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Tuesday, August 23 2011

Designing Government ICT Strategies that Benefit from the Internet

internet phenomenon map A national government can choose to design its ICT strategy to flow along with or against the forces and phenomena of the Internet. (See picture "internet phenomenon map" for details) To give some examples, a government setting up policies and formulating regulations may find itself facing dilemma such as:

  1. government transparency vs national secret
  2. government transparency vs citizen privacy
  3. use value (and cultural value) vs sale value [of digital contents]
  4. freedom of speech vs protection of minors

There can be compromises or even agreeable solutions if non-ICT measures are employed, but in most situations the underlying ICT solution by itself will likely lean towards one direction or the other. In fact it almost always lean towards freeing information. Many failure stories of DRM and censorship provide good examples. Choosing to favor the free flow of information as much as possible in setting up national ICT strategies will more likely put a country on the winning side in the new world of attention economy. The following are some suggestions to achieve this, some non-technology suggestions to ameliorate part of its undesirable effects such as causing loss of privacy, and some other reminders regarding the design of a national ICT policy. regarding the design of a national ICT policy.

  1. Madating the use of open file formats and open protocols is essential for data to be retained for a long time, for software components to be replaceable with competitive or new alternatives, and for there to be true competition in the market.
  2. Free/Libre/Open Source Software or their proprietary derivatives (such as Apple's iOS) are the choice of technology in both the top supercomputer market and the mobile market. Only the desktop markets in developed countries are burdened with a legacy choice of platform. Choosing FLOSS or at least mandating a comparison before a proprietary solution is adopted can be an important factor in helping developing countries to leapfrog.
  3. The knowledge of SEO (search engine optimization) can be a natural incentive for the public (in particular the small businesses owners) to learn the importance of searching and of being visible on the Internet.
  4. Thinking from users' point of view is more productive than thinking exclusively from digital content (e-books/music/software/...) producers' point of view. Exposing math/physics/chemistry teachers to drgeo, gnuplot, maxima, ghemical, etc., for example, is much more productive than thinking of helping the ICT industry itself making money by way of cloud computing. A society in which the electricity companies make a lot of profits is certainly not a society that greatly benefits from electricity.
  5. Exposing students to free software and free culture helps future citizens to recognize the power of collaboration, transparency, and ultimately the power of the Internet.
  6. The debates between network neutrality and deep packet inspection (DPI) lies beneath many other debates.
  7. The attention economy as explained in Michael Goldhaber's article is the key for scholars and policy makers to understand many social phenomena brought about by the Internet.
  8. Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig's suggestion regarding regulation of spam and porn is not perfect but is a better compromise than no regulation and a far better compromise than DPI. In general, "code is law" is a must-read for law makers (though I don't think many read it, and that's why Internet laws in many countries are badly made).
  9. Citizens need be educated about the fact that there can hardly be any privacy on the Internet. Privacy might be protected if citizens are consciously thinking about it before they put any personal information on the Internet in the first place.

By the way, the strategy and planning game of lincity (or its modern successor lincity NG) might provide lots of insights for politicians of any country, many of whom can't think far enough into the future. Might a country turn out to be more competitive if it include this game (or some other similar strategy games) in its politics degree curriculum ? :-)

Sunday, August 14 2011

Graphviz+Jessyink as a Latex-Style Potential Alternative to Prezi and Mindmap Presentations (How to Beat MS PowerPoint)

network phenomenon map For those of us who prefer spending more time with content than visual effects and prefer fiddling with texts than mouse/button/graphics, graphviz and jessyink could be a latex-style potential alternative to Prezi and Mindmap presentations -- if a few improvements are made. Please click on the picture and then use arrow keys to navigate thru the "slides".

Having blogged and given speeches (mostly in Traditional Chinese) a lot about FLOSS, open file formats, any browser campaign, free culture, and government transparency, I come to see a big picture of how the Internet is transforming our society. So I drew this picture: "the Internet Phenomenon Map" and wish to make it into the presentation "slides" for my future talks. I would love to talk about the content of this picture, but for this post we will concentrate on the technicalities of its creation.

