Saturday, September 05, 2009

Google page rank modelling biodiversity

From the BBC:
"Google's algorithm for ranking web pages can be adapted to determine which species are critical for sustaining ecosystems, say researchers.

According to a paper in PLoS Computational Biology, "PageRank" can be applied to the study of food webs.

These are the complex networks of who eats whom in an ecosystem.

The scientists say their version of PageRank could be a simple way of working out which extinctions would lead to ecosystem collapse...

Co-author Dr Stefano Allesina realised he could apply PageRank to the problem when he stumbled across an article in a journal of applied mathematics describing the Google algorithm.

The researchers say they had to make minor changes to it to adapt it for ecology.

Dr Allesina, of the University of Chicago's department of ecology and Evolution, told BBC News: "First of all we had to reverse the definition of the algorithm.

"In PageRank, a web page is important if important pages point to it. In our approach a species is important if it points to important species."

PageRank apparently performs as well as many of the current computational models that ecologists use in this area. Nice.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Musicians protest UK 3 strikes plans

I don't suppose Peter Mandelson expected this kind of negative reaction from musicians and composers when he proposed and defended introducing a three strikes regime in the UK.
"In a statement seen by the Guardian, a coalition of bodies representing a range of stars including Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John and Damon Albarn attacks the proposals as expensive, illogical and "extraordinarily negative".

The Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (Basca) and the Music Producers Guild (MPG) have joined forces to oppose the proposals to reintroduce the threat of disconnection for persistent file sharers, which was ruled out in the government's Digital Britain report in June.

The plans have already been attacked by privacy campaigners, internet service providers and a range of MPs, some of whom accuse the business secretary of being influenced by secret meetings with senior figures from the music and film industry, a charge he denies."

The Guardian has seen the groups' statement which apparently says:
"We vehemently oppose the proposals being made and suggest that the stick is now in danger of being way out of proportion to the carrot. The failure of 30,000 US lawsuits against consumers and the cessation of the pursuit of that policy should be demonstration enough that this is not a policy that any future-minded UK government should pursue."

Nesson responds to critics of his Tenanbaum strategy

Charles Nesson has responded to critics of his litigation strategy in the Tenenbaum case. Some highlights.
"this trial was not an exercise in getting joel off the hook...

starting from scratch the fair use issue now looms as a fundamental question in the allocation of function between judge and jury as providing a limitation in wisdom to the expansive power of copyright, so let them doubt, then consider, then be convinced...

there are two questions: first, when, if ever (and i say never) did congress decide that draconian damages against noncommercial consumers was the appropriate response to peer-to-peer file sharing? second, reached only if the answer to the first requires it, would be whether the power to impose this damage at the unconstrained behest of the copyright industry imposed upon individual by civil process (thereby bypassing the protections afforded criminal defenants) with no attendant compensatory component, no proof of actual damage caused by the defendant, purely for deterrence of conduct involving no trespass is unconstitutional."
There are some important issues to be addressed in the case as Prof. Nesson says and it will continue to be an interesting one to watch.

SCO revivial

Here's something else I missed whilst on holdiday, the SCO case has been revived according to the Washington Post.

Groklaw has more details.

And Hugo Cox comments at the 1709 blog.

Firefox Plug-In Frees Court Records

This one happened in August when I was on holiday but according to Wired,
"Access to the nation’s federal law proceedings just got a public interest hack, thanks to programmers from Princeton, Harvard and the Internet Archive, who released a Firefox plug-in designed to make millions of pages of legal documents free.

Free as in beer and free as in speech...

The plug-in was released by Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy, coded by Harlan Yu and Tim Lee, under the direction of noted computer science professor Ed Felten."

Live webcasts of sports events on Internet don't violate copyrights

An Israeli court has reportedly held that live webcasts of sports events on Internet don't violate copyrights so " web site will be allowed to continue free broadcasts of Premier League soccer games."

I'd really like to see the detailed decision. Apparently the judge held that copyright was not breached because web broadcasting is not the same as TV broadcasting and the web viewers would not necessarily therefore be lost paying customers. She refused to allow the identity of the website owner to be revealed and sanctioned the continuation of the sites coverage of the premier league.

Update: I forgot to mention that the Premier League are natually planning to appeal the decision.

Quantum administrators

There's a cost cutting efficiency drive sweeping the public services sector at the moment and it struck me that the obsessional, sometimes ambition driven, sometimes absolute belief in the desirability of
  • delivering a standard service to everyone through
  • neutralising the infinitely variable and therefore unreliable human elements by
  • breaking organisational processes into smaller and smaller constituent parts
  • the operation and cost of which can be rigorously bureaucratically controlled
is a bit like taking one of the athletes preparing for the 2012 Olympics and cutting them up into their constituent atoms, in the hope that by controlling the atoms you can somehow engineer a medal winning performance. The essence of what was once an elite athlete has long since disappeared and you are so far away from controlling the atoms in a way that would secure that elusive medal and so buried in the vast task of trying to control them, that not only have you not noticed the athlete has been killed but the only thing you can think of doing is divide the atoms up into their even smaller sub atomic particles. And so you sail blindly and vigorously into the completely alien quantum universe, so far beyond the rules of nature of the macroscopic world of the athlete and comprehensibilty to the skill set you bring to it that... well... let's say the medal is not getting any closer.

I've had the privilege of working at the Open University for over 14 years now and the secret of our success has being putting people in touch with people and the absolutely phenomenal goodwill that generates, in spite - shock horror - of the flawed variability of humankind. That public services cost cutting has reached us too but I'm hoping the quantum administrative mindset - a universal constituent in all large organisations (commercial and public sector) that seem to evolve universally towards a state of insanity - can be held at bay suffiently to ensure the survival of the essence of what the OU is all about: to be open to people, places, methods and ideas and promote educational opportunity and social justice by making high-quality university education open to everyone.