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You Have to Be Living on a Different Planet to be a Climate Change Denier

May 11, 2013

Oh the arrogance. “We should be able to do whatever we want to do.” “Freedom means free to change the world in any way we want.” “Scientists are just trying to scare us”. Well, now it’s official, the scientists who know about this stuff are scared. We have failed miserably at reduced emissions of carbon dioxide and related global warming gases. We are now seeing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that haven’t been seen in over 3 million years. And there is no sign that this is going to slow down any time soon.


The following charts were presented in the New York Times. Have we passed a point of no return? No one knows. Are we gambling with the future of the planet and our children and their children. Definitely.

The following chart (gained through ice samples I believe) shows the carbon dioxide concentration over the past few hundred years. It’s a band between 200 and 300 parts per million. In the past few decades we’ve broken out of that band with extremely fast growth.



This chart shows the steady increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide over the past 50 years. The really scary thing is that we don’t know how bad things will get at 400 parts per million and there are no policies in place to prevent these levels from going way, way higher in the future.




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Is Your Audience Looking? Audience Measurement Using Intel AIM Suite

May 10, 2013

On Friday May 10 at 4:10pm there will be a talk on measuring audiences for large digital displays.
The speaker is Dr. Abhishek Ranjan from Intel, and the talk will be held at the University of Toronto (MC 331).

Information dissemination using large digital displays and digital signage networks is getting increasingly popular. With such displays being ubiquitous, a question naturally arises: are people actually paying attention to the information being shown on those displays? Traditionally, finding an answer to this question has been a lengthy and onerous process including observational studies, interviews, and relevant data correlation. Recent advancements in Computer Vision and computing power of processors have made it possible not only to simplify and automate this process, but also to provide rich audience information that would have been unfeasible to gather using traditional means. In this presentation, I will talk about Intel AIM Suite, a Computer Vision based audience measurement system, and discuss some interesting implications of this novel audience measurement technology.

Speaker Bio:

Abhishek Ranjan is a Senior Software Engineer at Intel Corp. Prior to joining Intel, he was one of the lead engineers at a Toronto start-up CognoVision Solutions Inc (acquired by Intel). He holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Computer Science from University of Toronto. His primary research interests lie in the fields of applied Computer Vision and intelligent interfaces. He has authored numerous papers in HCI and Computer Vision conferences and journals.
A campus map is shown below. The Mechanical Engineering building is marked as MC, near the corner of Kings College Road and College Street.

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Search Engine Optimization I: Introduction

April 13, 2013

“The Internet is not a thing, a place, a single technology, or a mode of governance. It is an agreement. ” – John Gage
You know, it wasn’t meant to be this way. When Vannevar Bush envisioned his version of the World Wide Web in the 1940s, it was called the Memex and it was a vast network with all kinds of paths running through it like trails in a park.

He even envisioned a new profession of trailmakers  who would make paths through the hypertext that everyone could use. Imagine a path, for instance, that linked all articles relating to Human Evolution in the Wikipedia into a nice linear story about issues relating to human evolution in a nice coherent sequence. Well, I think you know that trail making really hasn’t happened on a large scale. Perhaps it was never practical. There just weren’t enough reference librarians in the world to blaze all the trails that were needed, and neither browsers nor websites were designed with trail making in mind.

But the Web is awfully big….”The Web universe is constantly expanding, so its size is unknowable. In 2008 Google noted that it had identified (but not actually indexed) over a trillion (1012) distinct URLs (Web addresses), and that several billion (109) new webpages appear daily (Alpert & Hajaj, 2008). Estimates suggest that Google indexes about 40 billion webpages” (Fletcher, W. H. (2012). Corpus analysis of the world wide web. The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics.).

40 billion unique pages, 50 billion unique pages? It depends on how you count them. I don’t know if you’ve ever looked for a mismatched sock in a sock drawer, but finding just the right information amongst billions of Web pages should be a lot harder.
So how on earth can we use the Web effectively? You know the answer. It’s search. It used to be that search was for specially trained librarians who would use special knowledge and complicated Boolean search queries to find stuff. But something remarkable happened in the 1990s, Ordinary people learned to use search engines. And search engines, particularly Google, learned how to give people pretty good answers, even if people weren’t generating particularly good queries. So it was a matter of figuring out what people were actually searching for based on the the words that people put into in the query. And by giving lists of search results, even if the one at the top wasn’t a good guess, people could just scan down to find something like what they were looking for. Amazingly the system worked. Almost everyone could type words into a search engine text box and get back stuff that they find interesting. Unbelievable. If you’d gone to a conference on information retrieval in the 1980s and told them this was going to happen they would have thought you were high on paint thinner.


