Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Wolfram Apha Update


I attended a live webinar yesterday with Stephen Wolfram, who is behind the development of the Wolfram Alpha knowledge engine.

Wolfram Research will launch the tool in just a few weeks time. It's hard to describe, but unlike Google it does not trawl the web for weblinks in response to a query. Instead it tries to turn your question into a computation, and then applies that to the knowledge it has available to it.

For example a query "fish production france/poland" would assume you wanted to compare the production of the two countries. WA would access statistics it has on fish production and then create a graphical analysis over time for you.

The key difference to traditional search is that the content is being created for you in the few seconds after you press ENTER. It's not finding a graph in an existing document or website and linking you to it. So it could be the very first time anyone has ever tried to make that particular computation.

Wolfram Alpha is not going to work where questions don't have absolute answers - you need to be able to represent a question using computational terms, and obviously many questions won't fit that model.

Wolfram Alpha attempts to make up for this by using a side bar which will present results from other sources - such as Wikipedia if it knows nothing about the subject.

The system uses your IP address to make assumptions about the data and type of computation you may require. For example a query for "Richmond" in the United Kingdom would assume you wanted a statistical profile for the London Borough of Richmond, but in Virginia, it would assume you probably wanted a different area entirely. The results however give you options to clarify your query, so if I am in London but actually want to know about Richmond Virgina, I can easily select that option and the results change accordingly.

Stephen described the "four pillars" of Wolfram Alpha:

1. Data Curation - Wolfram has developed a methodology for curating data. They have a pipeline of data which comes to human experts, who correlate sources to produce reliable, computable data. 200 people are now working on the project. The topics available continue to grow on a daily basis.

2. Computation - The team has attempted to make accessible all known algorithms, formulae in the system. It now comprises 5 to 6 million lines of mathematica code.

3.Natural Language Processing - Wolfram Alpha carries out free form linguistic analysis to convert a question into a computation. It needs to be able to cope with different ways of expressing the same query, different spellings, short utterances, and ambiguity. For example does a query "11/7" mean a date or a division? The aim is that people can use it without having to learn analytical techniques.

4. Presentation of Results - The most important part is how the data is presented back to the user, so Wolfram Alpha prioritises elements of the data and decides which are the most appropriate graphics to render in relation to the query.

Stephen concluded that we have learned to compute lots of things in this world, but in the past carrying out such computation required expert analytical input. Now Wolfram Alpha will make it possible for the everyday web user to be an effective reference librarian/analytical scientist, performing analysis immediately and intuitively online.

There will be a free site, a professional subscription based site, where you could upload your own data to the system and make use of more advanced features. There is also the potential for corporations to buy services to apply the engine to their own corporate knowledge.

There will be a collection of APIs available which will allow users to use Wolfram Alpha or embed "pods" of information on their own sites, or even request data from the system to use in another website.

This could have enormous implications for the way in which both public and organisational data can be turned into knowledge by everyday users. It's clearly a very powerful tool, but I suspect its full potential won't be realised until the world is let loose on it in May.

Photo credit: Hybernaut

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Linked in liars - no surprise there!


Jame-Ane Irvin posed an interesting question to users of social networks this week:

is Lying on Linkedin comedy or career suicide?

Jame describes how an ex co-worker's profile changed several times, and his supposed length of service grew from the real period of under 6 months to a whopping 3.5 years. This person also claimed responsibility for company successes which pre-dated their employment.

So the question is how much on Linkedin - or for that matter other networks - is less than 100% honest? Well.... I guess if you think about the proportion of people who claim to embellish their job applications, CV's and resumes on paper, it should not really come as a surprise that people also do so in the newly emerging online networks too.

A few years back, Corporate investigations agency The Risk Advisory Group announced survey results showing some groups misled recruiters reoutinely. In fact women in their 30's were the most likely to have discrepancies. The proportion with discrepancies? 77% (of women in their 30's). And the most honest group? Men in their 20's

The researchers uncovered outright lies about qualifications, gaps in employment or even fraud against previous bosses. Another favourite tactic is to use friends as referees - providing you with a glowing recommendation every time!

So it comes as little surprise that Linkedin profiles also contain such discrepancies.

What's different of course is that in the past you tended only to share your paper CV or resume with the recruiter, the hiring manager and a couple of others on the interviewing panel. But with Linkedin the whole point is to share your details much more widely, and to do so with your former, current and potentially future colleagues. All of these people can potentially receive automatic updates when you update your profile, and you probably won't know which of your contacts are actually following your updates closely.

Lying on Linkedin is just as much a fact of life as lying on paper CV's, resumes or application forms! Getting noticed lying on Linkedin however is much easier, and being exposed is also very much simpler. So I agree with Jame-Ane that dishonesty on Linkedin (and other social networking sites where you are jobhunting) is indeed career suicide. Expect to get found out - if not by the recruiter or your boss, then by your co-workers.

So will those in your network agree with you that a little white lie is harmless, or that inflating your qualifications is not a problem since your job is not exactly brain surgery - right!? The social acceptability of dishonesty and deception may vary in different networks.

Surprisingly they may never tell you they know.... until that piece of information becomes valuable for some reason in future. What great ammunition! This shifts office politics to a whole new level!

Photo credit: Maria Trebol

Friday, 10 April 2009

20 ways to use Facebook for jobsearch


Tawny Labrum is from BINC, a professional headhunting firm on the West Coast of the United States. Tawny has posted this great article with a myriad of suggestions of how jobseekers can get the best from Facebook.

One example is Officebook, a Facebook Application which lets you check out the culture and values of a company before you join it. You add tags to describe your ideal values, and search against companies that other users have tagged.

Testimonials is another application which you can use from Facebook. It helps you to gather your personal, professional and academic references in one place from your teachers, friends, and co-workers. At the time of writing there are 4.5m testimonials from users of this app.

Easy CV has no connection with Stelios and budget european airline, Easy Jet... although the orange logo looks strikingly familiar! This app lets you add your resume to Facebook. It links data from your Facebook Profile to your CV/Resume. It also has a variety of formats including PDF and video. Some of the instructions are in french.

Other apps include, Linkedin Contacts which draws content from your Linkedin profile to display in Facebook.

There's also Inside Job, which helps you connect with friendly people working at US companies you'd like to work for. (There's something similar in the UK called CAREERMOLE - but it doesn't yet have a Facebook app.)

These are of course only a small selection of the huge number of applications people are developing for Facebook. Many job boards also have apps which stream matching vacancies to a user's homepage. This is valuable because for many people Facebook is their starting point on the internet - so if you want your content to be easily accessible you need to bring it to your audience using tools like Facebook applications.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Health & Safety Training

Here's a tongue in cheek look at the importance of health and safety in the office. Could be used in class as a great intro to the topic prior to work experience.


Health & Safety and YOU from Brandon James on Vimeo.