The Future of the Web: Mobile Apps to replace Web Apps

After a recent report by Mobile Crunch that the mobile location-based game Booyah has outgrown Foursquares and Gowalla reaching 1 million mobile users, combined with recent reports on the future of the Web at top conferences on the subject, and affirmed by recent trends in VC’s investing strategies in the IT sector, I have become convinced that the future of the Web is in mobile apps and not Web-based applications, sometimes referred to as “software as a service”.

In the last decade, we have witnessed a revolution in Web app design both in terms of the user experience and the richness of functionality. Arguable, the most successful and revolutionary Web app for consumers has been Gmail, and more recently Google Apps. Facebook is another great example of a Web app, with more social focus. All is good, and more Web apps are coming, but then what?

While the laptop is becoming a replacement to the desktop for many, smart phones such as iPhone and Blackberry are becoming a replacement for laptops. The new trend in mobile consumer usage, set by Apple’s iPhone and followed by RIM’s Blackberry and Google’s Android, is to access services and information through apps instead of mobile-friendly websites. Is your website optimized for mobile access? Big deal – new mobile browser can render most websites in a usable fashion. But who cares? If you don’t have an app to access your site then it’s simply boring. I believe boring is not the main reason though. It all boils down to the look and feel. Mobile apps provide a consistent look and feel with the rest of the mobile interface, a lot more so that a Web page does.

Based on these trends, I believe that the value of “software as a service” as being the future of desktop apps for consumers will slowly (or quickly?) diminish; while mobile apps will increase in sophistication and become the norm for accessing your email, social networks, documents, spreadsheets, organizer, etc.

Some may argue that the desktop, or the laptop, will still be ahead in software due to the limited screen size that mobile devices affords. Apple has negated that claim last month with the release of its iPad. QED.

Reflection on PhD Defences in Canada

PhD defences have become a bureaucratic formality to torment the candidate and entertain the professors.

The PhD Defence is the most important day of the entire program, not.

Having been through the process myself, as well as attending about a dozen of other PhD defences, I find that it is considered by the PhD students as one of the most important days in their lives, as if the success or failure of the past four, five, or most likely six years of work depends on how well they do on this special day. Little did they know – their fate had been decided about a week prior to the defence and there isn’t much that could go wrong during the defence, no matter how hard they tried.

Why doctoral defences are irrelevant

About 4-5 weeks before the PhD defence, your supervisory committee must sign a paper that states that they’re OK with proceeding to the defence. At which point, your thesis is distributed to the external examiner. About 1 week prior to the defence, the external examiner must submit a written report indicating whether or not the examiner is prepared to accept the thesis as satisfactory, typically subject to minor changes. Only upon receiving this, what I call “acceptance letter” from the external examiner that the defence data is publicized. So by this point, your supervisor, your readers, and your external examiner have all signed paper stating that they’re satisfied with the thesis. What’s left? Tormenting the student and entertaining the committee members. Once you make it to the defence, there are practically only two reason that may stop the committee from giving a final pass:

  1. They discover that your data, experimental results, or references are fabricated; or
  2. They discover that you have plagiarized a portion of your dissertation.

So unless you are guilty of one of the above 2 item, there is really nothing to worry about. I knew all this before my defence, and I was still as in intense the day before the defence as I ever was.

The Ceremonial Presentation

The PhD defence, thus, is a ceremonial events. It is a day to mark and celebrate the completion of a long journey, the end of a student life, the unofficial bestowal of the title “Dr.”, and a day of relief and joy for family and friends. From my personal experience as well as that of several people I personally know, the PhD student — now unofficially a Dr. — actually shares very little of this joy on this day. Overwhelmed by frustration, exhaustion, and confusion, their happiness is only a reflection of the happiness of their close ones. Which is why it is important for family and friends to recognize the significance of their support on this day, preferably by attending the defence. Without this support, without the caring audience, the show brings little joy to the performer.

