Sun, 30/01/11 23:03, 030

Difficult Listening, bathtubs and kitchen chairs -- as Flow

So sit bolt upright
In that Hard Backed Chair ...
and get ready for some
Difficult Music

- laurie anderson, difficult listening hour, home of the brave

Of course that's a double irony isn't it? First the playing on the notion of easy listening with its antithesis, and then framing "difficult" in terms of a delightful and engaging (rather than impenetrable) performance.

I thought of this twisting of what is relaxing and entertaining with our notions of what can be hard or perhaps challenging to figure out. This, of necessity, lead to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's notion of FLow and Carole Goble's meditation on the relation of bathtubs, coffee and reading research literature.

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Posted by mc at 11:03 PM | Comments (0)

Tue, 21/04/09 17:27, 111

What is Web Science? No really, What is the CORE of Web Science? the Web Self

Ok What IS Web Science?

This question was posed at the recent web science conference by some wild and crazy researchers from that wild and crazy town, Paris. The resulting video features Tim Berners-Lee speaking French, among others. french words french words french words french words linked-data french wordsf rench words...200904220929.jpg

Last year for the Web science workshop at the WWW conference, a few of us also sent in a video asking the question "what is web science" (that alas we had to agree never to show again -something about TBL in the WSRI space station, i think). It featured a series of long pauses and laughter from researchers working in the very area in response to the question. Including with Tim. Now there's this new video. And no pauses, but with long and divergent replies. Except from Wendy Hall with her concise " it's the intersection of these disciplines but more than that. it's everything really" We'll come back to this.

But the Paris Video goes beyond this fundamental What is It question and asks: "what is the core of Web Science" with answers from its four experts supplied in due form.

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Posted by mc at 5:27 PM | Comments (0)

Mon, 24/11/08 15:53, 329

Building Knowledge: What's Beyond Keyword Search?

The success of the Web as the main provender of information is indisputable. If a company or government is not on the web, it effectively does not exist. A key to the Web's phenomenal success, intriguingly, is in some respects less the information on it, than in our ability to find the information it references. Indeed, the main way we access the Web is via that wee box that from a few words seems to read our mind and return a list of links to resources we want. So successful has this approach to finding information become that on the one hand it is difficult to remember how we managed to find any information at all prior to web based keyword search, and on the other, it's difficult to envision needing or wanting any other tool for information discovery. If we can find it with Google, what more do we need?

Successful paradigms can sometimes constrain our ability to imagine other ways to ask questions that may open up new and more powerful possibilities. The Newtonian model of the universe-as-clockworks, for instance, is still a sound paradigm to explain a great deal of physical phenomena. Indeed, one may say it was only some niggling phenomena that were not well described by that model already that begged the question might their be a better model, a different paradigm? Relativity, a very different way to imagine the behaviours in the manifest world, opened up whole new ways of understanding our universe.

The success of the Google paradigm may be our Newtonian paradigm for the Web. It enables us to do so much information discovery that it is difficult to imagine what we cannot do with the paradigm of continually refining search terms to get to The Result. The approach Google has made ubiquitous, however, does assume that there is An Answer Out There; if we can just specify the query correctly, we can find It.

But how does the Google paradigm help a busy mom find a better job quickly, effectively, that is a match for her passion and skills. And if that mom could use some extra training to support that skill to get that better job, how would the Google paradigm bring in that highly relevant information that is outside the constraints of the keyword search?

In the Information Retrieval and Information Seeking literature, these kinds of more complex, rich information discovery and knolwedge building tasks have been modelled in terms of Search strategies and tactics (Think bates and belkin). In the relatively recent work classed as Exploratory search (see Special Issue, CACM April 2006)., the emphasis has been on harmonizing human computer Interaction design approaches with models of information seeking to develop new tools that will support these alternative kinds of search and knowledge building.

Examples of such approaches include:

  • knowledge building by association: being able to explore the scope of a domain to create new knowledge through building associations between one domain/concept with another (HT paper 07), rather than by seeing "an answer" in any one item.
  • wanting to explore a domain without sufficient knowledge of the domain. Someone who is not an expert may look for one piece of information without realizing that another component, not matched by a keyword search, is highly relevant.
  • annotations and notes. A well known way of supporting knowledge building is to be able to annotate information for a specific context. For instance, "The socket described worked well for this project but was miserable for this other - despite what the authors claim here" Similarly being able to create notes ABOUT something and add references easily from related sources is another powerful knowledge building technique
  • Collections. Pulling together information resources as they are discovered for future knowledge building, as part of information triage (Marshall and Shipman) is another approach for developing knowledge
  • History Review. Interrogating both previously looked for information as well working back through the paths taken to that information.
  • Collaborative knowledge building. A common feature of (non-digital) knowledge building activity is collaborative contribution to knowledge building, from brain storming to shared component development.

Each of these approaches to knowledge building involve exploration of information that yes, pull together a wide array of information resources, but that have less to do with specific iterative searches for a particular pre-existing answer, than support for the development of a New Answer through the interrogation and association of these sources. To support these different kinds of knowledge building goals, we need to develop the tools that will support these kinds of approaches to exploration. The goal of this article is to consider some of the nascent efforts that have been developed around these non-keyword search paradigms.

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Posted by mc at 3:53 PM | Comments (0)

Mon, 17/11/08 19:51, 322

Compostable Cups & Cuttlery? Cool, but...

I was at Microsoft Research in Redmond, USA recently and found that their new building's caffeteria has recently switched to what i was told was "biodegradable cutlery" made from corn.

