Archive for December, 2004

Quake / tsunami relief and factual info

December 29, 2004

One of the most important collections of overview news, scientific background, summary statistics, and lists of aid relief services is the WikiNews compilation and originalo entries in their story about Strongest Earthquake In 40 Years Hits Souteast Asia.

Many key relief agencies are listed in a ‘How you can help’ box on the BBC News main story about the quake and tsunami.

Another timely list of key agencies is provided at

Some striking amateur video footage is provided by many news sources, including this list from and this remarkable one.

What an absolutely horrifying and humbling human tragedy. It’s the force of the tsunami and the fact that it just ‘keeps on coming’ (they are extemely long in wavelength… ) rather than its height….


Lego Robotics For The Rest Of Us

December 22, 2004

KMi’s Peter Whalley and Ben Hawkridge have released a fully-downloadable Actor Lab.

Actor-lab is a parallel, object-oriented control language designed to introduce the ideas of control technology and robotics. Actor-lab was designed to make the teaching of control technology possible in classroom settings where, after a general introduction by the teacher, year 5-7 children work by themselves in small groups with only peer support. The language and the interface were designed to represent the notion of input-process-output that is central to basic robotics and control technology. It’s operation can be explained using the intuitively accessible metaphor of a cast of actors able to send messages to each other. The programmers role becomes one of playwright, writing scripts for the actors.

It’s fantastic to see what Peter has the 10-year-olds creating with Lego robots, and in a way that their teachers can follow, unlike certain popular Lego-robot languages I’ve seen in the past. Definitely worth a look!

Photo annotation + fun = ESPgame

December 22, 2004

The ESPgame has already collected almost 6,000,000 labels for photos from around the web, while allowing people to have fun. Here’s the idea:

Labeling an image means associating word descriptions to it, as shown below. Computer programs can’t yet determine the contents of arbitrary images, but the ESP game provides a novel method of labeling them: players get to have fun as they help us determine their contents. If the ESP game is played as much as other popular online games, we estimate that all the images on the Web can be labeled in a matter of weeks!

This is a great idea. Flickr and have shown that lightweight tagging can be undertaken with little hassle. The pairwise comparisons undertaken during ESPgame play help ensure that some cross-validation takes place, adding a point-scoring challenge element that is a reasonable motivator to get people to label random photographs from elsewhere.

The academic write-up, from Carnegie-Mellon University, explaining the principles and tagging algorithms is here.

And the generalization of PodCasting is…

December 17, 2004

Not necessarily the BroadSnatching I referred to in my previous entry, but… Media RSS! Check it out… (heads up from Marc Canter’s blog entry)

Mobile Webcasting? Don’t forget Broadsnatching / Podcasting!

December 15, 2004

Jon Udell has a nifty piece on Mobile Webcasting. In addition to all the ‘how to do it’ technicalities regarding QuickTime, Helix, etc, Jon speculates on some neat use-cases (but read on for what he’s missed):

Here’s the payoff: bloggers will democratize video reporting of the live event in the same way they’ve already leveled the playing field for conventional reporting. The TV networks will still score most of the big interviews, but the collective eyes and ears of the videobloggers will supply a wealth of otherwise missing viewpoints. And their archived videoblog posts will be stirred in to the blogosphere’s bubbling cauldron of links, commentary, and aggregation.

This is cool, and it may seem hard to believe but I watched a live streaming video of a protest march taking place in New York City, from my home in the UK, via CU-SeeMe in 1994 (!!), shot from some random guy’s apartment window overlooking the protest route. I got really excited about the future possibilities for “People’s News”, but of course the technology was somewhat restrictive back then. But even mobile streaming was possible, and to win a friendly bet, while nursing a broken jaw in April 1995, I sent out some live video (again using CU-SeeMe, in a klunky Windows incarnation) from my Toshiba Windows 3.1 laptop connect to an early model mobile phone that communicated at 9.6Kbps!

Damn, I wish I’d recorded it… but we did make some related recordings around that time… maybe I’ll post some samples over the next few weeks just for posterity… if you want to get a feel for the fledgling 1994 technology we deployed including CU-SeeMe, NCSA Mosaic 1.0.3 for Macintosh (heh, Netscape didn’t yet exist), check out the technology 1-pager describing our 1994 Virtual Summer School.

