Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Big Data for Knowledge Workers, Information Professionals, Businesses, and Just About Everyone Else

The emergence of "Big data" as a field of study is a new phenomenon - one which few comprehends immediately despite a vague notion of what it stands for.  As a blanket term, big data encompasses data sets with sizes beyond the ability of commonly used software tools to capture, curate, manage, and process the data within a period of time.   Of course, the challenge is heavy: we need capture, curation, storage, search, sharing, transfer, analysis and visualization of the data.

Academic libraries have only begun to open the pandora's box of creating data curation programs and initiatives to support universities.  Data curation is a term used to indicate management activities required to maintain research data long-term such that it is available for reuse and preservation. In science, data curation may indicate the process of extraction of important information from scientific texts, such as research articles by experts, to be converted into an electronic format.

Wired Magazine's Chris Anderson, as far back as 2008, boldly declared for the end of theory as we know it because big data can predict the future.  A flurry of books have come out the past few years about big data - all with different approaches and viewpoints of it - but all coming to similar conclusions about its transformative approaches.  With that said, there are some excellent published books out there which serve as an excellent prime into this important area of study which not only academics would need to learn about, but also businesses and knowledge workers that deal with the increasingly vast amounts of data captured everyday.

Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise is one of the earliest tomes that explained in laymen's language the gift and power of curating and using big data in solving problems. Now a legend, Silver first became known for building a unique system called PECOTA a system for forecasting the performance and career development of Major League Baseball players. In addition, Silver's accuracy of the November 2008 presidential election predictions—he correctly predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states as well all 35 U.S. Senate races that year—won him further attention and notoriety.

A fascinating read, the book draws on Silver's groundbreaking work, Silver examines the world of prediction, investigating how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy data.

The other book worth looking at is The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?.  Patrick Tucker, Editor of Futurologist, offers a stunning yet disturbing look into how computer-aided forecasting using big data is positioned for rapid growth over the next decade. The rise of big data will enable us to predict not only events like earthquakes or epidemics, but also individual human behaviors.  We already live in such a world when we run a Google search and our results are often personalized without our even knowing it.  In the future, an app on your phone knows you're getting married before you do. Your friends' tweets can help data scientists predict your location with astounding accuracy, even if you don't use Twitter. Soon, we'll be able to know how many kids in a kindergarten class will catch a cold once the first one gets sick.  This is a hauntingly beautiful gaze into what the future of big data will mean for everyone's future.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb's writing really caught me offguard when I had first come across it but helped me appreciate big data within the randomness of this world.  The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: With a new section: "On Robustness and Fragility" popularized the way in how we understand the influence of highly improbable and unpredictable events that have massive impact, concisely chiseled for a non-academic readership. The book focuses on the extreme impact of certain kinds of rare and unpredictable events (called outliers) and our humans tendency to find simplistic explanations for these events retrospectively. This theory has since become known as the black swan theory, and covers both science and the arts guiding us from a tour of literary subjects in the beginning to scientific and mathematical subjects in the later portions.

MIT Professor Sandy Pentland has often been seen as one of the foremost thinkers and researchers of the area of big data.  Over years of groundbreaking experiments, he distilled remarkable discoveries significant enough to become the bedrock of a whole new scientific field: social physics. Humans have more in common with bees than we like to admit: We’re social creatures first and foremost. Our most important habits of action—and most basic notions of common sense—are wired into us through our coordination in social groups. Social physics is about idea flow, the way human social networks spread ideas and transform those ideas into behaviors.

Ultimately, Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread—The Lessons from a New Science looks at organizational and human behaviours from a physics standpoint.   Pentland's book questions how can we create organizations and governments that are cooperative, productive, and creative focusing on the engine that drives social physics is big data.  Pentland argues that this newly ubiquitous digital data that is becoming available all around us can help us understand and predict almost all facets of human life. By using these data to build a predictive, computational theory of human behavior we can hope to engineer better social systems.

Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die takes us (and big data) on a whirlwind tour of the subject disciplines, and introduces us to the notion of a new term called predictive analytics, which encompasses a variety of statistical techniques from modeling, machine learning, and data mining that analyze current and historical facts to make predictions about future, or otherwise unknown, events.  For instance, it delves into the relatively new idea of "persuasion modeling," which predicts influence in order to do influence. Barack Obama's campaign used it to influence voters in the 2012 presidential election; marketing uses it to more adeptly persuade customers; and medicine uses it to better select per-patient treatments.

