Confronting the Fear of Public Speaking via Virtual Environments

Confession: In the past, I’ve been extremely quick to dismiss the value of Second Life in the context of teaching and learning.

Even worse, my dismissal was not fact-based … and, if truth be told, I’ve gone out of my way to avoid opportunities to ‘gather the facts’ by attending presentations at conferences, conducting my own research online, speaking with my colleagues, etc.

So I, dear reader, am as surprised as any of you to have had an egg-on-my-face epiphany this morning …

Please allow me to elaborate:

It was at some point during this morning’s brainstorming session that the egg hit me squarely in the face:

Why not use Nortel web.alive to prepare graduate students for presenting their research?

Often feared more than death and taxes, public speaking is an essential aspect of academic research – regardless of the discipline.

image004Enter Nortel web.alive with its virtual environment of a large lecture hall – complete with a podium, projection screen for sharing slides, and most importantly an audience!

As a former graduate student, I could easily ‘see’ myself in this environment with increasingly realistic audiences comprised of friends, family and/or pets, fellow graduate students, my research supervisor, my supervisory committee, etc. Because Nortel web.alive only requires a Web browser, my audience isn’t geographically constrained. This geographical freedom is important as it allows for participation – e.g., between graduate students at York in Toronto and their supervisor who just happens to be on sabbatical in the UK. (Trust me, this happens!)

As the manager of Network Operations at York, I’m always keen to encourage novel use of our campus network. The public-speaking use case I’ve described here has the potential to make innovative use of our campus network, regional network (GTAnet), provincial network (ORION), and even national network (CANARIE) that would ultimately allow for global connectivity.

While I busy myself scraping the egg off my face, please chime in with your feedback. Does this sound useful? Are you aware of other efforts to use virtual environments to confront the fear of public speaking? Are there related applications that come to mind for you? (As someone who’s taught classes of about 300 students in large lecture halls, a little bit of a priori experimentation in a virtual environment would’ve been greatly appreciated!)

Update (November 13, 2009): I just Google’d the title of this article and came up with a few, relevant hits; further research is required.

On Knowledge-Based Representations for Actionable Data …

I bumped into a professional acquaintance last week. After describing briefly a presentation I was about to give, he offered to broker introductions to others who might have an interest in the work I’ve been doing. To initiate the introductions, I crafted a brief description of what I’ve been up to for the past 5 years in this area. I’ve also decided to share it here as follows: 

As always, [name deleted], I enjoyed our conversation at the recent AGU meeting in Toronto. Below, I’ve tried to provide some context for the work I’ve been doing in the area of knowledge representations over the past few years. I’m deeply interested in any introductions you might be able to broker with others at York who might have an interest in applications of the same.

Since 2004, I’ve been interested in expressive representations of data. My investigations started with a representation of geophysical data in the eXtensible Markup Language (XML). Although this was successful, use of the approach underlined the importance of metadata (data about data) as an oversight. To address this oversight, a subsequent effort introduced a relationship-centric representation via the Resource Description Format (RDF). RDF, by the way, forms the underpinnings of the next-generation Web – variously known as the Semantic Web, Web 3.0, etc. In addition to taking care of issues around metadata, use of RDF paved the way for increasingly expressive representations of the same geophysical data. For example, to represent features in and of the geophysical data, an RDF-based scheme for annotation was introduced using XML Pointer Language (XPointer). Somewhere around this point in my research, I placed all of this into a framework.

A data-centric framework for knowledge representation.

A data-centric framework for knowledge representation.

 In addition to applying my Semantic Framework to use cases in Internet Protocol (IP) networking, I’ve continued to tease out increasingly expressive representations of data. Most recently, these representations have been articulated in RDFS – i.e., RDF Schema. And although I have not reached the final objective of an ontological representation in the Web Ontology Language (OWL), I am indeed progressing in this direction. (Whereas schemas capture the vocabulary of an application domain in geophysics or IT, for example, ontologies allow for knowledge-centric conceptualizations of the same.)  

From niche areas of geophysics to IP networking, the Semantic Framework is broadly applicable. As a workflow for systematically enhancing the expressivity of data, the Framework is based on open standards emerging largely from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Because there is significant interest in this next-generation Web from numerous parties and angles, implementation platforms allow for increasingly expressive representations of data today. In making data actionable, the ultimate value of the Semantic Framework is in providing a means for integrating data from seemingly incongruous disciplines. For example, such representations are actually responsible for providing new results – derived by querying the representation through a ‘semantified’ version of the Structured Query Language (SQL) known as SPARQL. 

