Archive for the 'Web' Category

M.Sc. thesis and job hunting

Well it’s been a long time since I last posted! about 12 weeks which has mostly been working on my M.Sc. thesis and finding a job for when I finish in Edinburgh at the end of August. Both are done now so I’ve got a bit more free time again (which will be mostly enjoying the Edinburgh festivals for a week!).

The thesis changed slightly from influenza tracking to trying to forecast the belief of the population about the recent swine flu outbreak. This ended up looking at ways of extracting and aggregating information from Twitter and blog posts then trying to forecast the value of a prediction market. Prediction markets along with text mining are both very interesting so I’ve learned a lot and enjoyed the whole project. I’m going to post about the work and what I found from it in a post soon, summarising the interesting bits from 70 pages!

On the job hunting front I have a job at Mendeley down in London starting mid September which I’ll hopefully blog about when I start there. The work they do is very interesting trying to bring science up to speed on the web, they describe themselves as “Last.fm for research” which kinda gives the scope of their goals. So I’m leaving academia finally but not quite, as the work I am doing will be very much helping many people doing research around the world.

Infulenza tracking project

Not too long till now until I start working on the project to try and track influenza through blog posts. I’ve updated the project page to include a link to my proposal for a few more details, I’ll hopefully update that properly once my exams are over.

The recent swine flu will also bring some interesting points to the project, like that fact I’ve just searched for the spelling now so how does Google know that? There has been a bigger buzz in the media, on blogs, and sites like twitter than relates to the actual spread of the disease which has been very quite slow and not that frequent, compared to the size of populations. Maybe a model of media news sources will also be needed to find what proportion of the noise on the web is really a flu signal.

I also found a site called DIYcity which started a project called SickCity a few months ago which they accelerated work on with the outbreak of swine flu. With this they try to track the trends of a range of illnesses over cites in the world, which as they found is a very hard task to do! I’m going to see if I can help them with their goals a bit as there aims overlap quite a bit with my summer project, and it would be nice to have some use-able data for people at the end of it. We’ll see where things go once I start working in June, stay tuned.

Personal Online Accounting

For the past few years I have been using Gnu Cash to attempt to manage my money better, this worked really well and is great to use to import data from my online banking service and check against my statements. Since getting my netbook last year I now use web services a lot more and have a growing expectation that I can access all of my programs and information wherever I am. I still can’t do this with accounting so I decided to see if anything was available to use. I found five services online that I’ll quickly talk about here.

Mint looked very nice to use and provided features I wanted but was highly American orientated and required that you entered your details to sync with your banks online services. Which would be handy but it only supported US banks, and I’m don’t want to enter my online bank details to use it.

Next I tired clearcheckbook.com which spurred out of a personal project, which is what I was intending on doing with Google App Engine if I didn’t find anything. This looked simple to use and did what I wanted but it gave errors when I imported data from my bank which prevented me from going any further.

myspendingplan.com was more American again and also aimed more at budgeting than accounting, it also had adverts when you use it. Because of this it lacked accounting and simple report features I was looking for. Another service aimed at budgeting was Out of the Dark, where you can create a monthly budget.

Finally the one I chose was called Buxfer which I am now happily using. The free service limits the number of accounts and budgets you can create but it should be enough for most personal cases. It has a simple UI that is easy to use and the default reports it produces are useful to see where your money goes.

I managed to move my data from Gnu Cash with out too much hassle. I first exported the data in qif using Gnu Cash to Qif then could import this file into Buxfer. Unfortunately all the accounts were mixed up but it didn’t take long with Buxfers’ search features to move them to the right places and tidy up the tags.

So I can now access my accounts on the go and recommend Buxfer to anyone else looking for a similar service.

Ad hoc trend tracking (or where’s it snowing?)

The heavy snow falls last week in the UK have caused quite a lot of chaos, a lot of which is due to not knowing how bad off different areas were. Ben Marsh created a mashup of a snowmap last Sunday, before snow had fallen over much of the UK, which plotted posts on twitter with the #snowuk tag against a photo and report of the snow level. This shows how quickly it is possible to directly track things over the internet using an ad hoc organised system over services like Twitter.

Contrasting to my last post, where the trend was tracked indirectly, this is directly tracking on outbreak of snow with tags from people. This is tending towards ideas from the semantic web by making information more machine readable, and twitter is encouraging this with the internet population. This is not done in a semantically strict way though but using ad hoc tags and meaning decided by people as they are needed, as we have learnt from the past with the web.  This is probably more the way people would want to interact with the semantic web, but it does remove some of the key ideas of interoperability and data linking.

Mashups like this won’t be able to accurately or reliably predict anything but they do have a very fast reaction time. This makes them very useful to people, which is what matters, so how can we start using systems like this on a more global scale?

What are you doing?

Is a question people ask you all the time, and so do Twitter and Facebook too.

I used to never use the Facebook status as I didn’t like putting my whole life into Facebook, but recently I started to use Twitter to post (more tech related out bursts) and the Facebook application to update my status when I post in Twitter. This made me think about the different between these two status feeds, Facebook is more about what I’m doing that my friends would be interesting in and Twitter is more posting comments to like minded people which my friends don’t always appreciate. This leaves me with posting more general things in Twitter or just updating both separately, which I don’t want to do.

Maybe there should be a new service where you can compose your status and tag what it is about, then have it sent to different status stream services appropriately. For this to work you would need to get replies (or comments in Facebook) to be in one place too, which will be hard till Facebook opens up more. We’ll see where this unfolds this year I guess as the usage of conversational media grows on the web.



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