So I begin by creating a source file net-pheno-map.dot to be processed by graphviz. (I update the dot source file frequently, but don't update the following files, so there may be some major layout discrepency that doesn't hurt the explanations.) But I'd like to have it in two languages. So I concatenate the English text and the Chinese text together as the node names (I should have used labels instead but that's a minor issue) and use "#" as a separator between the two languages. To generate the English version of the background picture, I remove the Chinese part of the strings, feed it to the dot command of graphviz to generate the raw svg, and use a small perl script ds2tp to massage the output:

perl -pe 's/#[^"]*"/"/g' net-pheno-map.dot | dot -Tsvg > 1.svg
perl -pe 's#</g>#</g>\n#' 1.svg | perl ds2tp > net-pheno-map.en.svg

The "background" svg file net-pheno-map.en.svg is then converted into png by Inkscape and further into jpg by ImageMagick (to be used as a background). Finally, I open inkscape again and:

  1. create a new file
  2. "jessyink: install"
  3. import the background jpg
  4. create a few rectangles
  5. "jessyink: view" to tag the order of the rectangles
  6. save as net-pheno-jbm.en.svg, the "slides" linked to at the beginning of this post.

I did this on mepis 11 with inkscape 0.48. Note that the default jessyink does not work. I had to remove the /usr/share/inkscape/extensions/jessyInk* files and decompress the JessyInk-1.5.5.zip file downloaded from the official site. For details of using jessyink, please read Tim Teatro's tutorial.

a failed version: displayed as stair-case text in inkscape The following are a few suggestions to the graphviz team and inkscape team. I apologize for not filing official and separate bug reports and/or feature requests due to my laziness. I hope this blog post proves to be useful to the FLOSS community nontheless. First comes some bug reports:

  1. You can see that the relative positions between the background image and the rectangle "view" boxes are not exactly consistent between firefox and inkscape.
  2. Somehow applying jessyink to the original svg file net-pheno-map.en.svg produces an svg file without special effect. That's why I resorted to producing the jpeg file as a background image to be imported again in a new jessyink-svg file.
  3. Originally I used a slightly longer script to generate the background svg file net-pheno-nocr.en.svg. This file pack several "tspan" tags into a single textPath tag and is slightly more concise than the successful one (which has multiple textPath tags each containing tspan tags). However, in inkscape it displays in a staircase manner -- much like how text files with line feed (\n) but without carriage return (\r) displayes in DOS. Or windows. Whatever. It displays ok in firefox 4.0.1. I didn't study the svg spec, but it seems that the way firefox renders it makes more sense to an end user.

Here are a few feature requests that could make graphviz and jessyink to be an interesting alternative to prezi that appeal to people with the vim/regexp/grep/sed/awk/perl mindset (like me). It would be nice if

  1. there is a gettext-like capability in graphviz so that a graphs in different langages can be created from the same .dot file (with language sections, or plus language files);
  2. edge text can be specified to flow along the path in graphviz, with multi-line text support;
  3. every svg object, or at least every group is automatically treated as a view;
  4. the relationship among views is tree-like instead of linear;
  5. additionally, the user can optionally assign one or more customized linear orderings of views each representing a series of slides for a separate talk;
  6. the relationship among views and the linear order(s) can be defined in graphviz source file;
  7. there is an overview mode displaying the tree of views within a slide just like what we already have now for the entire set of slides -- the "index slide" displaying the list of slides within a jessyink file;
  8. change of views can be triggered by clicking on an object, a group, or a manually defined view;
  9. ESC or some other key takes us to the "parent view" in the view hierarchy;
  10. the gesture of defining a rectangle by drawing its diagonal dynamically creates a view and immediately takes us there;

With these features and whatever other more ingenious ones the FLOSS community come up with thru further discussions, I am sure few sane mind in the future would insist on using MS Powerpoint for presentation. For me, the only other attractive alternative to this combination would be the Anti PowerPoint Party's suggestions.

Thursday, July 28 2011

Replacing non visible special characters

I just had to replace some invisible non-breaking spaces (that were probably typed from M$ Office), in a PHP script. So in case you have to do that yourself, here is the trick: After some time I found out that its code was 240. (and not 160). So as an emacs user, I had to type C-q 2-4-0 into my PHP code for replacement: $replaced =... Read Replacing non visible special characters

Friday, July 1 2011

DrGeo on iPad, construction

Play with DrGeo on iPad

Tuesday, May 17 2011

Dr. Geo release 11.06

Dr. Geo II 11.06 is ready for download. The release come with version for Linux/Windows/MacOSX and XO OLPC kid laptop. Read the change log to know more about the fixes and features.