I’ve spoken formally and informally about this research to audiences in the sciences, IT, and elsewhere. With York co-authors spanning academic and non-academic staff, I’ve also published four refereed journal papers on aspects of the Framework, and have an invited book chapter currently under review – interestingly, this chapter has been contributed to a book focusing on data management in the Semantic Web. Of course, I’d be pleased to share any of my publications and discuss aspects of this work with those finding it of interest.

With thanks in advance for any connections you’re able to facilitate, Ian. 

If anything comes of this, I’m sure I’ll write about it here – eventually!

In the meantime, feedback is welcome.

Recent Articles on Bright Hub

I’ve added a few more articles over on Bright Hub:

Google Chrome for Linux on Bright Hub: Series Expanded

I recently posted on a new article series on Google Chrome for Linux that I’ve been developing over on Bright Hub. My exploration has turned out to be more engaging than I anticipated! At the moment, there are six articles in the series:

I anticipate a few more …

It’s also important to share that Google Chrome for Linux does not yet exist as an end-user application. Under the auspices of the Chromium Project, however, there is a significant amount of work underway. And because this work is taking place out in the open (Chromiun is an Open Source Project), now is an excellent time to engage – especially for serious enthusiasts.

Annotation Modeling: To Appear in Comp & Geosci

What a difference a day makes!
Yesterday I learned that my paper on semantic platforms was rejected.
Today, however, the news was better as a manuscript on annotation modeling was
accepted for publication.
It’s been a long road for this paper:

The abstract of the paper is as follows:

Annotation Modeling with Formal Ontologies:
Implications for Informal Ontologies

L. I. Lumb[1], J. R. Freemantle[2], J. I. Lederman[2] & K. D.
Aldridge[2]
[1] Computing and Network Services, York University, 4700 Keele Street,
Toronto, Ontario, M3J 1P3, Canada
[2] Earth & Space Science and Engineering, York University, 4700 Keele
Street, Toronto, Ontario, M3J 1P3, Canada
Knowledge representation is increasingly recognized as an important component of any cyberinfrastructure (CI). In order to expediently address scientific needs, geoscientists continue to leverage the standards and implementations emerging from the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Semantic Web effort. In an ongoing investigation, previous efforts have been aimed towards the development of a semantic framework for the Global Geodynamics Project (GGP). In contrast to other efforts, the approach taken has emphasized the development of informal ontologies, i.e., ontologies that are derived from the successive extraction of Resource Description Format (RDF) representations from eXtensible Markup Language (XML), and then Web Ontology Language (OWL) from RDF. To better understand the challenges and opportunities for incorporating annotations into the emerging semantic framework, the present effort focuses on knowledge-representation modeling involving formal ontologies. Although OWL’s internal mechanism for annotation is constrained to ensure computational completeness and decidability, externally originating annotations based on the XML Pointer Language (XPointer) can easily violate these constraints. Thus the effort of modeling with formal ontologies allows for recommendations applicable to the case of incorporating annotations into informal ontologies.

I expect the whole paper will be made available in the not-too-distant future …

Evolving Semantic Frameworks into Platforms: Unpublished ms.

I learned yesterday that the manuscript I submitted to HPCS 2008 was not accepted 😦
It may take my co-authors and I some time before this manuscript is revised and re-submitted.
This anticipated re-submission latency, along with the fact that we believe the content needs to be shared in a timely fashion, provides the motivation for sharing the manuscript online.
To whet your appetite, the abstract is as follows:

Evolving a Semantic Framework into a Network-Enabled Semantic Platform
A data-oriented semantic framework has been developed previously for a project involving a network of globally distributed scientific instruments. Through the use of this framework, the semantic expressivity and richness of the project’s ASCII data is systematically enhanced as it is successively represented in XML (eXtensible Markup Language), RDF (Resource Description Formal) and finally as an informal ontology in OWL (Web Ontology Language). In addition to this representational transformation, there is a corresponding transformation from data into information into knowledge. Because this framework is broadly applicable to ASCII and binary data of any origin, it is appropriate to develop a network-enabled semantic platform that identifies the enabling semantic components and interfaces that already exist, as well as the key gaps that need to be addressed to completely implement the platform. After briefly reviewing the semantic framework, a J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) based implementation for a network-enabled semantic platform is provided. And although the platform is in principle usable, ongoing adoption suggests that strategies aimed at processing XML via parallel I/O techniques are likely an increasingly pressing requirement.

Book Review: BlackBerry Enterprise Server for Microsoft Exchange

Packt Publishing claims its

… unique business model allows [them] to bring [us] more focused information, giving [us] more of what [we] need to know, and less of what [we] don’t.  

