Monday, August 18, 2008

Two Complaints

Briefly, two problems that should already be solved:

  1. Text Messaging: Why are we still being charged for ~150 measly little ASCII characters? Why hasn't instant messaging on mobile devices entirely replaced SMS/MMS? IM is free and SMS/MMS costs ~$0.20/each or ~$20/month unlimited. In fact, its actually more expensive to send data via text message than the Hubble Space Telescope.

    Yes, I know there are currently IM apps on cell phones, but they're really no good and not well integrated into the device. But poor execution doesn’t damn a plan (or technology). Given the right implementation, this should be seamless and invisible, the only noticeable changes being the elimination of SMS charges on my bill and the ability to send short messages to any of my friends on any mobile or IM network. In fact, Apple could do this with my iPhone, keeping the same UI & everything, and I would be none the wiser, but of course AT&T would never allow them to eliminate such a valuable revenue stream.

  2. Social Media Status Updates: Why do I have to log into several different sites to ensure all my followers across the web can enjoy my witty status updates? Why can't there be one site that allows me to fire off an update via web or mobile, and my Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. statuses are immediately updated? Bonus points for periodically checking my pages to see if I've made a rogue "native" update and keeping the rest in sync.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

DOD's "Sentient" World Simulation

Apparently the US military is looking into developing a massive simulation of the entire geopolitical canvas of the Earth, with a node representing "every man, woman and child." Although I'm sure it involves lots of data and some serious computation, I sincerely doubt the predictions made by this system will be any better than that of a seasoned human analyst.

I suppose you could turn over strategic nuclear decisions to this thing and just wait for Judgment Day...

While articles of this type are often titillating, I know from first-hand experience that most far-out projects involving the military don't live up to the hype. For one thing, the military plays fast & loose with commonly used terminology. The word "sentient" actually means something; it shouldn't be used as a vacuous buzzword designed to woo congressional funding.

Maybe they should call it WOPR 2.0?

(Sometimes I just can't help myself with the cultural reference one-liners!)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Are you smarter than a four-year old?

RPI researchers have apparently created an avatar in Second Life driven by an AI equivalent to a four-year old human child. Sounds pretty interesting, and could be a good reason to check out Second Life, although I imagine it would be difficult to locate this particular character in the "game."
Currently, the team is grappling with computational tractability issues to do with the sorting of growing amounts of knowledge that is collected as a artificially intelligent character matures.

Massive parallelism perhaps?

A possible future application of this technology could be cost-effective solutions for pesky child-labor laws for TV game shows...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


In another (yes, another) sensationalist attempt to attract readers and sell ads, we find an AFP article entitled Automated killer robots 'threat to humanity': expert.

Just some more fear-mongering from our wonderful media if you ask me.

So we can add psycho killer robots to the list of things to be worried about in this troublesome modern age. But I thought Hollywood already taught us that? In fact, the article even refers to The Terminator.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

As mentioned earlier, my department recently held a very successful Computer Science Research Day. The keynote speaker was Dr. Guru Parulkar, Stanford researcher (and UD alum) working on a project called the "Clean Slate Design for the Internet." The goal of this work is to re-design the Internet with 'modern' features that will improve security and quality of service, as well as provide new classes of services.

I viewed his entire presentation as a direct attack against Network Neutrality. The basic premise was that the Internet is broken, it's getting worse, and it needs to be fixed. How do we fix it? Increased 'control & management' by ISPs and government. A central theme seemed to be finding new ways for ISPs to monetize traffic and develop 'value-added services.' In other words, getting me to pay for things I can get for free elsewhere. This will be accomplished by denying or degrading access to competitors in the name of 'security,' 'reliability,' and 'return on investment.'

My question to the speaker was, "Many people would argue that the freedom and success of the Internet is a result of what you refer to as the 'dumb' infrastructure. If we were to implement the changes you propose, how would Network Neutrality survive?" [paraphrase]

Dr. Parulkar's response was based on the claim that it wasn't 'fair' that Google made billions while Comcast's market capitalization remained stagnant. The last time I checked, these companies were in entirely different businesses, although Dr. Parulkar conveniently lumps them together as "service providers." Why in the world would I ever want to pay Comcast (or Verizon, or Time Warner, etc.) additional fees for poorly designed implementations of services I can get for free elsewhere? I pay my ISP for access to the Internet, and Google et al. pay ISPs for their net access, so why do the ISPs believe they are entitled to any additional remuneration for this connection?

The phrase "Network Neutrality" was not mentioned until I brought it up in my question. I believe the subject was intentionally avoided.

ISPs are a utility, just like the electric company. I just want to pay a competitive market price for unfettered Internet access with no strings attached. Is that really an unreasonable expectation? Unfortunately, many ISPs don't understand the business they are in, and apparently, neither do many researchers.

It's ironic that Stanford, original home to Google who has thrived due in large part to Network Neutrality, is leading the charge against it.

Apparently I'm not the only one who takes issue with the underlying purposes of this project.

Finding Myself

So I was Googling myself recently (which isn't as creepy as it sounds) and discovered that I was acknowledged in a paper written by a former instructor. The paper discusses a capstone project in my senior software engineering class (CS 482) at Iona College. My group built an online course evaluation system, similar to the bubble-sheets used by many students at the end of each semester.

I suppose it's nice to be acknowledged, but being listed as a co-author would have been even better... especially when I was applying to grad school!

For those with journal access, the paper can be found on
A software development project: a student-written assessment system.

Friday, February 22, 2008

CS Research Day 2008

So, I have to say that (despite the weather) the first annual Computer Science Research Day at UD was a success. The keynote speaker from Stanford provoked quite a reaction, at least from me (more on that soon). During the panel discussion on Privacy & Security regarding digitizing medical records, Emily made a good point by suggesting that the controversy could be avoided by giving individuals the ability to choose exactly what data would be made available.

I presented a poster about ICICLE (my first as a grad student), and ran some demos afterwards to anybody who was interested. In addition to ICICLE, I also demonstrated my Answer Machine and summary program. I'm hoping to have a CGI version of the summarizer online soon for anyone to try out.

By the way, I'm thinking of calling it 'gist,' which could stand for either "Greenbacker's Instant Summary Tool" or "gist Is a Summary Tool," depending on how narcissistic I'm feeling at the moment...