You can watch the video presentation of Dr. Geo II 11.06:

Download the video

Dr. Geo release 11.06

Dr. Geo II 11.06 is ready for download. The release come with version for Linux/Windows/MacOSX and XO OLPC kid laptop. Read the change log to know more about the fixes and features.

You can watch the video presentation of Dr. Geo II 11.06:

Monday, May 9 2011

Best time to post on HN, and time-effects in the HN community

Trinity term (the 3rd) has just started in Oxford, and I (Wybo) have just handed in two 5000-word papers.

The first paper is about circadian (24-hour scale) time-effects on Hacker News. Its main hypothesis is that the time at which people arrive on the site (greatly) impacts whom they are most likely to interact with. This because replies that make very similar points as previous replies to the same post, are generally not appreciated very much, and visitors thus can only (productively) reply to relatively new posts (not older than 2 hours).

Some time-pressure effects were indeed found, both on the micro-scale of interactions between prolific users (more than 25 posts in 40 days), and on the aggregate level, in 3-hour time-windows, where there was greater reciprocity and transitivity (friends of friends becoming friends). Even the phased introduction of daylight saving time between the US and UK (UK is 2 weeks later) was found to have a measurable impact on the community-structure.

Circadian rhythms thus do have an impact, even if a small one, on the reply-relationships that form (see the paper for limits and possible alternative explanations).

A very short video of the network over a day (aggregate for 40 days), and its fragmentation by time, can be seen below:

<object height='278' width='450'><param name='movie' value='http://www.youtube.com/v/NFbzLrqcwW4?hl=en&fs=1&ap=%2526fmt%3D22'></param><param name='allowFullScreen' value='true'></param><param name='allowscriptaccess' value='always'></param><embed allowfullscreen='true' src='http://www.youtube.com/v/NFbzLrqcwW4?hl=en&fs=1&ap=%2526fmt%3D22' allowscriptaccess='always' type='application/x-shockwave-flash' height='278' width='450'></embed></object>

In addition - specifically for this blog-post - I graphed the best time to reply to comments, and the best time to create threads, both in terms of their expected ratings (the average ratings). This data was from just before karma-ratings for comments were hidden. See the graphs below:

Average ratings for replies (posts that are comments at any level in the thread) created at each hour of day (in UTC). Notice how little variation there is.

Average ratings for threads created at each hour of day (in UTC). Again notice the very modest variation.

As can be seen there is not really a best time to post, because ratings are roughly constant during the day (though 19:00 UTC is not the worst time and there are some more variations during the week (especially Saturday evenings in US timezones are lower rated)).

This relative lack of variation is (some) evidence against concerns about overnight threads standing less of a chance, that were expressed in this HN thread.

A possible reason for there being so little variation, is that when more people visit and create threads, threads are on the homepage for shorter periods (turnover is higher), and thus about the same number of people see, and rate them at any time. See how the gap in thread-longevity precedes the peak creation-period in the graphs below.:

Threads created at each hour.

Time on the frontpage for threads created at each hour (and on the frontpage for at least one hour).

The paper can be downloaded here (30mb, pdf, lot of HQ images). The tools (in Ruby 1.8) used in the research are available here (though they are literally a bit rough around the edges). And the full anonymized dataset (to the extent that removing users nicknames is sufficient, yaml file format) can be downloaded here.

The second paper was about how an online global advisory parliament employing proxy-voting as its voting-mechanism, could improve political decision-making. And secondly it is about what methods might be employed to make it more likely to attain critical mass, such as integrating it with Facebook, and making it follow the agenda of real parliaments & summits rather than setting its own.

Critical mass in thread-based platforms/forums is my thesis-topic. More on this later, but a taste of what I am working on can already be had from this JS + HTML 5 canvas, agent-based simulation of users posting on a forum.

Sunday, April 3 2011

Participating to a cool project

Dr. Geo is becoming better release after release. It is proposed for all three major systems and the XO OLPC laptop for kid.

It has been downloaded several thousand of times, it is used in several place in the world, we even got a TV show only for DrGeo.

Yet it is a neat way to promote Smalltalk as the DrGeo scripting feature exposes the user to the Smalltalk language and environment. Far beyond my expectation, teachers are exploring DrGeo to use it as an environment to teach programming, see this nice French article in a teacher professional publication.

I hope more will come.