Intriguingly, the book moves beyond forecasting to a very granular level, contesting that while Nate Silver made election forecasts for each state as a whole, the Obama campaign was using predictive analytics to make per-voter prediction. Consequently, true power comes in influencing the future rather than speculating on it--the raison d'ĂȘtre of predictive analytics.  As author Dan Siegel argues, while Nate Silver publicly competed to win election forecasting, Obama's analytics team had quietly competed to win the election itself.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Exploring Heritage In the Multi-Digital World

May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada and also the United States since 1979. As part of the Asian diaspora, the month has been established in 2001 as an official celebration of the history of Asian Canadians and their contributions to Canada with organizations in almost every province.  In Vancouver, theVancouver Asian Heritage Month Society (VAHMS) celebrates with a month-long festival called explorASIAN.  This month, it offered a number of workshops on to help Asian Canadians discover their family heritage.



One of the projects I'm working on currently is the formation of a non-profit organization that can serve the needs of those who want to do Chinese family history research. The organization will cover every Chinese genealogical societies globally. Along with Global Research and Archival Management, Inc., this new organization, International Association of Chinese Genealogical Society (IAGS), strives to educate, and serve as a bridge to all Chinese genealogical societies registered globally with the support of the international volunteers specialized in Chinese genealogy research and education.

The accessibility of genealogical research has long been at the margins of those experts who have the time and the money to finance projects on family history.  But with digitization and digital information readily available online, the journey has been made easier.  But birth and death records; pre-modern village records; passenger registries; etc, are often available but waiting to be discovered.  There is a real disconnect for those who want to, but do not know how to get started.  The two videos above show how some of this work is beginning to be handled by community.  I hope to carry through some of this research, and share the the record of my journey with you.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Looking into the Glass Ball and Into the Future

I'm a follower of the Futurist Magazine.  Every year, the editors of the publication identify the most provocative forecasts and statements about the future that it's published.  Each year, it identifies the ten forecasts from that report that paint the most compelling picture of the future as it exists right now.

Far from exhaustive though, they do represent trends that are of wide relevance and futures that are becoming more likely.   Patrick Tucker, the editor of Futurist Magazine and author of The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?curates the top ten forecasts for 2014 and beyond.



1. Thanks to big data, the environment around you will anticipate your every move

2. Revival of extinct species

3. Populations will shrink, and wealth will shrink with them

4. Doctors will see brain diseases many years before they arise

5. Buying and owning things will go out of style

6. Quantum computing could lead the way to true artificial intelligence

7. Phytoplankton death will further disrupt aquatic ecosystems

8. The future of science is in the hands of crowdsourcing amateurs

9. Fusion-fueled rockets could significantly reduce the potential time and cost of sending humans to Mars

10. Atomically precise manufacturing will make machinery, infrastructure, and other systems more productive and less expensive.




Friday, April 11, 2014

Peking University Library: From Imperial Times to Modern Times

I recently finished reading Portraits of 21st Century Chinese Universities: In the Move to Mass Higher Education, an incredibly insightful glimpse into twelve of China's largest universities, including their vision and mission, their orientation to the world and the innovations in curriculum and research.  I visited the Peking University Library, and astounded by the rich history of the campus, its buildings, and the intellectual depth of the faculties.

Founded as the "Imperial University of Peking" in 1898 as a replacement of the ancient Guozijian Imperial College.  Founded in 1902 by the Imperial Qing Dynasty under the name the Book Depository of the Imperial University of Peking, the current day Peking University Library is among the earliest modern libraries in China. With its long and distinguished history of continuous transformation, PUL today is one of China’s leading research libraries and most important academic libraries, and inarguably the largest university library in Asia. The library has gone beyond its traditional role of a university library. In line with its mission to be a research, teaching and learning partner for its patrons, PUL continuously improves and modernises its technical infrastructure, management and services.
Furthermore it also synthesises its efforts and initiative to fully support Peking University’s position as a member of China’s elite Ivy League universities called the ‘C9 League’ and long-term ambition to become one of the best universities in the world.  Its extensive holdings and resources range from special collections of oriental studies and rare antiquarian books to modern scientific online journals, cutting-edge AV materials and digital resources. The Library’s immense books selection of diverse subjects is especially characterised with its rich collection of written and printed treasures and rare items.
By 2008, Peking University Library held over 8 million books, with 1.5 million Chinese entries including 200,000 most unique and treasured classical books covering the period between 5th and 18th century China which attracts a great deal of international attention. In addition, its comprehensive editions of foreign books, bronze and stone rubbings and pre-1949 publications have become parts of its strongest features and specifically distinguish Peking University Library from its counterparts in China. The library also has carried out massive acquisition of digital resources from home and abroad, totaling several hundred thousand assortments, including databases, electronic journals, electronic books, and theses and dissertations, keeping Peking University Library at the forefront of its initiative to be one of China’s leading and most modern research libraries.
Although it has undergone extensive structural renovation, PUL remains renowned for its exquisite traditional Chinese architecture. Today, the library has an impressive total building area of 53,000 square metres with over 4,000 seats.

