Older blog entries for salmoni (starting at number 414)

12 Oct 2004 (updated 13 Oct 2004 at 06:19 UTC) »

Spent the last few days building an e-commerce system. One I looked at (Zen-Cart) seems to be quite nice, but it can be tricky to get rid of all the banners advertising itself. Fair enough, an OS product (at zero cost) has the right to do this, but some people may prefer not to have the e-commerce product shouting above their products. It seems okay though. I'll have a look at the others such as OSCommerce. I probably don't "get it", but I'm finding the admin rather hard work on Zen-Cart.

(later) - have actually started RTFM'ing and it should be simple enough.

Also been doing some usability work on MoreGroupWare. It's such a nice little application that I'm thinking of uploading it for myself - rather I would if I didn't already have about 10 email accounts. I have a list of possible changes that I will suggest, but it's only basic stuff. The interface though is so clear and simple, particularly for a webapp.

And Mambo - looks like fun except that I need to change the permissions of some files somewhere and the install doc didn't mention which ones...

Also been looking at WordPress which to be honest I have found to be rather impressive. There are a few features that I would like added to it (like styles), but the interface is wonderful and clear and for some reason the fonts look just nicer on FireFox than anything else I've seen. I can see myself using this regularly.

I got spoiled yesterday - the DDSc students at the hospital had a welcome party held for them, and I was invited. Managed to get myself some nice food and a glass of wine. Oh boy, I keep forgetting how nice coleslaw is...

Should be doing some acting tonight, but nobody has sent me a script - I'm not even sure what this film is about!

(later> - another one of the "Assassin" series!

9 Oct 2004 (updated 9 Oct 2004 at 15:56 UTC) »

MS Access

As Cardiff Uni is an MS shop (maybe rather an anti-OS shop - Netscape 6.x/7.x is available from the common applications, but FireFox or Mozilla are not), and Dermatology has decided to investigate using a proper database to hold student details (as opposed to using a collection of Excel files with much repeated data), Access will be the implementation. I've decided to investigate how the database should be set up which, shall we say, will be educational for me as I don't know much about it (though the database will be relatively simple), but I've been asked to look into writing the implementation. I don't feel that I have the skills for writing it (whereas determining the structure is a more abstracted task which I can do), but I feel that I would rather use an OS database (there are lots of choices these days). Convincing management to move from a nice GUI tool (however incomprehensible) to a command line tool (however powerful and suitable for the task) will be difficult. I personally feel that because these records may be needed years in the future, OS is the way to go.


Enable embedded fonts like thus:

(menu) Layout -> Document -> Preamble

Insert into preamble:


Printed SalStat manual

Should be at the post office. I'll go and collect in a few minutes and give it a good examination.


I have 3 Gmail accounts to give away. If anyone is interested, email me: My surname (this is my Advogato name) at Gmail. First come first serve!

LSA and word meaning

tk and myself had a little debate a short while back about the suitability of LSA for AI purposes (rather tk talked about NLP, whereas I was more interested in its broader application to context inference). The paper he suggested showed that LSA has problems dealing with analogy which is very true. I was reading another paper yesterday (Gentner, Ratterman and Forbus [1993] The Roles of Similarity in Transfer: Separating Retrievability from Inferential Soundness) which, in theory, confirms this to me clearly. They used 6 variants of a base story to test whether people focus upon literal or structural aspects to determine similarity. Novices in a domain tend to pick up on literal aspects, whereas experts pick up on strutural similarities, i.e., expert knowledge comes from understanding the underlying structure of a thing, not knowing the the surface details: reflecting by (I believe) MichaelCrawford's discussion saying that understanding how programming languages work is better than just rote memorising syntax.

This use of analogy by expert users is of interest: LSA would always judge literal similarity to be closer, but how can one get a machine to understand this? How can it grasp the concept of analogy and make the inferential leaps necessary?

It's puzzling, because a machine would need to understand meaning before it can derive meaning. Very much a catch-22, and another reason for admiring natural intelligence.


Remember those emails that went around telling us how we could find out our porn star names? The idea was that your porn star first name is the name of your pet, and the porn star surname is your mothers maiden name. Put them together and that's your port star name (btw - I had nothing to do with the creation of this).

However, I just thought: the whole thing was passed around by email between groups of friends and was quite popular.

But consider this: when you open up an account somewhere (like a bank for example), and you forget the password, you are usually asked a personal question in order to "prove who you are". And the most common question is...

Yup! Mothers maiden name. And followed by your pets name (which I have observed quite commonly).

And here are a load of people sending this information out en claire. With full names attached to many of the emails.

Okay, this is a silly idea but it could be:

  1. A superb piece of successful social engineering;
  2. Just happenchance;

I'm for #2. Anyway, </paranoia>.

fxn - thanks for the link to vnc2swf. It looks darned useful for remote usability testing - VNC is good, but being able to record someones use of an application is just so useful.

