major crawler-based search engines to use the meta keywords tag were Infoseek and AltaVista. It's unclear which one provided support first, but both were offering it in early 1996. When Inktomi launched in mid-1996 through the HotBot search engine, it also provided support for the tag. Lycos did the same in mid-1997, taking support up to four out of the seven major crawlers at the time (Excite, WebCrawler and Northern Light did not provide support).

The ascendancy of the tag did not last after 1997. Experience with the tag has showed it to be a spam magnet. Some web site owners would insert misleading words about their pages or use excessive repetition of words in hopes of tricking the crawlers about relevancy. For this reason, Excite (which also owned WebCrawler) resisted added support. Lycos quietly dropped its support of the tag in 1998, and newer search engines such as Google and FAST never added support at all.
more here. Hmmm, could this mean anything for the Semantic Web?

Berners-Lee vs. Norvig

Alright, my 2 cents on the Berners-Lee Norvig files*: Peter Norvig did not say that the Semantic Web cannot work - he just pointed out that there are serious challenges that must be overcome. I happen to totally agree: there are still big questions that must be solved, its not all smooth sailing from here on. The adoption of the Semantic Web is not a foregone conclusion. In fact I believe that Peter Norvig did a great job of posing the big questions for the Semantic Web that all to often get ignored (at least in academia): "how do we make this stuff usable", "how should this work when >90% of the availlable data is SPAM" and "whats the business model". He apparently hasn't seen convinving answers to these points - neither have I.

For me the trust question is the most important of these. I don't think that pointing to "logic" and the great big trust layer is a satisfactory answer to this challenge - it needs to be lot more concrete than that. And - dare I say it - a little bit of scepticism may be in order when people talk of building a giant system ignoring trust questions, counting on the "trust layer" that will be added on top of everything and will magically make all trust and security questions disappear. And talking about ignoring important questions: may I point out that in this year neither the ISWC, the ASWC nor the ESWC had/have any workshop that dealt with this question?

So, in the end I would add a fourth question: "how do we actually do open web-scale reasoning and what exactly will this mean" - but other than that: "Great Analysis, Mr. Norvig!"

*: A good overview of the debate is here, and here is further interesting post.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Semantic Knight

None shall pass without formally defining the ontological meta-semantic thingies of their domain something-or-others!
None shall pass without using all sorts of semantic meta-meta-meta-stuff that we will invent Real Soon Now!
I have no quarrel with you, good Sir Knight, but I must get my work done on the Web. Stand aside!
more. Nice antidote to lots of self-rightous talk in the aftermath of the TBL-Norvig encounter. Thanks York.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Thomas Jefferson On Ideas And Property

Just worthwhile to read once in a while:
"If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property." -- Thomas Jefferson

Monday, July 17, 2006

Web 2.0 Self-Experiment

I shopped for everything except food on eBay. When working with foreign-language documents, I used translations from Babel Fish. (This worked only so well. After a Babel Fish round-trip through Italian, the preceding sentence reads, "That one has only worked therefore well.") Why use up space storing files on my own hard drive when, thanks to certain free utilities, I can store them on Gmail's servers? I saved, sorted, and browsed photos I uploaded to Flickr. I used Skype for my phone calls, decided on books using Amazon's recommendations rather than "expert" reviews, killed time with videos at YouTube, and listened to music through customizable sites like Pandora and Musicmatch. I kept my schedule on Google Calendar, my to-do list on Voo2do, and my outlines on iOutliner. I voyeured my neighborhood's home values via Zillow. I even used an online service for each stage of the production of this article, culminating in my typing right now in Writely rather than Word. (Being only so confident that Writely wouldn't somehow lose my work -- or as Babel Fish might put it, "only confident therefore" -- I backed it up into Gmail files.
Interesting article, Tim O'Reilly's response is here

Thursday, July 13, 2006

New Great Challenge

There is going to be a race of autonomous cars up pikes peak.
There has been a "normal" car race up that mountain for many years now - so I'm waiting for robot cars to beat the human drivers in that race :-) For now the human driven cars need a little more than 10 minutes for the 20 km up the mountain; the makers of the autonomous cars are trying to beat 30 minutes. How long until an autonomous car beats 20, 15 and 10 minutes? I think that even the 10 minute record will fall in less than 15 years. However, I also belive that human race drivers will also be faster by then. Not sure when robot cars will be faster than humans - especially when the humans are allowed to use all kinds of electronic gear like ABS, ESP and radar guided brake assist systems. I belive robots will eventually be faster, but propably in the beginning only due to less weight and the ability to risk more.
The race is going to be on the 23rd of September, this year. Neither Stanley, H1ghlander nor Sandstorm are participating, but quite a few of the other Grand Challenge teams.

