Wednesday, 31 October 2007

13th September 1999

Have a guess on what happened this day?

Here is a clue:

Any the wiser?

Thursday, 25 October 2007

More earth defenders

seems we have more problems

we do seem to make so many enemies, those who reside on the 3rd stone from the sun.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

The Need for Music IR

Allister Heath and Jon Ashworth have written quite an interesting article on the massive changes going on in the music industry, and I wanted to pen some reflections on the implications of these changes with respect to music retrieval.

The evidence appears to show that more and more folk are buying their music online, and that CD sales are falling. Some artists are using a different model for generating revenue e.g. Prince released his recent album free with the Daily Mail, but did something like 21 dates at the O2 centre (that big tent thing) in Greenwich. Things could be going full circle here – musicians before the recording era earned their money from live performances. Things don’t look so good for the big labels (EMI, Sony BMG etc) let alone the music stores.

Hence Digital Rights Management (DRM) e.g iTunes. Music companies hope that this will stop their revenues from declining even further (evidence from the Heath/Ashworth article says that it would never replace CD sales). Personally I think they are going to be disappointed – for all sorts of reasons. If Prince and other artists want to give their music away freely, there is no need for DRM. Many DRM players are incompatible and users have to download specific software to use them. In some services (Napster), if you stop paying you are denied access to music you have already bought. In the long term I don’t think users are going to buy the DRM thing. Many voices e.g. Steve Jobs, have come out against DRM (at least for music). There is also very strong opposition to DRM from people like Richard Stallman and Ross Anderson. Frankly, I’m with them – DRM is mad!

It is my view that some stage in the future, we will have massive databases of music and will therefore have a big information retrieval problem (even if the music companies don’t release their back catalogue). How do we cope with this in terms of technical and user issues? Music IR has become something of a hot topic, and the ISMIR series of conferences and many of the technical challenges are being addressed including the process of matching and evaluation. Some of this research will prove very useful. However one important area is not being addressed sufficiently widely IMHO. Despite the excellent efforts of people like Sally Jo Cunningham, not enough research is being done into user needs for music. It’s all very well building sophisticated algorithms for matching, but how do you know they will actually service user needs. When attending an ISMIR conference, I remember being amazed by a statement by one computer scientist who claimed in all seriousness that ‘he knew’ what users wanted and didn’t need to talk to them. No, I didn’t believe him.

This is an important research direction for me. I have published in the area and have a student working on a project. Watch this space!

Heath, A. and Ashworth, J. (2007). “A brand new beat”, The Business, Available on line: [visited: 23rd October 2007]
Jobs, S. (2007). “Thoughts on music”, Available on line: [visited: 23rd October 2007]

Web references
ISMIR: [visited: 23rd October 2007]
MUSIC IR: [visited: 23rd October 2007]

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Only one man can save the world

See here

Watch out London! Please try not to boo at the end. This isn't quite the end..

Remember all those tapes?

Yes - computers really did used to look like this

If this title would be done today, I wonder what it would look like?

Smart Resizing

This is a very interesting piece of research.

I'm particularly intrested in this for a number of reasons, including the display of images when conducting image retrieval. Another application is the display of map images when doing geographical information retrieval on mobile devices. It has in my view a number of important applications in IR.

(Hat Tip: David Thompson)

Theo Jansen: Kinetic Sculptures

The work of this chap is really quite incredible. A video of him presenting his work is available.

He creates Sculptures with move with the wind. So far they can store energy, detect water and reverse direction, and when it gets very windy, hammer themselves into the beech (they are designed to work on beeches).

What particularly interests me about this is he uses genetic theory to create these sculptures, and I have an interest in GA's to solve optimisation problems in IR.

(Hat Tip: David Thompson)

Friday, 19 October 2007

5,4,3,2,1 - Thunderbirds are go!

and if you are in dire straights...

Thursday, 18 October 2007

OpenDoc Society: foundation Meeting

Now heres an idea - how about standards for document formats? The Open Document Society has been set up to address this issue. Think of those old files you can't read anymore, because the format is not supported. Or how about still being able to read a document in an older program (unlike Microsoft). The Society have an inital meeting in the Netherlands - here's the blurb:

OpenDoc Society has as its goal to promote Open Document Format and
other related standards and by this way to contribute to the durability
and accesibility of information. The most important areas of interest are:

1. Striving to accomplish an as complete as possible representation
of users, developers and other parties involved with ODF and
related standards.
2. Developing and maintaining formal and informal relations between
the national and international ODF community.
3. Offering information, expertise and other facilities on ODF and
related standards.
4. Promoting the accesibility of ODF for all individuals, groups and
5. Offering a platform for discussion and the sharing of
views on ODF
6. Cooperating with other organisations in the area of open document
standards to coordinate, collaborate and educate.
7. Offering services to help individuals, groups and organisations
use ODF effectively for communication, cooperation, education and
8. Contributing to durability and accessibility of information in
the public, commercial and private domain and daily usage
9. Stimulating innovation and new aplications of ODF.
10. Stimulating the use and development of ODF in general.