If Desai & Renfroe’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server for Microsoft Exchange: Installation and Administration is any indication, Packt actually lives up to its claim. In just 172 pages, Desai & Renfroe achieve an enviable balance between being concise and being comprehensive. This statement applies as much to what the authors have written, as to their choice of what to illustrate. Specifically:

  • Chapter 1 places the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) in the broader context of Research In Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry universe. In addition to itemizing relevant components, an introduction to the BlackBerry’s push model, security and Internet connectivity is provided. 
  • Though brief, Chapter 2 runs deep in addressing BES architecture and implementation planning. For example, we learn that the BES employs a modular architecture comprising over a dozen components. After succinctly enumerating the components and their function, BES requirements and prerequisites are identified. In addition to hardware and software requirements, recommendations are made with respect to networking your BES (e.g., firewall and/or proxy considerations) and providing it with a database. Easy to gloss over on first read are thoughtful recommendations on sizing the BES (including pointers to resources from RIM) and the database for the anticipated user load. 
  • Before BES components can be installed and enabled, the messaging environment and database server need to be configured. This is the subject of Chapter 3. Both local and remote database instances receive attention. Because each step is well illustrated, the book delivers on its intended purpose of serving as a solution guide.
  • The installation of the BES is a multistep process enabled via a wizard. As in the previous chapter, in Chapter 4 the authors guide the reader through this process making appropriate use of illustrations. They interject appropriate commentary, and are clear on out-of-scope topics. The early emphasis on delineating BES architecture (Chapter 1) is realized as the authors transition the reader through the BES installation. 
  • Of course, installing the BES is just the beginning, and therefore the next few chapters focus on the additional tasks required to operationally deliver this service to its users. After introducing the six permissible levels of administrative role on the BES, attention shifts in Chapter 5 to the matter of provisioning users, groups and devices. And with respect to devices, wireline and wireless options for provisioning are given consideration. 
  • The BES ships with over 200 policies that can be applied variously to users, groups and devices. Also covered in Chapter 6 is the topic of provisioning software from RIM and third parties. Of particular value is the authors’ example of a software bundle targeted to a particular BlackBerry model. The ability to administer users, groups and devices with respect to policies (including software), from a single point of control (i.e., the BES server), speaks volumes to the appeal and value that this offering can deliver to corporate enterprise environments. This Chapter’s treatment of policies and software provisioning serves as an excellent introduction to topics BES administrators will return to repeatedly, and likely with increasing degrees of sophistication. 
  • Unlike many of the other chapters, Chapter 7 provides only an overview of multitiered administration – i.e., properties and tasks relating to users, groups, (BlackBerry) domains and servers. This enumeration of possibilities, presented in context, works effectively. 
  • A deeper discussion on security is the focus of the first part of the final chapter (Chapter 8). Encryption and authorization, both of which receive detailed consideration, amplify the value of the BES and its context in the overall BlackBerry universe for corporate enterprises. An unanticipated treatment of disaster recovery closes Chapter 8. In sufficient detail to enable a solution, the authors discuss in turn the measures needed to ensure that both the server (the BES) and its data (housed by the BES’s local or remote database) are readied for a disaster situation. 

 

Although Desai and Renfroe’s BES book unapologetically targets the Microsoft Exchange environment, its value is not limited here. Those working in other environments, and those interested in learning more about BES’s place in the BlackBerry universe, will almost certainly derive value from this book. Because the book is clear and concise, yet surprisingly complete and well-organized, it is likely to be well-thumbed by BES administrators of varying expertise.  

With the possible exception of a concluding chapter, page, paragraph or even sentence(!), to provide some sense of closure to the book, I am at a loss to report any omissions, oversights or errors. And although they might be better suited for a follow-on contribution of some kind, additional discussion might be given to topics such as performance and scalability (e.g., of local versus remote databases), the mapping of BlackBerry domains to organizational units, and/or improved degrees of DR.

Even though the book I reviewed was a complimentary copy provided by the publisher, I would happily pay for my own copy, and heartily recommend this book to others having interest in BES installation and administration. 

Annotation Really Is A Big Deal!

My expressed interest in annotation began as a footnote:

An alternative approach has the following two steps: First, extract RDF from the .GGP and .AUX files as before. Second, incorporate data contained in the .LOG file via annotation. Annotation is a well-established practice [45, Chapter 4] involving RDF and the XML Pointer Language (XPointer, [22]) — essentially a URI-centric fragment identifier. This conversion flow is currently under investigation and the corresponding manuscript is in preparation.

