Teaching another two courses on ontology engineering

As follow up on the Comprehensive introduction to ontology engineering I taught at the University of Havana (UH) last April, Diego Calvanese taught a more in-depth course on ontology-based data access in June, and I will go again to Cuba next week to teach at the University of Computer Science (UCI) in Havana and visit UH for research activities.

Some of the tidbits of information about UCI: they were established in 2002, have 11000 (yes, eleven thousand!) students in computing and IT, and a brand new campus with a range of facilities right at the outskirts of Havana. As UCI is more engineering-oriented than UH, some more foundations are added to the course topics and a few application-oriented slides have been added. This time, the intention is to teach the whole course in Spanish. There are already many more people who signed up for the course (>=80) than I’d be able to teach (in particular, doing a lab on your own with 80 motivated students is physically not feasible unless you ignore about 75% of the participants, which would seriously affect the quality of the course).

After that, I will go almost straight onward to the Knowledge Representation and Reasoning group at Meraka Institute, CSIR, Pretoria, South Africa for two months as part of the EU FP7 Net2 project “Network for Enabling Networked Knowledge” and the “Technologies for Conceptual Modelling and Intelligent Query Formulation” project within the Executive Programme of Scientific and Technological Co-Operation between the Italian Republic and Republic of South Africa. One of the activities will be to teach about ontology engineering as well, but then a bit more focussed on Semantic Web technologies and taking representation & reasoning challenges as elective topic (which is a result of the SWT course that has generated the request). As course syllabus, I have reorganized, brushed up, and extended the blog posts of the SWT course in to a single HTML page: Introduction to ontology engineering, with emphasis on Semantic Web Technologies. The course itself is part of KRR’s Masters Ontology Winter School 2010.

Notwithstanding the demonstrated interest, the powers that be have decided to reorganize the course contents of the SWT course into something more hands-on and practical that is not a part of the European Masters Programme in Computational Logic anymore (until and including this academic year it is). And, while still being named “Semantic Web Technologies”, there is not going to be a substantial ontology engineering component in it… So, after teaching the course about ontology engineering at Meraka, its likely future is to just gather dust—until there is another request. I have the slides, can update them, extend them, and fiddle with the focus and storyline etc., and I am willing to travel; feel free to inquire about possibilities :).

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.


[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

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).

Editorial freedoms?

Or: on editors changing your article without notifying (neither before nor after publication).

The book The changing dynamic of Cuban civil society came out last year right before I went to Cuba, so I had read it as a preparation, and, it being a new book, I thought I might as well write a review for it and see if I could get it published. The journal Latin American Politics and Society (LAPS) was interested, and so it came to be that I submitted the book review last July and got that review accepted. Two days ago I was informed by Wiley-Blackwell, the publisher of LAPS, that I could download the offprint of the already published review: it had appeared in LAPS 50(4):189-192 back in the winter 2008 issue.

The published review is for “subscribers only” (but I’m allowed to email it to you) and to my surprise and disbelief it was not quite the same as the one I had sent off to the LAPS book review editor Alfred Montero. They had made a few changes to style and grammar, which, given that English is not my mother tongue, was probably warranted (although it would have been appropriate if I were informed about that beforehand). There are, however, also three significant changes to the content. More precisely: two deletions and one addition.

The first one is at the beginning, where an introduction is given on what constitutes ‘civil society’. Like in the book, some examples are given, as well as the notion of a ‘categorisation’ of organisations. The original text (see pdf) is as follows:

According to this description, hobbies such as bird watching and playing rugby is not part of civil society, but the La Molina against the US base in Vicenza and Greenpeace activism are. In addition, one may want to make a categorization between the different types of collectives that are part of a civil society: people have different drives or ideologies for improving or preventing deterioration of their neighborhood compared to saving the planet by attempting to diminish the causes of climate change.

This has been trimmed down to:

According to this description, hobbies such as bird watching and playing rugby are not part of civil society, but Greenpeace activism is. In addition, one may want to make a categorization between the different types of collectives that are part of a civil society: people have different drives or ideologies for improving or preventing deterioration of their neighborhood, compared to saving the planet by attempting to diminish the causes of climate change.

A careful reader may notice that there is a gap in the logic of the examples: the No Dal Molin activism against the US base is an example of NIMBY-activism (Not In My BackYard), referred to in the second sentence but the example in the first sentence is missing. There being no example of this type in the book, I felt the need to give one anyway. Perhaps if I would have used the for the US irrelevant NIMBY-activism against the TAV (high speed train) it would have remained in the final text. The activism of Molin, however, is a much more illustrative example of the interactions between a local grass-roots civil society organisation and both national and international politics, and how the so-called ‘spheres of influence’ of the actors have taken shape.