If you are interested to participate to a cool project, for coding, documenting, testing, promoting; come and join, there are many stuff to do:

  • test
  • report defects
  • translate the user interface of the software
  • document and translate the documentation
  • design DrGeo courses
  • design graphics
  • learn from DrGeo design and fix bugs
  • learn from DrGeo design and implement new features

More to read at the DrGeo Community page.

Saturday, March 19 2011

Hilary '11 & with Academia.edu in San Francisco

As of this summer I will be working for Academia.edu, based in downtown San Francisco, California.

Academia.edu is a Facebook/LinkedIn for academics, and one that might very well change the way scholars communicate and work. Besides social networking functionality, it also offers features specific to the academic world, such as commenting on papers, following research-interests, and it has more in the pipeline. Academia currently has over 270.000 users, a couple of million in funding, and is rapidly growing.

The people behind Academia are great. My H1B visa just came through. And as some I talked to might have heard earlier, the (decent) job-offer was made a couple of months ago. So Silicon Valley it is :-)

In the meantime Hilary term (2nd term) has just ended in Oxford.

Besides it having been another splendid 8 weeks at the Oxford Internet Institute, it was intense, and I learned a lot. Mini-conferences, seminars, and lectures by world-class speakers, as well as good dinners, walks through Magdalen deer park, and debates (and even a ball) at the Oxford Union, again complemented the experience: In all, academic life as it should be :-) (& my grades have not been bad so far).

We’ve just had our last exam (in statistics), and apart from my thesis on critical mass (+ thesis-seminars of next term), there are two large essays left to write (on the impact of timezones in online communities, resp. on critical mass in online politics) before the start of next term (so we don’t have much of a break ;-). But I am looking forward to writing them…

The smaller essays I wrote so far were on the validity of online surveys, the opportunities posed by online experiments (both summative = for grades), on the digital natives debate, and finally one on why people contribute to online political discussion forums. Not that anybody would want to read these :)

Finally, I might be committing a few minor updates to LogiLogi soon (don’t have as much time to develop as I used to).

Sunday, March 6 2011

Dr. Geo release 11.03.1

In release 11.03 auto completion was not working in Workspace. It is now fixed with this 11.03.1 release.


Is it too big?

Comparing the sizes of the DrGeo II (Smalltalk) and Dr. Geo 1.1 (C++) releases, the former weights about 23MB and the later 1MB. It is an important difference, but we are not comparing the same things...

With Dr. Geo II, in 23MB we have the executable, the source code of Dr. Geo itself, the source code of the Smalltalk language and environment, the developer tools with source code editor, compiler, inspector and debugger. THe only sources not included is the small VM C version, but don't worry most if it is Smalltalk code converted to C.

So if we want to compare fairly, we should add a fews tools to Dr. Geo 1.1:

  • the Emacs editor 22-30MB
  • Glibc 3MB
  • Glibc-dev 1MB
  • GCC 5MB
  • G++ 1.5 MB
  • GDB 2.5 MB
  • Misc libraries, mostly shared ones so we can not count, expect for the -dev versions, anyway forget about it there are numerous

The total is now well above 40 MB, and I did not include the sources of GCC, GDB, EMACS, in DrGeoII we also have the source of the Smalltalk environment...

If Dr. Geo was written in JAVA, the addition will be around 100MB for the JRE then ECLIPSE, 120MB. What will be the number ? More than 220MB, without again including the source code of Java itself...

After all Dr. Geo II is a pretty neat and small distribution. Oh and yes Dr. Geo II's 23MB counts for three OS Linux/Mac/Windows... To test for real

Saturday, March 5 2011

Dr. Geo release 11.03

This is the March release, we can name it the hacker release as it features a lot of improvement to write Smalltalk programmed interactive sketches.

This last Dr. Geo II version is just new; to the menu, beside bug fixes, we have easy access to developer tools, the syntax coloring, and automatic completion and the most exciting is the possibility to construct a point given a block closure in Smalltalk.

Regarding this last feature you can look at this video example.

Read the change log.

Tuesday, February 22 2011

Greener electronics

The Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics ranks the 18 top manufacturers of personal computers, mobile phones, TVs and games consoles according to their policies on toxic chemicals, recycling and climate change.

Nokia is ranked #1, that's the way to be a cool company! Sony is #2, Apple #9. Damn shit! Stop spending millions in brain washing marketing, just spend millions to produce better product.

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