Apparently there are a number of manufacturers going into this space offering a variety of types of heat resistance and other properties.
Now that's kinda nifty. I'm not sure what the impact on the environment is on growing corn/spuds specifically to make utensils (there's a compelling overview of these questions here. can you say "cargill" anyone?) or why this is more environmentally sound than having a dishwasher to wash stainless steal stuff on site, or just what the tradeoffs are between compostable flatware production but surely it's better than plastic? It certainly *feels* nicer than plastic.
Of course this whole notion of convenience is a bit wiffy, isn't it? There's no signs up at most institutions that say "think about bringing in your own cutlery and reusing it." or "Why not wash off your cutlery and reuse it?" - probably fears around law suits for self-poisoning from cootie build up on less well washed utensils.
But seriously, this approach to turning disposable into compostable seems like a good one. Apparently it also takes 65% less energy to make a one of these kinds of compostable cups than a plastic (oil based, that is) cup. How much more energy would it take for us to take the next step to add reduce and reuse into that cycle before that final recycle phase?
Posted by mc at 7:51 PM | Comments (0)

Mon, 13/10/08 09:36, 287

Zeitgeist the Movie, Elections and Impunity

So i asked awhile ago if elections for president in the US could be predicted on the basis of whose campaign had the most money. I also said i didn't know whose did right now, but that a list of corporate donations was available. Critically, both presidential candidates went to the Senate to vote on a bill that had failed in the house. Both went to support the bill. Both gave speeches to endorse it.

Unlike the UK rescue package just going into effect this morning (Oct 13, 08), it seems there are no shares/stakes in the banks changing hands. There, the operator of the Fed and former head of Goldman Sachs (rival of the failed Lehman Brothers) uses his discretion to buy up bad debt from banks. In the UK, we are told, we actually *own* significant stakes in the banks that are assisted. American tax payers will be absorbing debt in exchange for what? More debt?

There's an interesting film called Zeitgeist. It actually comes in two parts, and the second part, the Addendum, focusses almost exclusively on the monetary system of the Federal Reserve (and IMF and World Bank). In that, by reading through and translating the documents that enable the Fed (a private bank), it makes clear how the current system attaches debt to every dollar created. So each dollar costs the government a dollar + something. And then interest is charged on this money. There's more about loans, inflation and so on, but at the heart of it is with the central bank, dollars are alway money+debt.

This is the system we are all in a sweat to bail out? something that immediately means that through income tax (which some in the states argue is illegal - was never appropriately passed into law) where a quarter of one's earnings goes not to hospitals and other government services, but to service the debt of the Fed - a debt that by its nature can never be repaid, since the creation of a dollar by itself incurs debt.

Whoever thought this was a good idea?

What else is compelling is that it is actually well known that various significant market and bank panics of the past were engineered by bankers in an effort to consolidate their own wealth. this is monopoly capitalism at play. It's not about diversity, is it? And what of the current "crisis"? If it were not manufactured as well, would it not, we are lead to ask, be an exception?

The above is part 1 on the Fed. The rest is on youtube, dvd and at the film's site.
Posted by mc at 9:36 AM | Comments (0)

Wed, 08/10/08 10:22, 282

Why Bail Out UK Icesave Depositors?

Ok, here's what it looks like from my not-an-economist-or-financier perspective.

Over the past year since the failure of northern rock, the news has been blasting loudly the stated government policy on bank deposits: the government only guarantees up to 32K. That's it.

Last year i was rather angered by this: why not guarantee 100%?I've only recently heard a good explanation, and we'll come back to that. But suffice it to say that many people who were in the position to have more than 32k in savings moved their money across multiple banks. The consequence of this move of funds across multiple banks is that one could not park all their savings in a place where there was the highest interest rate - like Icesave's 7%. It meant shopping around for good but not as high interest rates. It meant having to swallow that lesser interest to play by the rules.

Yesterday, the news was filled with the lament of savers who had put over 100k in savings into Icesave, and dam, when the bank froze its assets and said, as it always said that it would guarantee 16k thereabouts, and that the UK's 35K would aslo kick in, well how awful that people would lose the rest, but that was the rules within which the rest of us have been playing - and baring the cost of that caution. But it looks today like that was rather stupid.

Posted by mc at 10:22 AM

Does the Presidential Candidate with the Most Money Win? Follow the Money?

Is it true that in US elections the presidential candidate who has raised the most campaign money won? A traditional marker of outcome for party primaries has been something called the "money primary." We saw that this past year.

During the primaries last spring when things were hot between Obama and Clinton, and i was asked by american colleagues whom i though might win i asked "who has the most money?" I recall that some of my other US colleagues from my post doc said that was far too cynical and oversimplified (i think they were the ones, a decade ago, who had drawn this connection to my attention). And while both candidates could boast about large cash balances at various points, by the end of the race, we know who was flush and who was loaning a campaign personal funds.

So that's primaries, but what about the election? What about the Presidency? Obama is ahead in many of the polls, and all things look likely, while some commentators have said well it would be over if he were white, but race is an issue. If that's the case, does that mean that funds or no longer a predictor? Where is the campaign funding barometer at?

During the primaries, we got regular updates about how much cash each candidate had brought in. These figures were particularly jaw dropping in the democratic primary with tens of millions coming in per MONTH. There hasn't been as much discussion of funds during this part of the election - i've only found one list of corporate donations and haven't fact checked it, but it will be interesting to see if it turns out to be indicative.

Posted by mc at 9:36 AM