So there we were in the late 1990s, and people were happy using search engines to find stuff on the Internet. And people were also figuring out lots of neat new ways to make money off the World Wide Web. In retrospect, what happened next wasn’t so surprising, but I’d be lying if I said I had seen it coming.
The Age of Google! There, I said it. Forget about the Anthropocene, whoever owned search on the Internet had just got an amazing franchise. And Google took over search in what seemed like a blink of an eye. And suddenly it was like a vast turnstile that went “click” every time someone wanted to find something on the Web. And if you wanted people to find your stuff when they were looking for stuff, then you had to persuade Google to put your stuff as close to the top of their search engine results as you could. And Google would help you, for a price, and after a while other people too. And all at once the noble science of search engine optimization was born.


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Web 2.0 is Getting Whipped by the Big Five when it comes to Online Display Advertising

April 11, 2013


Who’s making money on the Internet? There are is a lot of Web 2.o publishing out there. Wouldn’t it be nice if the little guys were beating up on the big guys?

Internet Retailer ( recently cited a market research report finding that U.S. marketers spent around $15 billion on Internet display ads last year, an increase of over 20% from the previous year. With another 20% jump expected in online display ads in 2013, this form of advertising is rapidly becoming a big business. While there is as yet no dominant player in this market (remember that we are not include the search engine advertising monster here), Google was essentially tied with Facebook in the leadership position, each with an approximately 15 percent market share of the online display advertising pie.

The image below comes from
Yahoo! had a close to 10 percent market share (in third place) while fourth and fifth place went to Microsoft and AOL respectively (both with under 5 percent market share. These top five companies accounted for around half of the online display ad spending. Google’s market share was largely driven by YouTube, which had 163.2 million unique visitors in February, making it the fourth most-popular site on the web, according to Who know that storing and showing videos for free could be so lucrative?
As far as marketing goes it certainly helps to have a dominant platform. According to, YouTube’s closest online video platform, Hulu, has less than one tenth the number of unique visitors.
Bottom line? For all the excitement about Web 2.0, don’t expect to see a lot of little guys getting rich off online display advertising. The big five companies are sucking up half of the revenues and that seems unlikely to change in the next little while. Given the year on year 20% growth in online display ad spending that’s good news for Google et al.


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Magnus Carlsen: Chess Prodigy

April 8, 2013

At 22, Magnus Carlsen has been a recognized chess prodigy for a decade. He is reported to be earning over a million dollars a year. But he didn’t graduate from high school. He’s getting a different sort of education than most of us get.

He is the most highly rated chess player of all time. Higher than Kasparov at his peak. Chess is just as much about understanding the psychology of the opponent as it is about the pieces on the board.


Carlsen is from Norway, and he is the first Western chess player to have the number one rating since Bobby Fischer had it back in the 70s. Fischer was also a chess prodigy.
According to the New York Times (, Magnus Carlsen is being shrewdly marketed. Here he is at a 2011 fashion show with Liv Tyler.
We seem to live in a world where being really good at something opens the doors to everything. Where we care more about the opinions and actions of stars than we do about lesser beings like the rest of us.
Carlsen’s current rating is 2872. Viswanathan Anand, a Bollywood-level celebrity back home in India and the current world champion, has a rating of 2784. So it is not just Carlsen who is trading on his chess expertise.Carlsen will be challenging Anand in the next World Chess Championship, to be played in the fall. It should be a blockbuster. One wonders if there will be a movie in it.Carlsen says he turns down things he finds boring, but according to the New York Times article he seems to get a kick out of the group chess matches in which his nonexpert opponents sit in horseshoe-shaped configurations and he goes from board to board, beating them. At recruiting fairs, he has been pitted against crowds of law students applying for jobs.“At one event the company said that if anyone beat him, they’d get all their student loans paid for,” one observer said, “which was kind of sadistic.”

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