Clarification: the goal of this article is to educate, entertain, and relieve some of the stress that future PhD defenders are going to face. It is not my intention to downplay the importance of the defence in the educational process, except in a humours and sarcastic way.

To blog or not to blog, that is the question

How twitter and facebook almost killed my blog

Preface

It’s been about 6 months since I last wrote on this site. And instead of writing about something useful, here I am writing about writing and not writing .. the boring useless stuff that few would care about. But wait, isn’t that the reason why I didn’t write for so long in the first place? Wasn’t it because I didn’t want to write about boring useless stuff that few would care about? C’est la vie. Life must go on, and for a site to maintain its livelihood, it’s got to be updated once in a while.

Twitter (Almost) Killed My Blog

But another more realistic reason for not writing this long is the new social media. I’ve been writing on twitter and facebook many times a day. Most of what I wanted to say I could squeeze in 140 characters, including a link, a couple hash tags, exclamation marks, and space to spare for retweets. Now that’s efficiency! But if I can be that efficient on Twitter and Facebook, and I feel I have something worthy to say there, then why not here, on my very own personal blog? Aren’t these condensed, super-efficient revelations worthy of “the Web”? Is there a minimum length requirement for blog analogous to the maximum length requirement of a tweet? Is blogging, then, the opposite of tweeting?

Conclusion

Long story short, this story is already too long. What I wanted to say was “I’m back to blog again.” Period.

Atlantic Canada’s War-of-Minds at Dalhousie University, Halifax

Friday, October 23, witnessed the most anticipated programming competition in Atlantic Canada. Teams from Atlantic Canadian universities gathered at Dalhousie University in a show-off of programming and problem-solving skills. Each team consisted of 3 participants, mostly undergraduate computer science students. The teams were given 5 hours to tackle 6 problems. The problem complexity ranged from easy, suitable for second year undergraduate students in computer science, to more complex ones that even graduates would find challenging. The algorithmic solutions to the problems ranged from basic searching and sorting, to dynamic programming, to geometry.

17 minutes into the contest, the SMU Huskies, led by my colleague Chris Adams, solved their first problem. Withing the hour, a few more teams solved their first problem, but by that time SMU Huskies had already solved their second problem. They were on the roll.

At the end of the competition, the Huskies had solved 4 out of 6 problems, qualifying to compete at the ACM ICPC Northeast North America Programming Contest in Fredericton, NB, next Saturday.

The final results were announced at the APICS conference today:

  1. #4 smu_huskies 4 problems 456 minutes
    Saint Mary’s University, CS Huskies
    Chris Adams, Jonathan Kenney, Lucas Mannell
  2. #14 mounta_thought, 2 problems, 126 minutes
    Mount Allison University, Deep Thought
    Andrew Edmunds, Jason Rhinelander, Marc St. Onge
  3. #19 dal_gold, 2 problems, 137 minutes
    Dalhousie University, Dalhousie Gold
    John Doucette, Ross Story, Brian Wolff
  4. #10 unbf_blacks, 2 problems, 174 minutes
    University of New Brunswick at Fredericton, UNB Blacks
    Bradley Aune, Cody Harris, Ian Bishop
  5. #20 upei_sl, 2 problems, 332 minutes
    University of Prince Edward Island, UPEI Skull Lightning
    Nick MacAulay, Peter Workman, Stanley DeBoer
  6. #16 acadia_red, 2 problems, 339 minutes
    Acadia University, Acadia Red
    Alex Sanford, Matthew Penney, Ryan Wooden

Congratulations to Chris and SMU for a well-deserved victory, and better luck for the other teams next year.

Memories of Milan, Italy: Historic Churches

The churches in Milano are just fascinating. I spent many hours during my trip in Milan going from one historic church to another. And although this started because there wasn’t much else to do, I kept going because I enjoyed it so much. I visited a total of 5 churches, each with a unique style, history, Christian artifacts, and wall paintings.