Theme of the Unix Spiders blog, moderation policy

I've been thinking long and hard about what the role of this blog is, and perhaps what it is not.

Lets start with what it is not. I won't discuss currently political, moral, philosophical theological issues unless they are connected with library and information science or computer science (the broader discipine of informatics perhaps). For example I won't be posting any articles about climate change, unless there is an clear connection to informatics e.g. bibliometrics, or predictive models. I won't therefore allow comments which deviate from this policy.

I will disallow comments which are offensive, bigoted and use swearing. I'm happy to allow strongly held views to be posted to the blog, providing a good argument is made and no personal aspertions are made (you're stupid etc).

For the time being, I am the only person who will be posting to this blog. I may on occasion invite guest posts on particular subject which I think of interest.

I will post on my general research interests in informatics, largely related to either information retrieval or open source software development, my main teaching and research interests. I will occasionaly branch out into more general areas of informatics such as information policy, graphics, operating systems when I'm interested in it.

However, I be posting fun items, for example a series I have started on nostalgia (for example see the stringray theme tune page). These by in large will have a technological theme, but not always. In general however, I will try and relate it to my research interests, albeit tenious e.g. I'm interested in music IR, so will sometimes be posting links to music videos I like.

This policy may well change from time to time, and I will update this post accordingly.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

News Stories and Blogs

I have a particular interest in doing research on blogs, and this paper looks very useful:

I hope to get time at some stage to tackle some of the issues that Blaise Cronin and Oliver Kamm have said about blogs, and the other side of the coin (e.g. Norman Geras).

To give a flavour of Cronin's view, see:

Here are some of the (somewhat) annoyed replies to these polemics:



Found this on the same online journal:

IR curricula in Library and Information Science Departments

I have a particular interest in this, and the following paper looks useful:

I have been involved in workshops on this issue in the past, and with colleages I'm planning another one next year. Proceedings from this years workshop can be found on:

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Energy Information – A new area for Information Science research

I’ve been thinking about how to get a research angle on the issue of Energy Information for a while now, largely due to my reading of the Peak Oil issue.

On the web you will find various articles about Energy Information, or misinformation as some people call it (for example see: - please note that parts of this article are very controversial indeed).

Of particular interest is the reporting of OPEC oil reserves, and the jumps in declared reserves in 1988 from many of these nations, (see the table in: How can these jumps be justified? Are they new discoveries or is it new technology which allows them to extract more of the oil from the ground? Are they just politically inspired figures, so that these OPEC members could raise their production (ability to produce is pro-rata on current proven reserves).

Unfortunately, we just don’t know! Oil production data was provided from around 1950 and stopped abruptly in 1982 (Simmons, 2005). There is no way therefore and independent person or body can confirm the accuracy of these figures. The situation got so bad that “OPEC Secretariat’s staff in Vienna began using third-party media reports to estimate the probable production of its members, instead of trusting the reports they submitted” (Simmons, 2005: P80). I laughed out loud when I read that.

I think Matt Simmons, through his (mostly) excellent book, has finally given me a research angle to pursue. There are a number of issues to tackle (this is probably not exhaustive).

1. Secrecy of energy information: what impact does this have on the information stakeholders? By secrecy I mean documents which are hidden from public view for a certain period (say 50/100 years – the British Government does this a lot with sensitive documents). The information is available but only to a select few.

2. Transparency of energy information: Currently reserves are reported for a country as a whole, not on a field by field basis as it used to prior to 1982 (Simmons, 2005). Its much easier to get an overall picture of production with knowledge of individual fields, as you can see what is happening with regard to production on that field from previous years, and any problems such as the water cut or gas caps encountered. The ability to process information is much reduced with the lack of transparency.

3. Availability of information: because of the lack of transparency and secrecy of energy information, it may not be possible in any realistic sense to for information users to manipulate and utilise data/information given to them. This has had an impact on Oil prices (Simmons, 2005: p82).

Ok, this is a start. I need to develop these themes more and start picking out more issues.


De Winter, F. (1996). Misinformation Campaigns past and present: [visited 16th October 2007]

Oil Crisis Summary: [visited 16th October 2007]

Simmons, M.R. (2005). Twilight in the Desert: the coming Saudi Oil Shock and the world economy, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey ISBN-13: 978-0-471-73876-3

Stand by for Action!

Monday, 15 October 2007

Welcome to the Unix Spiders Blog

Why Unix Spiders? A friend at University came in to lecturers one morning, looking rather frail, and told me of a dream he had in the night. He had a nightmare where he was attacked by spiders with the label 'Unix' on them. We all thought this very amusing, and the name stuck particularly when I wast thinking about Unix/Linux problems. Which I do on the odd occasion. Seemed liked a good name for a blog, something which I've wanted to do for a while now, so here it is!

Also: I'm a Unix/Linux hacker and I work in the area of information retrieval - which use spiders.

Hey, take your pick!