The addition is a verb, “to act”. The original:

Christine Ayorinde discusses both the historical reluctance of the, until 1992, atheist state against religious groups—used as counterrevolutionary tool primarily by the U.S. in the early years after the Revolution—and the loosening by the, now constitutionally secular, state …

The new sentence:

Christine Ayorinde discusses both the historical reluctance of the atheist state (until 1992) to act against religious groups—used as counterrevolutionary tool primarily by the United States in the early years after the revolution—and the loosening by the now-constitutionally secular state, …

But it is not the case that the state was reluctant to act against religious groups; they were reluctant and hampering involvement of foreign religious groups because it was used by primarily the US as a way to foment dissent against the Revolution.

The second deletion actually breaks a claim I make about the chapters in the edited volume and weakens an important observation on the operations of civil society organisations in Cuba, and of foreign NGOs in particular.

The original:

A personal experience perspective is given by Nino Pagliccia from the Canadian Volunteer Work Brigade (Chapter 5). This is a fascinating chapter when taken in conjunction with Alexander Gray’s chapter that analyses personal perspectives and changes in procedures from the field from a range of civil society actors (Chapter 7). … Pagliccia’s, as well as the representative of Havana Ecopolis project’s—Legambiente-funded, which is at the green-left spectrum of the Italian political arena—documented experiences of cooperation in Cuba have the component of shared ideology, whereas other representatives, such as from Save the Children UK, talk about shared objectives instead even when their Cuban collaborators assume shared ideology. Notably, the latter group of foreign NGOs report more difficulties about their experiences in Cuba.

How it appears in the published version:

A personal perspective is given by Nino Pagliccia, from the Canadian Volunteer Work Brigade (chapter 5). This is a fascinating chapter when considered together with Gray’s chapter 7, which analyzes personal perspectives and changes in procedures from a range of civil society actors. … Pagliccia’s documented experiences of cooperation in Cuba have the component of shared ideology, whereas other representatives, such as those from Save the Children UK, talk about shared objectives instead, even when their Cuban collaborators assume the former. Notably, the latter group of foreign NGOs report more difficulties in their experiences in Cuba.

But the reference to Havana Ecopolis comes from Chapter 7. In fact, of the interviewees, he was the only one really positive about the experiences in the successful foreign-initiated project/NGO, which made me think back to Pagliccia’s Workers Brigade and solidarity vs. charity. I wondered where the funding of Havana Ecopolis came from, Googled a bit, and arrived at the Legambiente website (project flyer). Needless to say, also openly leftist organisations had positive experiences on collaboration; but in analyzing effectiveness of foreign NGO involvement, unveiling the politically-veiled topical NGOs is a distinguishing parameter. Moreover, it is an, informally, well-known one with respect to Cuba’s reluctance of letting foreign NGOs into the country. Thus, it explains why the Havana Ecopolis experience stood out compared to the other documented NGO experience in Cuba. But now, in the revised text, the “Notably, the latter group … more difficulties …” sounds a bit odd and not backed up at all. They even toned down Pagliccia’s contribution from “A personal experience perspective” to “A personal perspective”: there surely is a difference between being informed by having spent some time in Cuba working side-by-side with the Cubans and just having a perspective on Cuba without having a clue what the country is like; now it reads like ‘yeah, whatever—opinions are like assholes: everybody’s got one…’. Note that when one reads the book, one sensibly can make the link between the data and analysis presented on solidarity vs. charity vs. cooperation and the shared-ideology vs. shared-objectives NGOs (ch5 & 7). Rests to make a categorisation of foreign NGOs and conduct a quantitative analysis to back up the obvious qualitative one.

I hope that this case is an exception, but maybe it is the modus operandi in the humanities that things get edited out. It certainly is not in computer science, where only the authors can fiddle a bit with the text when a paper is accepted, and even less so in the life sciences where, upon paper acceptance, thou shalt not change a single word.

UPDATE (22-3-2009): the current status of the contact I had with the LAPS editorial office is that the book review editor, Alfred Montero, did not change anything, but that that happened during copyediting by the managing editor, Eleanor Lahn. She has provided me with an explanation why the changes were done, which has a curious argumentation to which I have replied. This reply also contains a request for clarity and consistency in the procedure (now the book editor assumes the copyeditor contacts the author, whereas the copyeditor normally does not do so), but I have not yet received a response on that email.