  1. DuomoThe first was Duomo, Milan’s most known treasure. Duomo is a huge church fully covered in engraved marble. All these statues and figures and patterns were all so detailed, so perfect, and so breathtaking. in the centre of the church, high above it, stands a golden statue of Virgin Mary.
  2. Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio had the oldest of the Christian artifacts, dating back to early Christianity and was built by St. Ambrose in the 4th century. Here I discovered that Victor is actually the name of a saint.
  3. Santa Maria presso San SatiroThe most memorable elements of Santa Maria presso San Satiro were the hundreds of paintings of saints and angles painted on the ceiling of the church. The church, as many others, is kept dark. Therefore, to the painting are hard to see by the naked eye (having them on the ceiling doesn’t help either) but can be viewed with the help of a camera that is able to capture more light that the human eye.
  4. Santa Maria delle GrazieSanta Maria delle Grazie is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the church were Leonardo da Vinci painted the Last Supper, although the building housing the painting is no longer considered part of the church.
  5. Basilica of San Simpliciano captured my senses with all the art it houses, from paintings by famous and less famous artists, to stained-glass windows. The art comes from a wide range of periods, the earliest dating back to the 4th century.

New Book: Quantifying Uncertainty in Reasoning and Question Answering

Probabilistic Relaxed Unification Formalism and Applications in Automated Question-Answering Systems

Quantifying Uncertainty in Reasoning and Question AnsweringReasoning about natural language requires robustness in the face of uncertainty about the validity of the information contained in the text. Many natural language processing formalism rely on classical unification, which assumes that the knowledge base is complete and accurate. However, this seldom applies to the real world; text from the Web may contain incorrect, incomplete, or contradictory information. We introduce probabilistic relaxed unification as an alternative approach where the assumptions of classical unification are relaxed. Relaxed unification replaces the binary success or failure outcome of classical unification with a real number quantifying the correctness of the result. Our formalism is realized in the implementation of a modular question-answering system prototype. Our approach is empirically validated through a series of cases drawn from real world questions and data collection. The validation cases substantiate that our system provides satisfactory results on the chosen dataset within the system limitations. This book should be of interest to academics and practitioners interested in reasoning under uncertainty and automated question-answering systems.

I was recently invited by VDM Verlag to publish my PhD dissertation as monograph. The way it works is that the author does all the work for preparing the manuscript, there is no editorial proof-reading or any type of content or formatting assistance. On the other hand, the publisher handles all the distribution and printing at no cost to the author. It’s a good deal if you’re looking for a low-risk (no cost to you) low-return publishing opportunity. The author receives some royalties, but they’re generally insignificant.

One significant difference between the book and the dissertation is the addition of an index. Learning about writing an index was both pleasant and frustrating, and it is my hope that the effort it took will prove of use to the reader.

The book is 156 page and available from Amazon at $84.00 USD. ISBN: 978-3639171402

If you’re interested in publishing your manuscript through VDM Verlag, let me know and I will make the introduction. Disclaimer: I get a free book for every referral that leads to a publication.

WordPress Plugins Used by this Site

As of today, the following plugins are active on this site:

  1. Akismet: A popular anti-spam plugin the screens and blocks spammy comments
  2. All in One SEO Pack: it gives a great flexibility in editing meta tags for individual posts and pages, but I use it most of it’s out-of-the-box good templates for default meta-tag values.
  3. bib2html: With some in-house mods, this plugin powers the the publications page from a BibTeX file. Very convenient.
  4. Exec-PHP: I use this plugin to execute PHP code on the popular posts page.
  5. FeedBurner FeedSmith: provides RSS feed serving through FeedBurner.
  6. File Icons: the idea behind this plugin is neat, it automatically ads meaningful icons to links based on the extension of the destination file. I’m not too happy with it though. I feel it’s a bit clumsy at times. See it in action on the publications page.
  7. Google Analyticator: simple Google Analytics integration
  8. Google XML Sitemaps: very useful plugin that automatically generates a site map every time a new post is added. Highly configurable too.
  9. WordPress Popular Posts: a new addition to the site. It power the popular posts widget in the right column as well as the popular posts page. The popularity can be based on page views or comments.
  10. WP-ContactForm: I use a modified version of this plugin to power the contact page.
  11. WP-SpamFree: Another plugin to reduce comment spam. It shows the comment form through JavaScript, reducing automated comments.