3 Oct 2004 (updated 3 Oct 2004 at 22:51 UTC) »

Following on from reading the autobiography of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, I checked out some web sites on him and Dith Pran. I quite liked the face of Dith Pran. Mr. Pran seems like a really friendly person, though of course psychologists shouldn't make snap judgements like that! Take it with a pinch of salt.

I'm currently preparing a HCI paper which might be of interest to some folk. It deals with web navigation (and improvements to thereof), but I cannot test it without having a web browser with some serious changes to the interface. These changes are beyond my skills, at least in the near future, but I want to use Mozilla / FireFox as they are open source. I guess I will have to start learning how to hack it. Nothing like it has been tried before, but the beautiful thing is that it requires:

  1. no new skills from the user;
  2. no disruptive changes to the interface (disruptive from the users' perspective); and
  3. looks "kewl" (which is rare for something that I think - IMHO - improves usability).

The general improvement is to improve the mental model that users generate of the built-in navigation tools, or rather it provides evidence of how it actually operates (a stack system), thus resulting in fewer erroneous navigation decisions. I think that there might be room for a "plain" paper (i.e., with no experimental work) on the stuff, but I would obviously rather have empirical evidence to back up the theory. It would also nice to have an open source tool present the idea before anything else did.

Any Mozilla hackers feel like collaborating on a journal article? The only proviso would be not to make the idea public until it was tested, otherwise the chances of publication might drop significantly.

nutella - thanks!

Phew, I slept well on Wednesday, or at least until my neighbours alarm clock decided to repeat its little "jaunty" tune repeatedly at 6.30 the next a.m. Loverly...

Had some interesting correspondence about LSA which I am reading about now.

Currently reading "Survival in the Killing Fields" by Dr. Haing Ngor. Quite a gut wrenching story, and not for the weak of stomach.

I've heard that I may be flying to New Zealand in the near future to visit family - I honestly cannot wait to go over there. I wonder if they have any research positions for HCI available there?

28 Sep 2004 (updated 29 Sep 2004 at 06:09 UTC) »

Got it. Minor corrections. I guess I'm Dr. Salmoni. F***.

btw - that's the first time I wrote my name with a Dr in front.


It begins in just under 5 hours. Curiously, I've actually been nervous all weekend about it (and still am), but last night, I felt more like a child on Christmas Eve than I have done for many years - excited.

Having said that, I seriously think that I will need to do some more work for it. It needs (I believe) another experiment or two to be complete, but opinions as to what theses are vary wildly.

From the example of my friends, I have seen some rejected that contained plenty of work with the justification that a thesis should be a wonderful and complete self-contained document. Other friends have been accepted and they said that a thesis should be more of a snapshot of the candidates current work. It all depends upon the examiners really, and it's impossible to call it before hand.

Wish me luck though, as it would be nice to get it. I have worked hard on the thing, and surprisingly, I have more enthusiasm for it now than I did at any time when testing. I must be made for research...


I promise that I will do some OS coding this week on the LSA engine. I PROMISE!!!

Publishing FOSS manuals

I'm saying that because I have done so little FOSS work lately that I'm losing touch, and that's not good. I've put the SalStat manual up for publishing. Actually it has been published (self-publishing) and I would be surprised if anyone ever buys it, but it's there if anyone needs it. I will also have to change the website to notify people of its availability.

Of course, the original pdf is there for zero cost if anyone wants to print it out themselves, but I thought it would be handy to make it available for those who don't want to print it out (or can't). I'm surprised that more FOSS projects haven't done this already (I can see myself buying the R documentation), as it might generate a nice way to make some money for some projects without much extra work.

I did the SalStat manual through Lulu (www.lulu.com) which is a naff name (except for the wonderful Scottish singer of course!), and was created by Bob Young (he of Red Hat fame). All you do it upload a pdf file (with fonts embedded), select a cover, and choose a price. There, it's published. I've sold one copy already - and that's winging its way to me as I speak ;^). That's more for checking than anything else, but I am curious as to what it will look like. I'm so vain...

24 Sep 2004 (updated 24 Sep 2004 at 12:02 UTC) »

The other night as I was setting up a website to hold all my academic reviews and articles, I just had a thought - wouldn't it be good to have an online system dedicated to academic achievement - a place where a user could edit essays and articles, hold their reviews and the suchlike.

The article editing function would have modules for different styles (eg, APA), and while the text would initially be in html, there would be output options for pdf, latex, ps, dvi, and rtf. The beauty of it being online is that people could edit documents pretty much anywhere they had access to a web browser. Holding article reviews would also be handy.

Other functions: calendar (meetings, conferences), contacts, and a chat facility for collaborative work.

But I am sure that somebody in the F/OSS community has had this idea already and implemented it (or at least tried).

I guess it could be built on top of existing CMS's like PostNuke, Mambo and the like. The whole thing would be like WordPress (with styles and *wicked* export features) and essential groupware.

If anyone has any ideas, let me know. From the docs, I gather that WordPress can export to pdf, but I cannot see if a range of other exports would be possible.

Busy reading, shouldn't be posting to my journal...

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