Peking University Library provides all of th services such as circulation, digital library portal, resource retrieval, digitizing services, information service and research reference, interlibrary loan and document delivery, user training, academic books on reserve and multimedia services. The document and service sharing system consists of the main library, thirty department libraries, a medical school library and six affiliated hospital libraries. The branch libraries collect more than one million volumes with most of them retrievable through its OPAC.
Throughout its history, the university has educated and hosted many prominent modern Chinese thinkers, including figures such as: Lu Xun, Mao Zedong, Gu Hongming, Hu Shih, Li Dazhao, and Chen Duxiu, all immortalized in the annals of Chinese history.  Much of the buildings is retained from its imperial history.

Inspired by the German model of academic freedom, Peking University recruited Western-trained faculty that included Hu Shih,Chen Duxiu, and Lu Xun, and its students formed the bulk of the protesters of the May Fourth Movement, which ushered in the modernization movement in the country, and subsequently, Peking University influenced the birth of China's New Culture Movement, May Fourth Movement, the Tiananmen Square protest of 1989 and many other significant events.  The history continues to this day.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

#TED2014 Arrives in Vancouver (Finally)

TED finally began on March 17 in the evening 6 p.m. here in Vancouver, BC.  At $7,500 per seat, it's outpriced the majority, including my own, but at least my library the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre has a livestream.  It's remarkable witnessing crowds there immersed in the talks each day.

Each speaker, some of the world’s most inspirational and brightest individuals, are given 18-minutes to deliver their talk to the audience.   As a conference with humble origins, TED has grown from a simple experimental convergence of the fields of technology, entertainment and design to one that encompasses the broadest topics and an intellectual dynamism of some of the world's most in-demand speakers.  Although I might never have a chance to rub elbows with those attending, it's assuring to know the talks are made available online.  Here's some of the highlights so far from TED 2014.  (Oh well, there's always next year).
    Edward Snowden: Here's how we take back the Internet - Appearing by telepresence robot, Edward Snowden speaks at TED2014 about surveillance and Internet freedom. The right to data privacy, he suggests, is not a partisan issue, but requires a fundamental rethink of the role of the internet in our lives — and the laws that protect it.
    Chris  Hadfield: What I learned from going blind in space - Chris Hadfield paints a vivid portrait of how to be prepared for the worst in space (and life) -- and it starts with walking into a spider's web. Watch for a special space-y performance.
    Daniel Reisel: The neuroscience of restorative justice - Daniel Reisel studies the brains of criminal psychopaths (and mice). And he asks a big question: Instead of warehousing these criminals, shouldn't we be using what we know about the brain to help them rehabilitate? Put another way: If the brain can grow new neural pathways after an injury ... could we help the brain re-grow morality?
    Charmian Gooch: My wish: To launch a new era of openness in business - Anti-corruption activist Charmian Gooch shares her brave TED Prize wish: to know who owns and controls companies, to change the law, and to launch a new era of openness in business.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Introducing "Generation C"

"Generation C" is not a new innovation - it has been around since 2004. In 2012, Zoe Fox's
Forget Generation Y: 18- to 34-Year-Olds Are Now 'Generation C' noted that Gen C is a powerful new force in consumer culture, a term describing a generation of people who care deeply about creation, curation, connection, and community.

It's not a question of whether these individuals While some might view them as Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000), researchers define Generation C as a "psychographic" group, or a number of individuals who share a similar state of mind, whether that be certain personality traits, values, attitudes, interests, or lifestyles.  Google assert that 80% of millennials are made up of Gen C, YouTube’s core audience.  Some believe we should treat Generation C as an attitude and mindset.