Memories of Milan, Italy: Transportation

Tram in Milan, ItalyMilan has an extensive public transportation system that consists of trains, metro, trams, and buses. The train connects the Malpensa airport to Milan. The ride takes about 40 minutes and costs 11 euro. The city of Milan and the suburbs are covered with a star-shaped metro system. The metro run regularly, and there is insignificant wait time between trains during the day. City travel is only 1 euro, but if you’re coming from suburbs then it’s 1.5 euro.

Covering the suburbs is a network of over 60 bus and metro lines, augmented with about 100 lines for urban area. Needless to say, such a large network can’t be printed meaningfully on a map. So while the metro map is posted all over the city and on all maps of Milan, the bus map is only accessible from the ATM website. Unfortunate for me, the ATM website was recently redesigned and the English version is “coming soon.” If you speak Italian, however, the site is quiet amazing with search functionality and public-transit routing directions. The map is interactive allowing you to view the bus/train arrival times for each stop. Keep in mind that Milan transport is imprecise, and it was common for the bus to arrive 5 minutes early.

Milan Subway Metro MapOne inconvenience for visitors is that bus ticket must be bought it advance and validated on site. So if you’re at a hotel in the middle of nowhere with no stores selling bus tickets nearby, you’re out of luck. Or are you? You can still ride, as long you don’t get an inspector on your ride.

As for private transportation, namely taxi, two things to keep in mind: except for high volume tourist areas, you pretty much have to call for a cab; and they take cash only. And it doesn’t matter that you call for a cab with credit card capabilities, they still take cash only and have a thousand excuses why they couldn’t process your credit card. I speak from a sample of 3!

Milan metro map is courtesy of http://mappery.com.

The Twitter Times – Personalized News from Your Tweeps

The Twitter TimesThe Twitter Times is an interesting news site that is built on top of the Twitter real-time stream. The site describes itself as:

“The Twitter Times is a real-time personalized newspaper generated from your Twitter account.”

It basically monitors the global real-time Twitter stream, identifies news stories that are tweeted and re-tweeted, cross-references them with you friends and their friends, and brings them all in one, well-organized place. The best part of it all, you get the all the news stories on one page – no visiting multiple sites, no following links to see what the tweet is about.

The Twitter Times is a time saver for me. I follow almost 200 streams on twitter. There is no way I can read them all. Some of these streams are of my friends, and I’d like to read them all; others I follow for the news they post, which I can now read on the twittertim.es.

I had the pleasure of meeting one the creators (@mariagrineva) and speaking with another (@maxgrinev). Congrats Maria and Maxim!

Third Wednesday Social Media Tweetup – Impressions

Third Wednesday (#thirdwednesday on twitter) is a monthly informal networking event. There is no RSVP or membership, just show up at Foggy Goggle on Argyle Street between 5-7 PM on the third Wednesday of the month.

Today’s topic was Twitter and how local Halifax businesses use twitter to interact with customers and clients. It was facilitated by Michelle Yogis (@myogis). Highlights of comments made:

  • Many local businesses in Halifax are active on twitter
  • No measurable ROI at the moment
  • There must be a single person behind a corporate twitter account – the interaction needs to be personal
  • Main value comes through building relationships and branding, no immediate increase in sales
  • Twitter should be considered in an integrated marketing plan and not on its own

Over 35 people attended the August meeting. A few prizes were given away in a mini-contest, where answer to questions were submitted through twitter (although the questions themselves were not).

All in all I think it is a great, relaxing event to meet locals from all industries who are passionate about the Internet, the Web, and the new social communication tools online.