But I digress… what inspired me to write this entry was the thought that Jon may have missed a trick. I know that live events (hence live streams) are way more exciting than pre-recorded, hence our obsession with live webcasts for the past 10 years. However, consider all the fuss lately about combining rich media with RSS feeds, to yield Podcasting and, more generically, Broadsnatching. That is the niche where videoblog-news-gathering is going to achieve it’s greatest impact, no?

[UPDATE: Jon is, of course, well up on the asynchronous side too, and added (by email) “In the scenario I painted where bloggers are streaming live from their mobile cams, enhancing the live experience, they are also spooling their streams to disk for timeshifted playback, aggregation, and commentary.”. See Jon’s further blog entry on the subject.]

Semantic Web Crawling

December 13, 2004

Matt Biddulph, 3rd June 2003, “Crawling The Semantic Web”

This paper presents a modular semantic web crawler designed to explore the provision of services to applications. It highlights differences from and similarities to existing web search systems that gather their source data from the public web. Rather than have web crawling and aggregation built into every semantic web application, agents will be able to call on aggregation services via webservices, be notified of new resources by publish-and-subscribe mechanisms, or simply receive a stream of RDF statements as they are found.

Leigh Dodds, 9th December 2004, “SLUG: A Simple Semantic Web Crawler”

… The [semantic crawler] code is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareALike licence. … It simply GETs every URL from its RDF scutter plan, writes a copy of the original RDF file to filesystem, which it then parses with Jena to find any seeAlso’s. The new URLs it finds as a result are then added to its ongoing list of tasks. And so on ad infinitum: it’ll just keep on sliming its way across the semantic web until you kill it. …

Seth Ladd, SemErgence, 10th December 2004, Nice Job, Leigh!

Because [SLUG is] in Java, I’ll be able to integrate into my FOAFverse work.

Thanks to Seth for the links, and while I’m at it, check out another neat posting of Seth’s a propos “Imagine eBay without the eBay”.

Take it one step further: one of eBay’s nice features is that of trust. You can see the user feedback and trust ratings for a buyer or seller from past transactions. Why does that data have to live only in eBay? Isn’t my Amazon Marketplace identity and trust rating equally as important? I should be able to combine the two identities into one identity, and thus build twice as much trust.

Some interesting activities underway… all skirting tantalizingly around a similar set of issues. Makes me think I’d better dust off my February 2002 “Roving Friends” concept document… maybe I’ll just post it up here on the blog, see if anyone nibbles…

How (not) to review cameras

December 12, 2004

I coincidentally stumbled across a pair of 3-5Megapixel consumer camera reviews published at almost the same time, in two quality newspapers: one in the UK’s The Independent, the other in the USA’s The New York Times. Because there are so many models available, and because some of the model numbering is different, the two reviews do not feature the same cameras. However, the differences between the reviews are striking, and disconcerting. The Independent, on re-read, sounds like repeat of the manufacturer’s info sheet, whereas The New York Times report is highly informative and critical (also including a neat summary table at the end). Consider these two excerpts of quite similar models.

Article 1: The Independent, Saturday, 11 December 2004
Section: Christmas Gifts; Sub-section: ‘A snap-happy Christmas, (p. 3)’
Author: David Phelan

Pentax Optio S5i £279.99
There’s something about the brushed metal casing of Pentax’s Optio S range which is deeply appealing. Of course, the fact that the latest, the S5i, is tiny and looks great would mean nothing if it didn’t take good pictures. However, its 5-megapixels and stack of features ensure this camer isn’t just a pretty face. Ideal for the casual user who wants great results without intensive work.

Article 2: The New York Times, Thursday, 9 December 2004
Section: Technology/Circuitsl Sub-section: ‘All This, and They Take Pictures, Too’
Author: David Pogue

Separated at birth? That’s what you’d conclude if you saw the Casio [EX-Z40] and this fractionally thicker rival, new from Pentax, side by side. The guts are plenty different, though. The Pentax ($207) shoots five-megapixel shots, not four. And it uses two AA batteries (or a disposable CR-V3 battery), which beats special proprietary slab batteries any day. The photographic news, alas, is not so good. Dark areas of indoor shots are grainy, and even outdoor shots aren’t as sharp as they should be. There’s something going on with the camera’s screen, too: its image freezes disconcertingly when you half-press the shutter button to focus, then blacks out entirely for a second after you take the shot. (Pentax should find out who makes the Nikon’s sensational screen.)

