Friday, November 30, 2007


It's actually interesting when you do something or look at something with very low expectations and they surprise you. I had this happen to me twice yesterday in completely different things:

1. Tchaikovski's Nutcracker: Talk about over-played pieces, especially during holiday season... So yesterday I went on a concert with the Seattle Symphony and they played excerpts from the Nutcracker. So, not only it was a piece I just heard too many times to be excited about, but they were doing one of my pet peeve: only playing "selected parts" of it. Yes, I know the nutcracker is not that "consistent", but in any way... It was actually a very good performance. Conducted by Rossen Milanov, the guest conductor for the concert, it was like listening to professionals do something that you've only seen done by amateurs. And note that I've watched the Nutcracker at the Teatro Colon before. Everything was in tune, note transitions were precise, and specially, note duration and dynamics were very noticeably clean. Very interesting.

2. Amazon's Kindle: Yes, I don't have one and don't plan to buy one any time soon (well, it's sold out right now anyway). I have been hearing about it for quite some time and when it released I have to say I wasn't very impressed. It didn't seem very user-friendly. But one thing dawned on me when I was comparing it to the best seller in this industry, the Sony Reader: it has a much larger selection and, more interestingly, it's a self-sufficient device, much more like a book. In the other readers you had to really buy your book on the computer and then connect the device to the computer to upload the book to the device. With the wireless option in the Kindle, this is gone. And that's what probably will be the winning feature.

The new iPod touch, with WiFi, has also the same behavior of being able to buy and get music without needing a computer. But it is missing the "free wireless" component and the fact that music you want to accumulate much more than books. So you will quickly hit the barrier of the device size.

Anyway, it's time for me to go for a long day today.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

My life

It's been some time I haven't written too much about how my life is going, huh? Well, I still won't write much here, but everything is moving alright. It's always easy to find things to be stressed about; things to be annoyed about; and not necessarily that easy to find things to be excited about. But I'll try to focus on the excitement (although people say that writing down what you are excited about is actually bad for you):

- It's winter here, so it's fun!
- Trips, trips and more trips ahead.
- No more activity on my credit, so it means that whoever stole a piece of my identity didn't do much with it (besides spending $18)
- It's 1 AM and I'm still awake!
- I've been reading a lot of interesting books! More on them some other time.

Yes, I do have a life. It might be isolated from many people, but it's still moving forward. And now I should go and... have dinner.

The two lives of social networkers

Lately I have been amazed about what kind of features social networking sites are adding. This includes things like, as I've mentioned before, showing what you have done on the web automatically to your friends. This assumes that your friends will be influenced by it and do the same, thus generating advertisement for the company and money on the social networking site's pocket.

But what I think people don't quite understand yet is that there are lots of types of social network connections, and each works differently. It's not sufficient for me to say "he is my friend". I have to say "he is my friend, but our relationship is only work-related. So that if I befriend somebody from work, I don't start to spam them with messages like "hey, I bought my new lizard!" or "I wished I could afford this new Mac laptop...". But it would be alright if they saw that I'm currently reading something like "Tapping into Unstructured Data: Integrating Unstructured Data and Textual Analytics into Business Intelligence", which most of my other friends wouldn't care about.

What is the consequence of it? Fundamentally: people get afraid of actually doing stuff online, because you don't know how people will interpret it. People get bored by the 90% of the things you do that aren't that interesting (and each person's 90% is different) and stop paying attention. The final conclusion is that the business just doesn't work very well any more.

Solution? If I was a semantic web guy, I would say: add semantics to your friendship connections. Then, by gathering semantics of your activities, you can create more powerful and robust "filters" to partition your life correctly.

But I'll pretend I'm not a semantic web guy and say: just let people choose. Create a few types of categories, like "professional", "personal", "family", "fan", "joe that I decided to accept in my network" and then allow mutual filtering (not only I can filter somebody out of some types of data, but somebody can choose to be filtered out of some type of data). Give people simple choices and help them choose. There is lots of money to be made in this business.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Telling the difference between MP3 compression rates

If you feel like you have a few minutes to spare (something I don't, but I spent them anyway), you should give this a try:

Are all MP3s Equal, by Dave Munger

It's an interesting experiment on:

- The quality of your speakers/headphones
- Your ability to see the difference between audio compression parameters for the same compression algorithm.

A more complete study would include:

- More types of music (I remember hearing quite a difference between music that has too much silence and music with too much equal noise)
- More compression algorithms (this makes it even harder to judge, but it's interesting to put them side-by-side on different types of music)

As most people, it's easy to tell what is the 64K compression. The rest becomes more subjective. I found that I was barely able to tell any difference between the other two using my speakers, but with my headphones (Sennheiser), I was able to sense something. Not very huge difference, but there was something there.

The funny thing would be to find out that there was no difference and people were making it up because he said there would be three different compression rates.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Facebook in the news

It's disturbing how much social networking systems are the center of all attention right now. It's like the keynote speech that I've heard on last year's SIGIR: the way you see the world will change, because everything you do and everybody you meet will be transparent to everybody without them having to ask you for it. I've talked about this in the past. But some people are taking this concerns to a different level:

In Facebook's Brilliant but Evil Design, Joshua Porter points out that because Facebook ulterior motives are financial (they can tell what, out of the things you've done, should be told to your friend because it will generate more money to them), the experience sharing might actually hurt your social status. And because you don't have much of an option with all the great "you are opted in by default" behavior of social networks out there, you can't really control it.

Makes me a little scared to tell you the truth. Our society is changing in front of us. Initially, we were exposed to product ads based on word of mouth only. So things that came to you were filtered by your friends based on their experience with it. Then came the newspaper, radio and TV, where everybody would be exposed to ads that were considered effective to a large population. It was a very messy "weapon". But we had still the word-of-mouth to filter out this mess and still give you good suggestions.

Now we are moving towards a world where word-of-mouth is being automated for you based on what is more likely to affect you. It doesn't mean that it will always give you bad products. Not all products will be using the fact that you like to buy things with shiny boxes. But it will increase the noise in the word-of-mouth channel. Then what is next?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Some interesting stories

Again, I don't have much to talk about. I've been annoyed most of the morning by crashing eclipse, so I decided to read some articles. Every time I do that, I find interesting things. So I decided to keep the interesting stories for myself and post some that might not be as interesting, but will hopefully prove to be valuable for your day:

Yellowstone is rising - Gives me a complete new perspective on what was happening under me when I was there.

DBpedia - Yes, not really an article, just something I wished worked better than it actually does. the "promise" of combining OpenCyc and Wikipedia (and some other data sources) with semi-well-structured data is exciting. I just don't think the data is there. You can query for information about the Eifel Tower, but when you query simple things like the list of all universities in Brazil, you get something like 25 hits. There are way more than that

Moving on... I've tried to write my thoughts about OpenSocial, but it's quite hard to write something with such an abstract API. I think that it will just turn quickly into a mess when social network websites start to actually expose their data and people will realize how different the data from each website is and how hard it will be to actually write any code that will take advantage of that and will be portable across sites. But we'll see. I don't plan to be a widget builder. I'm actually always annoyed by UI building when I have to do it...

Just to finish with something to keep people busy, one of the most interesting "blog posts" I read every week is Talis's Week in Semantic Web collection of links. It's interesting what they find and collect there. Worth visiting (if you care about it).