Regardless, Google describes Generation C as "connected, computerized, and always clicking." A generation of change, these are lofty ideals.   There are traits that characterize this generation:
  • a love of content creation and 'mashing';
  • the tendency to form active communities rather than remain passive;
  • a gravitation toward social media sites where they can participate in discussions about different ideas and get involved in cultural conversations;
  • a desire to be in control of their own lives, and a contentedness with complexity;
  • a desire to work in more creative industries and be less restricted by rigid social structures.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Screening: Google and the World Brain


I'm really glad I attended yesterday's screening of Google and the World Brain, hosted by UBC Continuing Studies @ UBC Robson Square Theatre. The event featured a panel discussion after the film with Martha Rans, Lawyer and Director of Artists Legal Outreach and also Graham Reynolds, Assistant Professor at UBC Faculty of Law.

Dubbed as the "most ambitious project ever conceived on the Internet: Google's master plan to scan every book in the world and the people trying to stop them," the film documents Google's hidden agenda and unintended consequences behind building a library for mankind. As a librarian in academia, mixed feels

The Google Book Search Library Project, in which millions of books from libraries will be scanned and made searchable on the Web, has led to controversy and legal action. The Association of American Publishers sued Google for copyright infringement as Google claimed their use falls under the fair use privilege of the Copyright Act.
  • Pamela Samuelson is recognized as a pioneer in digital copyright law, intellectual property, cyberlaw and information policy.
  • Graham Reynolds teaches and researches in the areas of copyright law, intellectual property law, property law, and intellectual property and human rights.
  • Google Secrecy and Commercialization of Information - It's obvious that Google has been less than transparent about its projects (see Street View wifi incident or the infamous Google Barges project).  Google Books is just a similar fear that the company is plotting a scheme that will extract personal information from the Books project for its own financial benefits.
  • Digital Public Library of America and Europeana - it appears the siloization of digital materials in the guise of a consortia continues.  Who's using them?  Will it outperform using Google Books?  
  • Jaron Lanier is a writer, computer scientist, and composer of classical music. A pioneer in the field of virtual reality

Friday, February 14, 2014

Media, Culture, Technology . . . and Sugar?


An American Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) is potentially drawing the line in the sand with the sugar industry.  Robert Lustig's research focuses on the regulation of energy balance by the central nervous system and childhood obesity.  He's reignited an almost forgotten episode of corporate conspiracy.  Thanks to researchers like Lustig, e-commerce, and the long tail, the John Yudkin's Pure, White and Deadly [free copy here] a book widely denounced at the time of publication, is currently one of the hottest out-of-print works in the world.

Lustig's now ground-breaking lecture called Sugar: the Bitter Truth, which hailed Yudkin’s work as "prophetic" has garnered now more than 4 million hits on YouTube since 2009.  Lustig's emergence in the public eye came from his efforts to establish that fructose can have "serious deleterious effects" on human (especially children's) health if consumed in too large amounts. Hi May 26, 2009 lecture "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" eventually "went viral" with some 4.2 million viewings . In his lecture, Lustig refers to fructose as a "poison" and equates its metabolic effects with those of ethanol(!)

Of course, Lustig did his detective work the old fashioned way: he tracked down the book after a tip from a colleague via an interlibrary loan.   In a prophetic way, Lustig's viral prominence is being credited with triggering the anti-sugar movement, a campaign that calls for sugar to be treated as a toxin, like alcohol and tobacco, and for sugar-laden foods to be taxed, labelled with health warnings and banned for anyone under eighteen.  Lustig is one of a growing number of scientists who are convinced it’s the cause of several chronic and very common illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. It is also an addictive that interferes with appetites and creates an irresistible urge to eat.

Instead of treating the findings as a threat, the food industry spun a commercial opportunity. Market research showed there was a great deal of public enthusiasm for "healthy" products and low-fat foods would prove incredibly popular. By the start of the 1970's, supermarket shelves were saturated in low-fat yogurts, spreads, and even desserts and biscuits.  Moreover, a concerted campaign by the food industry and several scientists began to discredit Yudkin’s work. The British Sugar Bureau put out a press release dismissing Yudkin’s claims as "emotional assertions" and the World Sugar Research Organisation described his book as "science fiction."

Yudkin was "uninvited" to international conferences and papers he published discrediting sugar were pulled from publications. Conferences he organized were cancelled at the last minute, after pressure from sponsors, such as Coca-Cola. The British Nutrition Foundation, one of whose sponsors was Tate & Lyle, never invited anyone from Yudkin’s prestigious department to sit on its committees. Queen Elizabeth College refused allow Yudkin to use its research facilities when he retired in 1970 to write Pure, White and Deadly.

The backlash and academic boycott of Yudkin resulted in a domino effect as other scientists, who avoided negative about sugar for fear of being similarly attacked. As a result, the low-fat industry, with its products laden with sugar, boomed.  Yudkin knew a lot more data was needed to support his theories, but never had the chance to continue his research in any meaningful way or support.   

