From June 2008

Signal Patterns

Many years ago when I was at school we were made to take fairly crude psychometric tests (I think one was Myers-Briggs) in order to supposedly help us find what career we might like and understand our personality traits. I never found them particularly helpful and have always thought of the field as rather lacking in credibility.

I also usually disdain online quizzes so it was with an air of dubiousness that I tried out Signal Patterns Personality Patterns survey which aims to help “people develop a deeper understanding of their personality and preferences. By fostering self-discovery and expression, Signal Patterns gives people new ways to make powerful connections to the world around them.” They claim to have some solid research underpinning the way in which the it can infer connections between personality, behaviour and preferences so I took the test, taking about 10 minutes to complete, by asking how much you feel a set of statements are like you.

At the end it outputs an interactive chart (mine above) which you can then use to examine your traits in more detail. Apparently I’m Independent, Private, and Conscientious which surprisingly accurate and in general seems to have done a good job of profiling me. You can also take this one step further by linking the results to your Facebook profile to facilitate comparison between friends and  finding “people like you”. I’ve not tried it myself yet but could be interesting. At the very least it’s a cool way of visualising your personality!

P.s. I have invites if anyone wants them – just leave a comment below.

The View From The Top

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Last weekend I was lucky enough to be taken on a tour of One Canada Square, the tallest building in the UK, courtesy of a friend who works there. Situated at the heart of Canary Wharf close to where I live the main structure is 235m tall with 50 floors and is a prominent landmark on London’s rapidly evolving skyline. Having featured prominently in a string of recent films (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Bourne Supremacy, 28 Weeks Later…) and the UK version of The Apprentice recently it’s likely you’ll recognise the location.

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The higher floors offer amazing panoramic views of east London with the river Thames snaking its way around the Isle of Dogs. On a clear day you can see for many miles and it’s striking just how flat London without a hill in sight! It’s a shame there is no public viewing gallery but presumably fears of terrorism have curtailed any possibility of that.

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There’s a lot of construction taking place around this area at the moment, mostly luxury apartments (like Pan Peninsular) but also various infrastructure projects to prepare for the Olympics in 2012. Part of this includes the lengthening of Docklands Light Railway trains which is causing mass disruption for anyone trying to get to and from central London at the moment (i.e. everyone)!

Life Relocated

In this time of increased personal mobility and global connectivity the world is nowhere near as big as it once was. The days when you made a home for yourself near the place you were born are long gone and, certainly in places like the UK, multiculturalism is now well defined and spreading. Whilst a discussion of the cultural implications of such movements is beyond the scope of my question it does present an interesting challenge…

Going on holiday somewhere exotic is one thing. Relocating there is a completely different proposition.

I don’t usually like to talk about myself here but I’m going out on a limb today – ever since spending a few months living, working and travelling out in China last year I’ve wanted to go back for a longer dose of the excitement, energy and adventure I found there, but am struggling to find the right path. The traditional route is to study Chinese or teach English out there, neither of which really appeal to me – I ideally want to work and use the skills I have to do something both personally enriching and meaningful to a wider audience of some sort.

I may be asking too much but luckily I have age on my side (I’m 23), a lack of personal responsibilities, and a valuable few years of experience working as a technology consultant (loose definition!). My investigation has so far proven that finding an opportunity out there is probably going to come down to a large amount of research and an even bigger dose of luck. I am however willing to bet that someone out there within a few degrees of separation of here (if not an immediate connection) knows of some opportunity and it’s just a matter of making that connection which is partly why I’ve written this post.

So what to do? Preferably something related to technology and the internet but am quite open to something new. Finding a job with a local company is probably out of the question as I’m currently in London and don’t have a Chinese work visa. The best route appears to be through a western company who require native speakers with the appropriate skills.

The challenge I have set myself is to relocate myself to China (or possibly elsewhere in east Asia) within 1 year or less. It’s not that I’m unhappy with what I currently do but would like to try something a little different before it’s too late!