The VIP session at Informatica 2009

In addition to the many keynote speeches, scientific presentations, and panels, Informática 2009 in Cuba also had a 2-hour high-level panel on the conference’s theme, called “National ICT policies for development and sovereignty“, which took place yesterday morning. In the presence of some 1000 attendees and the secretary general of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Dr. Hamadoun Touré, the ministers in informatica/ICT/telecommunications of Cuba, Iran, South Africa, Saudi-Arabia, Venezuela, and Vietnam and national telecomms heads of Bulgaria, Nicaragua, and Russia each held a speech. UPDATE (28-2-2009): see also the transcript of the speech of Ramiro Valdéz Menéndez, who is the Commander of the Revolution and Minister of Informatics and Communictions in Cuba.

While each VIP presented country-specific particularities and emphases, there were five recurring topics across the presentations.

  1. Security: the need for a) combatting cybercrime internationally together, and b) reducing the vulnerability of a country’s access to the Internet and the need to decrease the dependence on foreign companies and political whims and policies of certain other countries, i.e., increase sovereignty of the nation’s network and internet services infrastructure, e.g., by launching one’s own sattelite [Vietnam] or laying fibre optic cables [South Africa, Cuba, Venzuela, Jamaica].
  2. Infrastructure: or: the lack thereof. In addition to the aforementioned security and foreign-dominance, the liberalization of the ’90s took its toll because companies do not like to invest in remote areas that do not generate sufficient profits, thereby excluding the many under-priviliged peoples. Governments of several countries now take up that task themselves thanks to changes in the political colour and type of government.
  3. Responsible use of ICT: instead of the latest toys with consumerism, the programmes are aimed at ICT as tool to inform and educate citizens and “civil defense” w.r.t. detection of natural disasters and mitigation of the damages (e.g., inundation calculations, evacuation plans, smooth communications, climate change research).
  4. Trust: well, the lack thereof, both in general and w.r.t. ICT policies, which was tied to the general climate of the lack of trusts with the ongoing economic crisis. How to rebuild it was not particularly elaborated on.
  5. ICT for (socio-)economic recovery: in contrast to, say, Berlusconi’s policies, these VIPs do see the need for investment in this sector, both regarding human capital development and new technologies–and not just talk the talk but also walk the walk.

The country-specific themes included, among others, South Africa’s move from analog to digital with the set-top boxes and Cuba’s focus on knowledge management and open source projects.

I will add links, quotes, and photos later, as the next scientific session is about to start (more about that when I’m back from Cuba in about 2 weeks).

UPDATE (5-3-2009): eventually, a few photos:

overview of the VIP panel during Infromatica 2009

overview of the VIP panel during Informática 2009

From left to right: delegates from Nicaragua (empty seat in the picture), Russia, Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri (South Africa), Jorge Luis Perdomo Di-Lella (president of the organisation of Informatica 2009), Hamadoun Touré (Secretary general of the ITU), Commandante and Minister Ramiro Valdéz Menendez (Cuba), Minister Socorro Hernández (Venezuela), Minister Le Doan Hop (Vietnam), Minister Muhammad Jameel bin Ahmed Mulla (Saudi Arabia), Minister of Iran, Plamen Vatchkov (empty seat in the picture)

photo of the article on the front page of the Granma, about the opening of Informatica 2009

photo of the article on the front page of the Granma, about the opening of Informatica 2009

During the lunch breaks, students from UCI (Universidad de las Ciencias Informáticas) took care of the cultural programme, with dance and music.


Types of granularity and the TOG to facilitate modelling for the GIS domain

During and in between all the research traveling over the past half a year I also managed to write some papers. One of them is an invited book chapter [1] based on chapter 2 of my PhD thesis, i.e. the taxonomy of types of granularity with some additional material to make it self-standing to read. This book chapter that will appear in Novel Developments in Granular Computing (edited by JingTao Yao) early next year is to some readers, however, still rather abstract. To try meet feedback on how to apply these types of granularity and the TOG, I applied it and wrote a paper about using them to improve representation of granulation hierarchies in the subject domain of geography and ecology. This case study for representing semantics of granularity in Geographic Information Systems [2] will be presented early next year at the Geomatics’09 conference. The abstract of what I like to think to be a, from a potential user perspective, very readable paper (pdf) is as follows:

Dealing with granularity in the GIS domain is a well-known issue, and multiple data-centric engineering solutions have been developed to deal with finer- and coarser-grained data and information within one information system. These are, however, difficult to maintain and cumbersome for interoperability. To address these issues, we propose eight types of granularity and a facilitating basic theory of granularity to structure granulation hierarchies in the GIS domain. Several common hierarchies will be re-assessed and refined. It illustrates a methodology of first representing what one desires to consider for a GIS application, i.e., at the semantic layer, so as to enable reaping benefits of flexibility, reusability, transparency, and interoperability at the implementation layer.