Eventually medical science would discover the critical hormones that would explain and connect his theories.  In the 1980's, new discoveries gave new credence to Yudkin’s theories.   As Julia Llewellyn Smith explains,
Researchers found fructose, one of the two main carbohydrates in refined sugar, is primarily metabolized by the liver; while glucose (found in starchy food like bread and potatoes) is metabolized by all cells. This means consuming excessive fructose puts extra strain on the liver, which then converts fructose to fat. This induces a condition known as insulin resistance, or metabolic syndrome, which doctors now generally acknowledge to be the major risk factor for heart disease, diabetes and obesity, as well as a possible factor for many cancers.
Yudkin’s reputation has since been resuscitated and Penguin has recently re-published Pure, White and Deadly. But the damage had been done as obesity rates have skyrocketed compared to when the book was published.   Just as the public had to learn from the dangers of Big Tobacco the painful way, so must the public again have to horribly learn about Big Food, Big Soda and Big Alcohol.  If not for the power of social media and a fortuitous lecture, the movement to uncover a harrowing truth would never have happened.

More to Read

Robert Lustig.  Fat Chance: Beating the Odds against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. New York: Hudson Street Press, 2013.

David Gillespie. Sweet Poison. Melbourne: Penguin Australia, 2009.  [Link]

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library Holdings of the University of Toronto's Rare Books and Special Collections

During my trip to the University of T oronto, I had the opportunity to visit the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library.  As the largest repository of publicly accessible rare books and manuscripts in Canada, the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections and the University Archives at UT campus, however, did not have a permanent home until 1973 when the Thomas Fisher Rare Book library was opened.

The library is also home to the university archives which, in addition to institutional records, also contains the papers of many important Canadian literary figures including Margaret Atwood and Leonard Cohen.
Among the collection's items are the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), Shakespeare's First Folio (1623), Newton's Principia (1687), and Darwin's proof copy (with annotations) of On the Origin of Species (1859). Other collections include Babylonian cuneiform tablet from Ur (1789 BC), 36 Egyptian papyrus manuscript fragments (245 BC), and Catholicon (1460).
I was very impressed with how the Fisher Library engages its patrons with ongoing exhibitions.  The current exhibition examines Canada during the Great War, 'We Will Do Our Share': The University of Toronto and the Great War, focuseing on how the University prepared for and carried out its duties during the war and on the impact of the war on the University’s faculty, staff, students, its physical plant, its academic and research programmes, and on student and other organizations.  Here are some highlights of the digital collections from the Library.  It's well worth a perusal on your own time - both physical and in digital!



Friday, January 10, 2014

literASIAN - the Little Engine that Could in Canadian Literary Canon

I'm moving out of my usual technology focus for something quite different. As a librarian, my work and passion involves both fiction and non-fiction. I even dabble in creative writing to this endeavour.  Over the years, I've learned that the Canadian literary scene is a highly exclusive anomaly.  Whether written in its national English and French languages, our country's literary canon often reflects the Canadian perspective about nature, frontier life, as well as its insecurities dealing with the rest of the world. Despite the cultural diversity of the nation - over five million Canadians identified themselves as a member of a visible minority group in the 2006 Census, accounting for 16.2% of the total population - much of the Canadian literary landscape primarily tells the story of the garrison mentality of Anglo heritage.  Occasionally there is token acknowledgement of "multiculturalism" with a smattering of cultural diversity recognized on the margins of historical misfortunes and bygone days.


literASIAN 2013 was a very unique literary festival that took place in Vancouver, Canada that almost never happened.  Without a government grant and support of Asian Canadian community, it couldn't have gathered together some of most recognized names in Canadian writing - including Joy Kogawa, Madeleine Thien, Rita Wong, Rawi Hage, Denise Chong, David HT Wong, Terry Woo - for a celebration of some of the greatest contributions to Canadian literature, "or ethnic literature," unfortunately as it is still recognized by the establishment, relegated to ethnic studies courses or marginalized for only history courses about the mistreatment of Asians during the Exclusion Era.  My friend and well-known writer Madeleine Thien puts it best when she spoke at the closing gala dinner:
In reviewing and critiquing the work of Asian, South Asian, African and Arab-Canadian writers, our critics simply do not have a great depth of knowledge — whether that be historical context or literary precedents. . . It’s only now, after more than 10 years of seeing these patterns, that I feel confident in saying it is not an anomaly but a fixed pattern that is difficult to shift.   
. . . aside from Joseph Boyden, this year’s Giller long list was composed entirely of white writers. It is worth nothing that in the last 10 years of the Writer’s Trust fiction prize, only eight non-white writers been shortlisted (this number includes Rawi Hage three times). In fact, until Esi Edugyan was shortlisted in 2011, no woman of colour had ever even been nominated in the 14-year history of the prize. In 10 years of the Giller Prize, a total of 12 non-white writers have been shortlisted. Before you celebrate, this number includes Rawi Hage, M.G. Vassanji and Michael Ondaatje each twice.