Any help or advice anyone might be able to offer would be hugely appreciated – I’m easily contactable either by commenting below, the contact page or via my profile on LinkedIn. Thanks!

Wordle Cloud

Whilst being more of a toy than having any tangible application Wordle is a cool way of generating “word clouds”. Words are given more prominance depending on how many times they occur in the source text. I generated the cloud above using tags from my blog – simple but effective.

Attached to a Captcha

While CAPTCHA’s are supposed to keep the evil spammers of the world at bay there is no doubt that they are an annoyance to the end user. Most involve deciphering a string of mangled characters in an image which you must get right before you can complete a transaction of some sort (e.g. for signing up to an email service or posting on a forum).

Theoretically only humans can correctly identify the characters and hence proceed but in recent years many variations have been allegedly defeated by advanced optical character recognition software (check out this Chinese website which tells you how difficult each type is to crack and how much it costs to do so). It seems to have turned into a game of cat an mouse between the hackers and those trying to stop them with ever more elaborate variations. A friend of mine discovered this one today when trying to download something from RapidShare

What on earth is “only enter symbols attached to a cat” supposed to mean??!! Am I lacking optical cat recognition abilities? For the life of me I can’t see any cats in there (let alone attached ones)! After multiple failed attempts it turned out that the answer to this one was DTEC. It seems we have a problem.

As it turns out, this isn’t the only crazy CAPTCHA out there and whilst captcha is a “good enough” solution in most cases there has to be a better solution to this madness, even if it’s just to improve the usability of the current system. Any takers?

Semantic Services

If you’re a blogger or have any interest in semantic/content management technologies then you may be interested in a couple of new services which have recently launched with the aim of making content creation easier by automatically suggesting contextually relevant images, links, articles and tags which you may like to include.

Tagaroo

Tagaroo is based on an initiative called Calais by Thomson Reuters to “connect the world’s content by providing automated metadata services“. The video below sums the concept up pretty well –

It has an extremely slick and easy to use UI which sits neatly below the post editor on the WordPress write page, suggesting tags and images as you type.

Underlying the interface the magic is carried out using “natural language processing and machine learning algorithms to extract the people, organizations, companies, geographies and events hidden within it”. To do this it connects to Calais via a free API (registration required). Pictures come from Flickr with a CC license.

My tests have found it pretty reliable and an extremely quick way tag your posts using a standard global taxonomy. At the moment the plugin is only available for WordPress and Drupal however a number of other tools are currently under development.

Zemanta

Described as “a brilliant product for lazy or otherwise time-focused bloggers“, Zemanta is similar in many respects to Tagaroo, although perhaps a little more mature in its functionality (it’s European after all!). The video below shows how it works –

The tool uses its own database of content (indexed from over 300 “top media sources”) in order to suggest related pictures, links, articles and tags. It has a clean UI which integrates well with whatever backend you use and is offered either as a plugin for all the major platforms; WordPress, Blogger, TypePad and LiveJournal, or as a browser extension for IE or Firefox.

As someone who frequently links to Wikipedia in my posts I’ve found the link suggestion component an especially easy and quick way to insert these references with virtually no effort. Although the interface for picture insertion isn’t quite as nice as Tagaroo, Zemanta is currently my plugin of choice.

Yahoo also have a competing offering although it’s restricted to Yahoo content only so I’ve not taken time to review it.

Implications

Whether you call it Web 3.0, the Semantic Web or the Giant Global Graph I think these sorts of services are an important step towards the automated inference of knowledge from information. When we reach the point where machines can “understand” the content which they are parsing the implications are massive. Aside a whole herd of near-term applications I can also imagine scenarios in the not-so-distant future where every piece of content on the web is automatically linked to everything else which is relevant to it without the need for human interaction – Wikipedia without the editors or boundaries (or inherant bias?).