Microsoft Still Evil

I was almost starting to like Microsoft, but: You heard already of the "Windows Genuine Advantage" tool that they have propably already installed on your computer and that checks whether you have a legal Windows version? But did you know that a whopping 20% Windows installations reported as illegal are false positves i.e. indeed legal versions? And now consider that they actually plan to remotely disable all "invalid" windows versions ...

Marvin Minski On 50 Years Of AI

What surprises me is how few people have been working on higher-level theories of how thinking works. That's been a big disappointment. I'm just publishing a big new book on what we should be thinking about: How does a three- or four-year-old do the common-sense reasoning that they're so good at and that no machine seems to be able to do? The main difference being that if you are having trouble understanding something, you usually think, "What's wrong with me?" or "What's wasting my time?" or "Why isn't this way of thinking working? Is there some other way of thinking that might be better?"
But the kinds of AI projects that have been happening for the last 30 or 40 years have had almost no reflective thinking at all. It's all reacting to a situation and collecting statistics. We organized a conference about common-sense thinking about three years ago and we were only able to find about a dozen researchers in the whole world who were interested in that.
Interview in Technology Review.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Gays And Global Warming

If only gay sex caused global warming:
Our ability to duck that which is not yet coming is one of the brain's most stunning innovations, and we wouldn't have dental floss or 401(k) plans without it. But this innovation is in the early stages of development. The application that allows us to respond to visible baseballs is ancient and reliable, but the add-on utility that allows us to respond to threats that loom in an unseen future is still in beta testing.
Nice article about the way humans view threats.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Flying Snakes, Glowing Architecture And Music Coding

Wired has an amazing picture collection about changes brought to architecture by the availability of LED lights.

Also on Wired is a special on Livecoding - musical performances based on programming languages.

Finally Seed features a cool collection of pictures of flying snakes - snakes that jump from trees and glide as far as possible.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

60% To 80% Of Google's Products To Crash And Burn

That's actually what Google is saying itself ..
Marissa Mayer, vice-president for search products and user experience, estimates that up to 60% to 80% of Google's products may eventually crash and burn.
Google's problem isn't a string of failures, then, but rather the middling performance of many products that survive. In fact, it seems far from achieving even its intended 20% to 40% success ratio.
Read more in this interesting BusinessWeek article: So Much Fanfare, So Few Hits.

Slaloming Robot Car

VW build a robotic Golf GTI that can race a slalom course faster than (most?) humans. The story of a journalist trying to beat it is here (only german). Actually its a step back from the kind of cars we saw in the Grand Challenge, since this car only works in very limited environments and reacts only to clearly defined stimuli (a person standing on the slalom track would be run over). I still like it, because it points to the (likely) future where robots are much better and faster at navigating physical environments. No more movies where humans are loosing robots by racing through the wood (saw this once, don't remember which movie) - taking a route that needs quick responses would be the stupid thing to do if you where really beeing chased by robots.

Update: Found a description of the car in english: here.

A Bad Week For Journalism

I usually don't post political stuff here, but I do want to express my sorrow about the demise of Knight Ridder - a great outpost of true journalism.
The company, which has won 85 Pulitzer Prizes, will officially cease to exist on Tuesday afternoon. Its sale was forced by rebellious stockholders who had demanded more value for their shares.
In a time where too large parts of the english language media worship the "fair and balanced" bullshit - mistaking reporting opinion and counter opinion for journalism - knight ridders employees still strived for "the best obtainable version of the truth". I hope the new owners will continue the good work, but the circumstances of the sale and the overall atmosphere in America* make me sceptical.

*: Just take the misguided attacks on the New York Times - the right wing media publicly states that its editor should be tried for treason and that the gas chamber is a fair punishment for the couragous reporting about clandestine programs of questionable legality.