 With my friends Jim Wong-Chu, Sid Tan, Todd Wong, and colleagues from UBC Learning Exchange, we put on a great show at literASIAN, and were able to highlight our small community of writers of Asian descent for a weekend of great readings, performances, and reunions.  It's Canadian literary festivals like the Jewish Book Festival, literASIAN, and World Poetry that need continued support and offer role models for those fledgling writers who need the support system to grow and develop their voices.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Smart Technology, Context-Awareness, and the Internet of Things



Popular media has focused much attention on context-awareness media technology. In the May 2013 issue of Wired Magazine, its feature article Welcome to the Programmable World discusses how context-awareness technologies can soon “choreograph” to respond to our needs, solve our problems, and even save our lives. In its August issue of Wired, it features another article about context-awareness in The Age of Invisible Design Has Arrived.  Technology bloggers Robert Scoble and Shel Israel’s very recently authored Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy, a book that highlights what the future will look like and, in many ways, what today already does using context-awareness technologies.

Technologist Peter Semmelhack (http://www.gadgetocracy.com/) argues that by connecting a device to a network, the aim is to exchange and share information with other devices on that same netwok. Semmelhack proposes seven key attributes called the “social seven” which I believe is an excellent framework in examining how context-aware technologies can enable educational technology designers to better design their products and machines with the end user in mind.

The Globe and Mail article The Smartphone Knows What You're Thinking in 2012 featured context-aware computing when it predicted smartphones would have sensors that could detect a person’s location, the time of day and the presence of others to tell whether a person is in a meeting or listening to a presentation, or even dismissing incoming calls or revert to silent mode.

The technology-based company, Gartner, identifies context-aware computing as one of the Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2011. And by 2013, Gartner predicts that more than half of Fortune 500 companies will have context-aware computing initiatives and by 2016, one-third of worldwide mobile consumer marketing will be context-awareness-based. Connected World Magazine is already the leading business and technology publication that provides the intelligence industry titans need and the guidance consumers crave.   Do I need to say more about our upcoming connected smart-ready world?

Technology columnist Brian Proffitt predicts three things for the Internet of Things for 2014 which is insightful and helps explain what are some critical technologies that need to be in place for the IoT to be realized.   If at least one of these predictions come true, we could see a very different world of technology in the upcoming year ahead.

Prediction #1:  More commercial deals like AllSeen that will get vendors working towards a common communications platform through which devices can readily pass information along to each other. Just take a look at AllSeen Alliance get formed.

Prediction #2: Consumers will start to see more examples of device-to-device communication as more hardware vendors incorporate smarter communication devices within their products.

Prediction #3: Payment systems, whether existing credit and debit cards, new systems like Coin or all-online systems like PayPal and Google Wallet, will become more integrated with the Internet of Things, smoothing the friction for transactions.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Context-Awareness in a "Smart" World

Having recently completed a self-directed studies research project on context-awareness media in education with Dr. David Vogt, have accumulated a substantial amoung of knowledge in the cutting edge development of "smart" technologies.  Smart technologies using context-awareness is really about how machines can "talk" to each other.

What do self-driving automated cars have to do with context-awareness technology? While California recently passed the self-driving car bill, the concept of the self-driving automated car has been the fascination of engineers since the early 1930's, as revealed in this 1934 Popular Science Magazine.

Simone Fuchs, Stefan Rass, Bernhard Lamprecht, and Kyandoghere Kyamakya from the University of Klagenfurt have done extensive research on context-awareness and driver assistance systems (DAS). In their 2006 paper, "Context-Awareness and Collaborative Driving for Intelligent Vehicles and Smart Roads," the authors assert that a context-aware system is one in which there is a constant exchange of information that is generated by and for other vehicles, or "inter-vehicle collaboration" (Fuchs, et al., 2006). http://youtu.be/b_m8DqTlOLE In a way, this is already happening on a small-scale with current "self-parking" cars.

