UH course and Cuba update

The ontology engineering course is nearing and end–well, I am done with the lectures, the participants (from UH, CENATAV, CUJAE, and CEPES) will do the presentations of the mini-projects on Monday, and I will read their write-ups in the days afterward.

The main entrance of the University of Havana, with the escalinata and the alma mater

Given that they enouraged me to teach most of the lectures in Spanish, perhaps I should have encouraged them more to do the presentations and write-up in English to practice their language skills, but for some of the topics that the participants chose, Spanish may be more suitable (e.g., Spanish OWL verbalization, legal ontologies). Either way the language they choose, I am looking forward to hear more about the topics from the list of suggested ontology engineering themes for the mini-projects as well as the participants’ own choices for a topics in line with their study and research activities, such as ontologies for e-learning, GIS & ontologies, spatial relations, and reverse engineering a database.

Teaching here gives other impressions of the country compared to attending conferences and travelling around the country, which are too many to write in a blogpost, so here are a few short notes only. Due to the embargo, there is only slow and limited Internet access [footnote 1] and resources like the articles from the US-based ACM and IEEE are unavailable to the students and reserchers here (which makes Open Access initiatives all the more important). On my question if there was a projector available, the answer was that there was one projector available that is shared among the professors in the department, so the educationally more effective method of chalk-it-upand-write-it-down was used regularly. We have the privilege that we can use a lecture room with sufficient computers for teaching and for the labs; it is not quite the latest equipment, but with the toy ontologies and some patience, Protege 4.1 still worked. The participants were a lot more eager to learn than I am used to, which made the teaching a very pleasant experience.

Section of the building of the Faculty of Mathematics and Computing at the Univeristy of Havana

In addition to the wrap-up of the course and more conversations about research, I will be giving a seminar here at UH about ontologies & databases and one at UCI about temporal constraints on part-whole relations. After that, I intend to spend the little time that remains on visiting friends, attending UNEAC (23 April is the day of the language), and relaxing the odd day on the beach.

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[footnote 1] A US-company owned fibre optic cable passes by Cuba about 80km from the island, but, alas, cannot be used. To give an idea about the current speed of the access at the uni: getting into KRDB’s webmail system takes about 10 minutes, and opening an email 1-2 minutes depending on the time of the day, UniBz’s outlook is practically not usable (but at least there is a conenction, which cannot be said for many other regions in the world). In this light, the recent polemic about ‘violation of human rights’ by Cuba (referring to the common prisoner who went on [and died from] hunger strike because he wanted to have Internet access like the Cuban-5 in US prison, as I have heard from some, or kitchenette and personal phone as I’ve read later), is rather a violation of human rights by those who deny Cuba fast access to, among other things, the Internet through supporting and enforcing the unjust embargo. Essentially, the US actively obstruct Cubans to have sufficient Internet access, and then finds a mate (the EU, embarrassingly) to punish them for not having sufficient Internet acces. How come so many people do not want to see that this is unfair US-EU politicking in a joint venture with the so-called ‘mainstream media’ in ‘the West’? If you think politically condemning Cuba, or even sharpening and extending the embargo even further, will end the revolution more swiftly, it looks much like you are mistaken. The news, events like the large amout of people who gathered voluntarily at the calle 23 y 12 on Friday 16-4 celebrating the 49th year of the socialist nature of the revolution (yes, I was there at the very corner, and no, the organisers did not hold up plates or alike to instruct the attendees when to cheer and applaud), and comments from the people I have met, give me the impression that this latest assault on Cuba has the opposite effect. UPDATE 7 May 2010: with more bandwidth and time, I had a look around on the Internet about the prisoner–Orlando Zapata–on hunger strike, mentioned above. Among the many conflicting articles around, he even has a page on wikipedia, where at least 3 references (2, 10, and 12) are defunct and it contains nonsense like that he was denied water for 18 days (which is impressive, given that normally 2-3 days without water are enough to die from dehydration); a nuanced analysis is more appropriate. The information on the Internet on this topic is more confusing and contradicting than clarifying the matter, and Google’s Pagerank algorithm may not be the best one around to find pages that describe the facts.

Corner calle 23 y 12, with the podium

A few participants to the event, calle 12

More people at the corner with calle 23 y 12

Front rows calle 23, with the flag of the faculty of Mathematics and computing from the University of Havana

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Teaching ontology engineering at Uni de la Habana in April

I mentioned in an earlier post about Informatica 2009 that the Cuban Government has decided to support the knowledge society with respect to informatics; read, e.g., the transcript of the speech by Commander of the Revolution and Minister of Informatics and Communications Ramiro Valdés Menéndez. Clearly, this includes ontologies and, to a greater or lesser extent, the Semantic Web, and the desire to develop local capacities in this area. To make a long story short, it took a while to find the time, choose the topics, and figure out the bureaucratic aspects, but—and with many thanks due to Rafael Oliva Santos’ efforts on the Cuban side of the organisation—finally I’ll be on my way to Cuba this Sunday to teach a course on ontology engineering at the Universidad de la Habana from 5 to 16 April.

For the curious among you, I have put the handouts of the course slides together into one pdf. They are not meant as a summary, but instead intended to give some structure in the flow of information and a place for some examples so that students are not completely absorbed with writing down what I’ll chalk up on the board (and so that I do not spend too much time on trying to make pretty slides). Nevertheless, it does give an idea about the topics that will pass the revue in the limited time, such as top-down and bottom-up ontology development, differences between conceptual models and ontologies, methods, ontology design parameters and their interactions, methodologies, and OWL (yes, some sections of the SWT course are reused and extended with more ontology engineering). In addition, there is an associated lab and a mini-project to get hands-on experience in ontology engineering.

The internet connection being what it is in Cuba, I will only sporadically check the blog and emails during my stay until the end of April 2010 (and I do hope this blog post will not be spammed as much as the previous ones about Cuba).