The price difference is another annoyance, exaggerated even more by the current weakness of the dollar against the pound (in essence, US camera prices are a steal, or rather UK camera prices are a ripoff: five or six years ago a camera dealer in New York City yelled at me in when I stopped in to get a memory card for my first ever digital camera, which I had just purchased at Heathrow Airport in London. “Are you crazy?” he yelled. “Buying the camera here instead would have saved you the entire cost of your flight!”). Well, he was exaggerating a little, but you get the point.

The purpose of this posting is not to give you the reviews out of context, nor even to rave about the virtues of The New York Times, but rather to emphasize the importance of keeping your wits about when you read reviews: make sure they are really reviews, and not cheerleading support for the manufacturer’s brochures.

China, Cuba, IBM PC: you do the maths

December 8, 2004

[UPDATE: in case you didn’t follow the chain of reasoning in the original posting, it goes like this: Cuba is aggressively pursuing a new technology and education agenda, but needs resources to begin a self-sustaining bootstrapping process; China is seeding several such resource flows to Cuba, as evidenced by a recent high-profile visit by China’s President Hu Jintao; China is now a major player in PC production, a fate sealed by its purchase of IBM’s PC business, which must greatly facilitate and accelerate the kind of ‘virtuous circle’ envisaged in the preceding two comments.]

Interesting triangulation, based merely on reporting items that are already out there in the public domain… one of them [1] from me a little earlier:

[1] Get Real, 7-Dec-2004: Cuba’s Other Revolution [by Marc Eisenstadt… my guest blog slot]

… a hi-tech campus, housing 10,000 students selected from the best and brightest in the country. … I sat dumb-struck [in early November] as I heard the concept and the numbers from the presenter. This was a colossal plan, on a scale that would challenge most countries in the developed world. That it was so bold was staggering enough — but this was topped by the realization that it had already been built. …

[2] MSNBC, 23-Nov-2004: China gives boost to Cuba’s economy

…During a 48-hour visit to the island, Chinese President Hu Jintao signed 16 agreements with Cuban leader Fidel Castro…

[3] MSNBC, 8-Dec-2004: IBM sells PC business to China’s Lenovo

Chinese computer maker Lenovo Group said Wednesday it will take over IBM’s personal computer business, creating the world’s third-largest PC maker in a $1.75 billion deal that announces China’s ambitions to become a key player in the global industry. … The deal — one of the biggest foreign acquisitions ever by a Chinese company…

Cuba’s Other Revolution

December 8, 2004

Last month, I had the privilege of visiting a hi-tech campus whose very existence defies belief. Here’s my report [this posting below is a verbatim copy of the original I posted here on Get Real on 7-Dec-2004]

A model of the campus – real photos are below

I was in Havana last month to attend TelEduc04, the 3rd International Symposium on Distance Learning and Lifelong Learning, a key Latin American e-learning workshop. I’ve filed a short news report about the conference, my keynote address, and my 30 seconds of fame on Cuban TV in a KMi Planet News Story — here I want to describe a very exciting post-conference visit.

During the opening day of the conference, the TelEduc President and Chair, Tomás López, said to me, “you would probably be very interested to hear what is happening at UCI.” (pronounced “ooh-see”). “UCI: What’s that?” I asked.” “Universidad de las Ciencias Informáticas” said Tomas, “and they are doing some very interesting things. You should listen to the presentation tomorrow by the Vice-Rector.”

The Vision

I duly attended the presentation by UCI Vice-Rector Rosa Vázquez. In that talk, she set out the vision of an institution conceived by Cuban President Fidel Castro in March of 2002. Castro’s idea was to bridge the ‘digital divide’ in one enormous leap into the future: a hi-tech campus, housing 10,000 students selected from the best and brightest in the country. The campus would be dedicated to a new university, La Universidad de las Ciencias Informáticas, and would be lavishly endowed with all the provisions an up-and-coming student of Information Sciences might require.


More FOAF, semantic blogging / photo annotation links

December 6, 2004

Hey, you don’t know until you look, right? I’m only recently ‘invading’ this particular space to check it out, and having added these guys to my NewsGator feed, I thought others would be interested too:

Blogninja’s Blog Research On Genre… including some cool papers listed in their (it’s a collective) blog gutter…
e.g. Conversations in the Blogosphere: An Analysis “From the Bottom Up”

also Seth Ladd’s SemErgence, with some nice stuff underway on photo annotation, generating foaf from flickr, a better foaf-traverser, etc.