 In 2006, when the Lexus LS 460 was unveiled at Detroit's North American International Auto Show, the vehicle and its ability to parallel park itself was very a novel concept and it generated instant media buzz. A number of car manufacturers have rolled out their own self-parking systems, which guide cars into parking spaces with little help from the driver. 
  • A number of companies and research organizations have developed working prototype autonomous vehicles, including Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Continental Automotive Systems, Autoliv Inc., Bosch, Nissan, Toyota, Audi, and Google 
How Self-Parking works 
The self-parking system accesses the car park's management system in order to find and allocate a free parking space and transmit the route to the car. The system uses context-awareness technology in order for a "driver-less" car to function. 
  • The Advanced Parking Guidance System (APGS) for Lexus models in the United States is the first production automatic parking system 
  • Since most modern car parks have more than one level or are underground, GPS-based positioning is not really an option, so instead the management system uses Wi-Fi to transmit the route. 
  • Computer processors which are tied to the vehicle's (sonar warning system) feature, backup camera, and two additional forward sensors on the front side fenders. 
Sonar park sensors include multiple sensors on the forward and rear bumpers which detect obstacles, allowing the vehicle to sound warnings and calculate optimum steering angles during regular parking
These sensors in addition to the two additional parking sensors are tied to a central computer processor, which in turn is integrated with the backup camera system to provide the driver parking information
The representative box on the screen correctly identifies the parking space; if the space is large enough to park, the box will be green in color; if the box is incorrectly placed, or lined in red, using the arrow buttons moves the box until it turns green

The Social Seven Criteria 
But how do we define what is context-awareness, as oppose to something like location-based media?   Using a framework to better understand context-awareness, I chose Peter Semmelheck’s “Social Seven” criteria to help us examine the multiple layers that construct a context-aware environment.  Like a taxonomy, the social seven helps us define the characteristics of "smartness."  
Level 1 - Identity - Each driver is unique and has his or her own mobile phone; each car is assigned a unique identifier.
 Level 2 - Discoverability - Each car that enters the parking lot has sensors that automatically connect it to the system.
Level 3 - Presence - Visual and audio cues coming from the mobile will alert users that they are connected to the system.
Level 4 - Activity - There is constant communication flowing between the mobile phone app, the sensors in the car, and also the parking lot's main processor. Level 5 - Status - As the car is shifting gears and into driving mode, the central computer dashboard indicates activity is happening during the sequence of events. Level 6 - Access - Drivers must first user their mobiles to log-in to the system in order for the car to access the system (and vice versa).

Level 7 - Privileges - There is a level of control that mobile transit users can set using their mobiles so that they can let the system know how much "context" about the traveler is necessary.

The Future? Google Car The self-driving car's autonomous mechanisms are for the large part developed for Google by Stanford's Sebastian Thrun. The Google Car's underlying technologies consist of the Doppler radar and the remote-sensing laser LIDAR used in conjunction with optical sensors and General-purpose computing on graphics processing units (GPGPU) processing to feed data into machine learning systems that are programmed to identify threats.

For example, if a live object leaps out into the road, the Google Car's ABS brakes are automatically applied to help the driver steer around danger – or at the very least, reduce the risk of harm to the driver and passengers by pre-arming airbags and other safety systems.

The autonomous self-driving car has much potential, and its early prototypes of self-parking is immensely exciting. Yet the self-parking car that finds its own space in a vacant parking stall is by no means a social machine. The context-awareness technology is employs, using sensors so that machines can communicate with each other so that navigation can happen is a transformative educational process where drivers will have the opportunity to rethink and "re-learn" how to communicate with other drivers socially while on the road.

The eminent cognitive scientist and HCI researcher Donald Norman has long argued that designers tend to focus on technology, attempting to automate whatever possible for safety and convenience (Norman, 2009, 5). However, such "intelligence" is limited as no machine can have sufficient knowledge of the factors that go into human decision-making - the "intelligence" is in the mind of the designer. As Norman puts forth, learning to "read" machines is in fact a critical part of creating smart machines. The "smart" is really at times a misnomer.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Augmented Reality in the Library


Although still in its embryonic stages of use in libraries, museums, and art galleries, augmented reality has really taken off in the entertainment industries. For example, the British multinational grocery and general merchandise retailer Tesco is using mobile technology to enable customers to scan quick response codes and look through a virtual catalog to view some of the food range that it has to offer, in addition to their collection of decorations and gifts. All of the items that are available in that catalog and in the store are also available online at the store’s official website. 

