Thursday, August 31, 2006

Weird NGO

Yes, I'm still here in Brazil, but I won't be talking about my experience here yet. Maybe one day I'll be able to summarize it all, although last post was a hint of what it is about.

Anyway, trying to focus here on what I'm going to talk about, an email that I've received of people asking for money. I receive this all the time because of some lists I subscribe to, but this time I felt that the idea behind the group was quite strange (and worked well for the whole set of events around here):

Simchat Tzion: Wedding for Orphans in Eretz Israel

They get money to sponsor poor orphans to get married! This shows how important people think the wedding ceremony itself is. For most people that I know, if you want to get married and you don't have money for a ceremony, you still get married, but without one. The fees to just get somebody to marry you are quite low. The expensive part it the party itself.

However, in this case, they are aiming for the joy of the ceremony itself, hoping that it alone might help those poor people to get enough energy to improve their lives. Interesting concept. And, no, I'm not donating money to this organization. After seeing the stress of organizing a wedding here, I can't see myself promoting such things to other people. It would be just mean.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Article watch from Brazil: "Brazil: Still the Country of the Future"

I read an interesting article at The Wall Street Journal today (although the article is dated about a week ago) entitled "Brazil: Still the Country of the Future".

It was a very negative article about Brazil, actually. Showing that the current government is clueless and it is going to win the elections again this year anyway. At least this government is not really harmful to the other countries in the world, only to Brazil's future.

There is a lot to talk about this article, but I just wanted to quote the last paragraph:

"Such a myopic attitude toward markets, prices and investment illustrates what Brazilian entrepreneurs have come to recognize more broadly: that socialist Lula together with the Brazilian constitution enshrining the nanny state, spells four more years of mediocrity at best. For young, talented minds eager to create, innovate and profit, such a forecast makes even an enchanting city like this one a good place to be from."

Scary, but maybe true.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

You can't execute me, I'm too sick to die

So here I am back, getting myself ready to go to Brazil on Friday. Life has been quite hectic and I have had too little time to devote to blogging. It's tough!

Anyway, I was reading today on The Wall Street Journal (I won't give the link to the article, because it's only open to subscribers) that there are some Brazilian government people trying to fine Google R$7.6 million a month until it gives information about groups of alleged Neo-nazis, pedophiles and other illegal pratices in Brazil.

There are two interesting issues pointed out by this article: the difference in laws in different countries and how can this work in an international environment like the internet; and the weirdness of social networking systems that leave it open about the groups you participate (a issue also raised in the keynote speech by Jon Kleinberg (wikipedia, homepage) at SIGIR'06).

About the first issue, what can you do, as a human rights activist? You are trying to crack down on a group in your coutry, but the data is in a computer in another country that protects the privacy of those people. Technically you really can't do anything except creating something like "the big firewall of China" and not letting people from your country access sites that will hide information that you might want to track and harvest. You are just trying to do the job that your country considered important enough to add to the laws!

This problem is classically equivalent to people storing their money in banks from countries that both don't charge you taxes and keep you privacy, like Switzerland. What have people done about this? Pretty much nothing! They were never able to break those laws, they had to wait and monitor the person until you could find proof by looking at either transactions from banks you can monitor or physical travels and behavior of the alleged criminal. The only problem is that the internet makes crime easier to do and harder to track and this worries lawmakers.

Now onto the second issue: what is the effect of you having your social network open for anybody to see? Be afraid! I know you know that person!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Starting somewhere: SIGIR 2006

I had to start somewhere or else this blog would be idle forever, so I've decided to start with my impressions of SIGIR 2006. The first one that I've been to. And I suddenly realized how much I should have worked with this group during my Ph.D. There is an interesting overlap with what I was working on, both in problems and solutions. I've actually seen a presentation that contained pretty much 50% of all the basis of my research, just varying the method used (and a little bit the expected results from its use). Of course nobody referenced any of my papers, but that's what happens when you are not in the same research area. There is just too much out there and so people tend to isolated themselves to a specific research group.

And this brings me to one of the most interesting things I've noticed when listening to the talks: SIGIR is a very small community. There were about 700 people in the conference. At least about 10% from Microsoft, about 5% from Google, 5% from Yahoo and some other companies. As of actual researchers, I'm guessing there were about 300.

Aside from that, my observation was on the tight relation between these researchers. There was a core of about 20 labs that basically define SIGIR. They seem to have been there for years, citing each other, collaborating, and defining the state-of-the-art datasets and baseline solutions. Compared to the other conferences I've gone to, this had the largest amount of people either pointing to the people they cite in the audience, or people standing up at the end of the talk and giving their personal experience with the dataset and making constructive suggestions about how they tried to tackle some of the issues observed by the presenters.

This is a very good sign in many cases. It creates a very productive environment; and a comparable environment, where you can draw better conclusions about what you have done (I know I've suffered with that a lot on my research). However, it also causes inbreeding. New ideas and types of solutions are harder to come by, mostly because labs are building large infrastructures for a certain type of system and it's hard to part with it (I've listened to a couple of talks that the presenter had a very hard time explaining what they did in 25 minutes, because it's a temporal slice of results from a system that has been in the works for 10+ years). But also because there is an incentive of creating things that are comparable to what other people created.

In summary, it was a very exciting conference. I still have to follow up with some people that I've met there, send them links to some of my papers so that I can feel that what I've done in the past is not going to the waste of the "paper cloud". We'll see what comes out of it.

I wished I had more time to maybe write reviews of specific papers, but I'll have to leave that for some other lifetime, or parallel dimension.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

So many things to say, so little time

Lots of things happened in the last few weeks. Two weeks ago I was in San Diego (and surrounding areas) for the weekend+Monday. Met my sister, a friend I haven't seen since high school and some of my girlfriend's friends (people that she talks about all the time). It was interesting, but I won't get into more details right now as I need to leave to go to work soon.

Then there was a rest-of-the-week of crazy work and weekend of shopping looking for presents to take to Brazil.

Then this week I was SIGIR here in Seattle. Lots of things to talk about the conference! And now I'm back to work and on-call until Wednesday next week. Besides the lack of time, I also don't know how I should structure the things I want to talk about. I've always had some issues about writing technical things in the middle of personal things, so in the end nobody ends up reading anything. I might - I said MIGHT - break this blog into 2 different blogs so that I can keep the personal and technical stuff separate. Let's see how much time I'll have.

Anyway, it's time to move on.