A nice extra, for me at least, is that the Geomatics conference will be held in Havana, Cuba, as part of Informatica’09. Though I can understand Spanish and speak it a little (well, by mixing it with Italian), I do appreciate they are making it into a bi-lingual event with simultaneous translation Spanish/English. Looking at the preliminary programme (details online here soon), the following topics and people are already booked in: Oscar Corcho on semantics and the grid, Joep Crompvoets on spatial data, Michael Gould on data infrastructure, Robert Ward of the International Hydrographic bureau about marine data and information, several ISO representatives on various topics, and more researchers on open source geoinformatics, precision agriculture, managing remote sensing data and other topics, which will be presented by people from, mainly, the Americas and Europe (Cuba, Brazil, Chile, UK, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany, among others).

For those of you who cannot physically attend—be it for financial reasons or due to the blockade—but would have liked to be there: you also can register as a virtual participant.

[1] Keet, C.M. A top-level categorization of types of granularity. In: Novel Developments in Granular Computing: Applications for Advanced Human Reasoning and Soft Computation. JingTao Yao (Ed.). IGI Global. (in print, not yet online—contact me if you want to have a preprint).

[2] Keet, C.M. Structuring GIS information with types of granularity: a case study. VI International Conference on Geomatics, 10-12 February 2009, Havana, Cuba.

”The future of our home country necessarily has to be a future of scientists.”

Who said this? No, it was neither Bush nor Brown, nor Blair, Berlusconi, Balkenende, or Benedict XVIth. It is a liberal translation of “El futuro de nuestra patria tiene que ser necessariamente un futuro de hombres de ciencia”. It was Fidel who said it, back in 1961. This phrase is not only on the front page of the science & tech section of the online version of the Cuban national newspaper, the Granma, but also painted on the first building of the ICA complex (see photo). \The ICA—Instituto de Ciencia Animal [Animal Science Institute]—in San Jose de las Lajas, near Habana, is an integrated whole of science, technology, and society, quite different from the common university campuses with spin-offs close by in European and US’s cities’ peripheries. Maybe science researchers and philosophers of science can look into the matter if, and if yes how, this is a more sustainable and effective way of building a knowledge society (what the EU purports to build since the Lisbon Agenda in 2000) than the 3+2+3 streamlining in higher/university education and hidden research institutes. (The Venezuelan government thinks it is a good idea, and they are setting up similarly structured institutes in Venezuela.)

Aside from taking a few days off, I did visit the ICA again (the Agromatica department, headed by Abiel Roche), passed by the University of Havana—the oldest in Latin America that has a fantastic entrance with many stairs and an alma mater sitting at the top—and got informed about the Cuban policy decisions to invest in computer science. Regarding the latter, there’s since 2003 the UCI, the Universidad de Ciencias Informáticas [university of computer science], with some 10000 students, national programmes in computer literacy, and people are working on installing a fibre optics cable to increase bandwidth by some 3000 fold, to name but a few things. The latter obviously implies that, contrary to some ‘regular media’ reports, Cuba is already connected to the Internet and even Jo and Joanne Soap can email and browse the Web; they already could when I visited Cuba in 2004. Admitted, it is not cheap and relatively slow, but possible it is (be it at work, in an internet café, or at home with a modem).

Mobile phones are officially allowed since about 2 months and to my surprise, my lame 3-year old nokia-with-vodafone Italian phone automatically detected Cu_com so I could send messages all around the world (I did not try calling, which is probably mad expensive), which proved to be very useful for meeting with friends at some flexible timing in front of the capitolio, ensuring I made it safe home in Vedado coming from Alamar, and whatnot.

There can be many more things to write about, such as the detrimental effects of recent international biofuels policies and the entry of some of capitalism’s bugs through the tourism sector, but I will close with two announcements. One is for the computer science conference Informática 2009 next February with article submission deadline in August (for those of you who prefer to have an excuse to visit Cuba) and the timely book “The changing dynamic of Cuban civil society” (not that the notion of ‘civil society’ is alive and kicking in Cuba, but it certainly is worth a read nevertheless).