It gives consumers the chance to click and purchase the items that they want so that they can pick them up without a shipping charge at their local Metro store by the next day. Of course, the Christmas window display isn’t just designed to be a shopping experience for mobile users. This type of use of QR codes and augmented reality technology is becoming increasingly popular and has drawn a great deal of attention to retailer displays in the U.K. and many other places around the world.

I've had an opportunity to test out Layar, an augmented reality (AR) app - and found it a useful tool for highlighting the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre’s eighty-eight year history as the Main Library using UBC Library’s digital collections.   Patrons using their smartphones or iPads can view the current Wall of Recognition and see the wall "come alive" with archival images and videos of students and alumni talking about their experiences in the building - past and present.

In 2010’s Horizon Report, AR is forecasted as an important technology in two to three years time. While the capability to deliver augmented reality experiences has been around for decades, it is only very recently that those experiences have become easy and portable. Advances in mobile devices as well as in the different technologies that combine the real world with virtual information have led to augmented reality applications that are as near to hand as any other application on a laptop or a smart phone.   This is an exciting development, but it's still taking its time in libraries - as of yet, it's still an "emerging" technology that has yet to meet the tipping point.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

3D-Printing + The Internet Of Things = Future of Things



Carnegie Mellon and Microsoft Research may bring 3D printing and the Internet of Things together without the limitations of RFID or visual encoding. Using 3D printing, researchers are looking at building unique three-dimensional codes right inside the material of the object.

What could that mean?  The ability to directly embed readable codes directly within objects that any object created in such a fashion could immediately be a part of the Internet of Things (I've discussed the IoT in the past, too). The example used by Carnegie Mellon's Karl D.D. Willis for the InfraStruct project was a robot equipped with a terahertz scanner that could seek out and find an encoded object.

That might be a vacuum cleaner trying to avoid some toys on the floor, or a factory robot seeking the exact part it needs to deliver to the assembly line. For all kinds of robotics applications, that kind of functionality would be phenomenal.

Brian Proffitt from Read Write Web believes envisions this kind of scanning technology could be used for the printed-on-demand medical devices.  Can you imagine a day when an object can be manufactured within minutes right at the healthcare facility, instead of waiting for days to get the device delivered from a factory?  I can - but first let's look at how the IoT can think.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace - Ron Deibert at The Citizen Lab



Ron Deibert conducts some of the most provoking and controversial research around today in academica. His area of study extends beyond the international relations diplomacy to digital cyberspace all around us.  And it is all around us: we depend on it for everything we do.  Business, governance, and social relations around a planetary network rely heavily on the Internet. Ron Deibert, one of Canada's leading expert on digital technology, security, and human rights, reaches far into the dark corners of the hidden Web, and examines how seemingly powerful but mostly invisible agents are scrambling for control.

Deibert's Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto has been an innovative hub of excavating cyber criminal activities at the intersection of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), human rights, and global security.  "Cybergangs" such as Koobface have made social media their stalking ground, and that is where the Citizen Lab comes in.  Deibert's work at the Munk School of Global Affairs has completed some amazing findings, and its results form the foundation in the recent publication of Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace.  

Drawing on the first-hand experiences of one of the most important protagonists in the battle — the Citizen Lab and its global network of frontline researchers have spent more than a decade cracking cyber espionage rings and uncovering attacks on citizens and NGOs worldwide — Black Code takes readers on a fascinating journey into the battle for cyberspace.   It reveals how governments limit as much as possible how much is revealed about its surveillance and digital espionage wars with cyber criminals.  We only know partially the inner workings of Koobface, one of the deadliest computer worms out there that targets social networks, even though much of it has been researched thanks to government interference.  

Ron Deibert's background is equally fascinating as the work he conducts as an academic researcher.  Born and raised in the blue-collar Eastside Vancouver in 1964, Deibert was an occasional delinquent and mildly struggling student whose application to study journalism at community college was rejected. 

Interestingly, graduate studies in international relations at Queen’s University followed along with a fortunate encounter with a sympathetic professor who helped him secure a place in the doctoral program at the UBC Political Science department after being rejected on his first try.  A fledgling student with a fuzzy focus on what to write his dissertation on, Deibert eventually realized that information technology, particularly the nascent Internet, would revolutionize world politics and change his life.  The rest is history, of course.

Recommended Reading:
Koobface: Inside a Crimeware Network by Nart Villeneuve, with a foreword by Ron Deibert and Rafal Rohozinski. [Link]