Monday, March 16, 2009

Blame it on the Software?

Software fail. Sometimes at very critical times. But can you make it the 'default' excuse even in cases where the process is supposed to be under a lot of human supervision?

I experienced a small incident where people seem to depend on software too much that when something goes wrong, they blame it on the the software entirely. Although, clearly it was their mistake in the first place and they were supposed to verify the outcome of the software anyways.

So here's the story... I am planning to attend a conference in Spain in April, and since Sri Lankans need visas to enter almost any country in the world, I had to apply for a Schengen Visa at the Spanish Consulate in Boston. They took 2 weeks to process the visa application, and when I got my passport back, I noticed that they have issued the visa from 18-04-00 to 10-05-09. This is absurd because I only asked the visa for 7 days and they had given it for more than 9 years! Had they given the visa for 9 years forward from now, I would've been extremely happy as I could have avoided any future paperwork messes and the ridiculous amounts of money they require to process the applications. But clearly, this was a mistake. So I reported it to avoid any confusion (and with the recent luck I have been having with travel visas, it was definitely better to be safe than sorry!).

Their explanation was very simple: it was a mistake in their software. Now, tell me, do they have some very complicated OCR software to automatically figure out the date I want to go to Spain by processing all the paperwork I submitted? Even if that was the case, shouldn't they at least check the dates of the visa manually before issuing it? If a software was doing all the processing, why did it take them 2 weeks to process the application? My guess is that, it was a small typo and they failed to spot it. One thing that surprises me most is the lack of a software based control to ensure the 'visa issued date' to be less than the 'visa valid from date'. Anyway, after my complaint, I got the visa for the correct time period. But it made me wonder about the correctness of the software that are used by Government agencies. If they can't do a simple date check like this, I fear what other pieces of controls these software might be missing! Even more worryingly, it is sad to imagine they might be using the data collected through such buggy systems for making decisions that might affect somebody's entire future!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Buddha Lounge

This is the name of a bar/night club I see on a day-to-day basis these days (because it's very close to where I am staying right now). Every time I see it, I keep on thinking why the club owners thought having the name 'Buddha' would be a nice fit for the club. Does it sound trendy to have a religious icon from the east? I think not!

Also, here's what my friend Simon has to say about this same bar.

IMHO, I think people should be much more respectful towards other religions.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Do you have a digital identity?

Last week I was in London at a workshop on "Digital Identities". The workshop was really interesting, and it made me wonder whether people really need to adopt digital identities to protect themselves online.

The work at the research group I am affiliated with at MIT, revolves around having transparent and accountable data on the web. This "data", I believe, includes the "online identities" of people as well. So, I am trained to think that you should be held accountable for whatever you say on the web! However, if the things you say are highly controversial, even unlawful in certain jurisdictions, and can have an adverse effect on your career, it seems reasonable to go under a pseudonym and write whatever you have to say, abdicating all the responsibilities and even the subsequent credit to yourself as a person in the real world.

Another point that was brought up in the discussion was that whether going under a pseudonym is at all better than writing something anonymously. To me, it doesn't appear to have much of a difference though. However, unlike an anonymous author, an author operating under a pseudonym will have a social circle who would promote the writings to a greater community under their own guises. There were so many interesting stories that came up in the discussion out of their own experiences!
If you are interested in these case stories and the "patterns" that emerged, have a look here.

Anyways, I still think that if you want to write about something you should fully disclose who you are. Coming from an open culture, where full disclosure means more visibility and hence more recognition to you and your work, it seemed a bit bizarre that you'd want to hide away under some name if you really want to say something on the web.

I wonder if someone would ever come up with a technical or a legal solution to this problem? If you have any thoughts on this issue, please do comment!

Monday, January 5, 2009

I am back!

I have been away from blogging for way too long! For some time, I was using this blog only to experiment my summer '08 project at the University of Southampton, UK on "Detecting Creative Commons License Violations on Flickr Images on the web". In fact, if you visited this blog between now and last summer you might have seen weird images embedded in the blog, and might have wondered what the heck I was doing :)

Anyways, I made a new year resolution to blog more often. I've always experienced that thinking aloud is extremely beneficial in several ways. Imparting knowledge (or maybe sometimes nonsense) to others is really good, and in my case it really helps to structure my ideas much clearly. Since I really need to be in the writing mood soon (SM thesis due by the end of the Spring semester :( ), I believe this would give me good practice!

So stay tuned :)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Summer Doctoral Program

This post is long overdue. But it is better late than never, right? :)

So the Summer Doctoral Program or the "SDP" as we called it, is finally over. It was two weeks of intense seminars and discussions all in an attempt to shape and define what Web Science is. Key themes were how to ensure privacy, information accountability and transparency, how to research and predict web based social behavior on a large scale, several intros to the Semantic Web and very interesting student presentations on our own Ph.D topics ranging from porn to  e-governments! 

If you are interested in finding out what kind of things were discussed, have a look at the wiki. I have also summed up my thoughts on Web Science in this essay in case you are interested.

The SDP participants were from very diverse fields, and it was really interesting to interact and learn from each other. I think we all made some very good friends at the SDP. 
There was also an IRC back channel, and I simply loved the discussions happening there. It was the place to ask stupid questions and even throw witty remarks at others!

We also managed to design a T-shirt for the SDP. Many kudos to Matthew Weber for the design. Harry Halpin and I made sure that the RDF syntax in N3 is well-formed. After all, I don't think I would be able to wear a T-shirt with invalid syntax, especially when TimBL is around, now would I?  :)
There is a CafĂ© Press shop where you can purchase a t-shirt, a long-sleeve t-shirt or a mug if you like!

The front design looks like this:

What's the deal with the dingo you ask? Well, it's all thanks to Jonathan Zittrain. As Tobias Escher said in his blog post - "while a dingo has nothing to do whatsover with Internet research it is a very useful way of keeping the attention of your audience focused on your presentation" :). I apologize for the inside joke, but the dingo really kept us going!

And the back of the T-shirt looks like this: 

These are some of the things heard during the SDP. A more complete list is available in Sonny's blog post. Watch out for the small phrase by me :). This photo is a proof for me saying what I said(photo credit: Puneet Kishore). I even got the award "Best Swimmer" for my feat!!

Next year the SDP will take place in Brisbane, Australia. So, if you are a doctoral student working on web related studies, you might want to apply for the program. I am sure it will help your theses as well as be very enjoyable. It sure was for me!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Getting Ready

Yes, that's right.. I am getting ready! I am getting ready to attend Summer Doctoral Program at Oxford Internet Institute, UK. This will be a two-week long program on "Web Science"! So, what is this web science I hear you ask... Well, from what I understand (from a lot of reading during the last couple of weeks) this specific field will be the starting point to understand the web we have today, it's implications on the society and what this web as we know today will become in the future.

If you are interested, here are some resources you could read to learn more:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Great intro to OpenID

I stumbled upon this great tutorial on OpenID. It explains the basics and then dives down to the details in a very nice and easy-to-learn way.