This footnote appeared in a paper that was published by the IEEE for HPCS 2006. The alluded-to manuscript will soon be available from the IEEE and will be presented in mid-May at HPCS 2007.

In addition to this manuscript on annotation, along with my co-authors, I’ve recently submitted a broader-based treatment to a special issue (“Geoscience Knowledge Representation for Cyberinfrastructure”) of Computers & Geosciences (C&G). The abstract of the C&G submission is as follows:

Incorporating Annotations into Formal and Informal Ontologies: Experiences and Implications

L. I. Lumb, J. R. Freemantle, J. I. Lederman & K. D. Aldridge

Abstract

Traditionally, and to a first approximation, annotations can be regarded as comments. In the case of the Web Ontology Language (OWL), this perspective is largely accurate, as annotations are internal constructs included with the language. As internal constructs, annotations in OWL Description Logic (DL) are also constrained to ensure, ultimately, that they do not negatively impact on the ontology’s ability to remain computationally complete and decidable. Formal ontologies, however, can also be annotated externally with the XML Pointer Language (XPointer). Because XPointer-based annotations are quite likely to result in violations of the constraints traditionally placed on OWL DL’s built-in annotations, there exist potentially serious consequences for maintaining self-contained formal ontologies. Insight gained in modeling annotations in formal ontologies using top-down strategies can be applied to informal ontologies. In part, the previous practice of incorporating feature-based annotations directly into informal ontologies is regarded differently, as the XPointer-based annotations may require more complex OWL dialects in which computational completeness and decidability cannot be guaranteed. Critical to the development of informal ontologies is Gleaning Resource Descriptions from Dialects of Languages (GRDDL), as it facilitates the extraction of Resource Description Format (RDF) relationships from representations cast in the eXtensible Markup Language (XML). In order to fully enable the creation of informal ontologies, however, an analogous functionality is required to extract OWL classes, properties and individuals from RDF-based representations. Although a strategy for this capability has been specified, hopefully community based efforts will soon target a corresponding implementation.

Key words:
Annotation, Formal Ontology, Informal Ontology, Ontology, Semantic Web, XPointer, Web Ontology Language

In addition to these papers, I’ve blogged a lot about annotation. And the more I delve into annotation, the more I’m taken by it’s applicability. For example, I’ll be making a presentation at CANHEIT 2007 on annotation and wikis.

Annotation really is a big deal!

Annotation Paper Submitted to HPCS 2007 Event

I’ve blogged and presented recently (locally and at an international scientific event) on the topic of annotation and knowledge representation.

Working with co-authors Jerusha Lederman, Jim Freemantle and Keith Aldridge, a written version of the recent AGU presentation has been prepared and submitted to the HPCS 2007 event. The abstract is as follows:

Semantically Enabling the Global Geodynamics Project:
Incorporating Feature-Based Annotations via XML Pointer Language (XPointer)

Earth Science Markup Language (ESML) is efficient and effective in representing scientific data in an XML-based formalism. However, features of the data being represented are not accounted for in ESML. Such features might derive from events, identifications, or some other source. In order to account for features in an ESML context, they are considered from the perspective of annotation. Although it is possible to extend ESML to incorporate feature-based annotations internally, there are complicating factors identified that apply to ESML and most XML dialects. Rather than pursue the ESML-extension approach, an external representation for feature-based annotations via XML Pointer Language (XPointer) is developed. In previous work, it has been shown that it is possible to extract relationships from ESML-based representations, and capture the results in the Resource Description Format (RDF). Application of this same requirement to XPointer-based annotations of ESML representations results in a revised semantic framework for the Global Geodynamics Project (GGP).

Once the paper is accepted, I’ll make a pre-submission version available online.

Because the AGU session I participated in has also issued a call for papers, I’ll be extending the HPCS 2007 submission in various interesting ways.

And finally, thoughts are starting to gel on how annotations may be worked into the emerging notions I’ve been having on knowledge-based heuristics.

Stay tuned.

An Ontological Approach for Fighting Spam

Over the years, I’ve been impressed by Bayesian methods for fighting spam.

And although Bayesian methods improve by learning, they are ultimately statistically based.

In what I believe to be a first, Technion Faculty of Computer Science researchers have revealed their plans to develop an ontologically based solution for fighting spam. Also of interest is the fact that their raw data will come from Wikipedia.

These researchers could use the approach I’ve outlined elsewhere to build their ontologies.

Ultimately, it’ll be interesting to see how well this knowledge-based approach compares with Bayesian and other approaches in common usage today.