Need an Expert? Try the Crowd

Need an Expert? Try the Crowd - University of Vermont

Photo: James Cridland

“Josh Bongard and Paul Hines, professors in UVM’s College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, and their students, set out to discover if volunteers who visited two different websites could pose, refine, and answer questions of each other — that could effectively predict the volunteers’ body weight and home electricity use.

The experiment, the first of its kind, was a success: the self-directed questions and answers by visitors to the websites led to computer models that effectively predict user’s monthly electricity consumption and body mass index. […]

But the UVM team primarily sees their new approach as potentially helping to accelerate the process of scientific discovery. The need for expert involvement — in shaping, say, what questions to ask on a survey or what variable to change to optimize an engineering design — “can become a bottleneck to new insights,” the scientists write.

“We’re looking for an experimental platform where, instead of waiting to read a journal article every year about what’s been learned about obesity,” Bongard says, “a research site could be changing and updating new findings constantly as people add their questions and insights.” (Joshua E. Brown, University of Vermont)

Researchers defeat video CAPTCHA antispam tests

Researchers defeat video CAPTCHA antispam tests - Network World

Image: Wikimedia Commons

“Most people are familiar with image-based CAPTCHAs that require users to input a string of distorted characters in order to prove that they are human. However, there are also audio and video variants of such tests.

NuCaptcha is a video-based CAPTCHA implementation that uses animation techniques in order to make it harder for spam bots to decipher the characters. Its creators claim that NuCaptcha has the highest usability and security levels of any CAPTCHA on the market.

However, according to Stanford University researcher Elie Bursztein, that’s not exactly true. Bursztein has worked with other researchers to evaluate the security of NuCaptcha since October 2010 and has devised a method that defeats it with a success rate of over 90 percent.” (Lucian Constantin, Network World)

In Attack on Vatican Web Site, a Glimpse of Hackers’ Tactics

In Attack on Vatican Web Site, a Glimpse of Hackers’ Tactics - New York Times

Image: Wikimedia Commons

“Much as in a grass-roots lobbying campaign, the hackers spent weeks spreading their message through their own Web site and social sites like Twitter and Flickr. Their Facebook page called on volunteers to download free attack software and implored them to “stop child abuse” by joining the cause. It featured split-screen images of the pope seated on a gilded throne on one side and starving African children on the other. And it linked to articles about sexual abuse cases and blog posts itemizing the church’s assets.

It took the hackers 18 days to recruit enough people, the report says. Then the reconnaissance began. A core group of roughly a dozen skilled hackers spent three days poking around the church’s World Youth Day site looking for common security holes that could let them inside, the report says. Probing for such loopholes used to be tedious and slow, but the advent of automated tools made it possible for hackers to do this while they slept.” (Nicole Perlroth & John Markoff,

For Impatient Web Users, an Eye Blink Is Just Too Long to Wait

For Impatient Web Users, an Eye Blink Is Just Too Long to Wait - New York Times

Photo: Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

“People will visit a Web site less often if it is slower than a close competitor by more than 250 milliseconds (a millisecond is a thousandth of a second).  ‘Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the Web,’ said Harry Shum, a computer scientist and speed specialist at Microsoft.” (Steve Lohr,

My connectome, myself

Neuroscientist Sebastian Seung is on a quest to map brain connections that reveal how our memories and personalities take root.

My connectome, myself - MIT News

Image: eyewire

” ‘The brain is like a vast jungle of neurons,’ Seung says. ‘They’re like trees that are all tangled up together, and people can help us explore that.’  Participants in the Eyewire project will help guide the computer program when it loses track of where a neuronal extension goes amidst the tangle of neurons.

‘The person can click the mouse and say color here, and the computer starts coloring again, and keeps going, and then stops again when it’s uncertain. So you’re guiding the computer,’ Seung says. Furthermore, the AI system becomes ‘smarter’ as people guide it, so it will need less and less help as it goes on.” (Anne Trafton, MIT News)

Cracking Open the Scientific Process

Cracking Open the Scientific Process - New York Times

Photo: Timothy Fadek for The New York Times

“Dr. Nielsen and other advocates for “open science” say science can accomplish much more, much faster, in an environment of friction-free collaboration over the Internet. And despite a host of obstacles, including the skepticism of many established scientists, their ideas are gaining traction.” (Thomas Lin,

And check out ResearchGate.

The Thorny World of Online Comments

The Thorny World of Online Comments - On The Media

Image: Marc Wathieu/flickr


We’re only about 15 years into this whole comment ecosystem. It strikes me that it hasn’t changed a whole lot.


That’s right. I think this has been one of the neglected problems of the Internet for two reasons. One is that having a wide- ranging conversation among large groups of people is not an easy thing to do. I haven’t really seen it work well off the Internet, and I’ve only seen it work well on the Internet in a few instances.

And the second thing is I think that for a lot of places creating good comment sections has just not been a priority for their developers. Building better content and promoting that content have really been the priorities of magazines, newspapers, other websites.