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Ancestry Composition and my DNA

I'm a big fan of the 23andMe service (23andMe.com) and they just release a new feature that analyzes your DNA and tells you what kind of population your DNA is most common with. This is what it reads:

Ancestry Composition tells you what percent of your DNA comes from each of 22 populations worldwide. The analysis includes DNA you received from all of your ancestors, on both sides of your family. The results reflect where your ancestors lived 500 years ago, before ocean-crossing ships and airplanes came on the scene.

Here is how my chromosomes look like from the world. I find all this data and discovery about your roots and the science of YOU something truly magical:

Percent of my chromosomes and populations.

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Credit Card Fraud - Infographic

As a complement to the Online Identity infographic, here is what credit card fraud is shaping like:

The Ninut team (@ninutinc) is working to solve these... we are working hard to announce something soon.

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Remembering Dennis Ritchie (RIP)

I discovered just today (01/26/2012) that Dennis Ritchie, one of the more prominent figures in computing, died. How was this possible, the news of the passing of such an important personality in the computer science community went silent for almost 4 months? The media barely covered his death, they something that stunned the world, just the same day: Steve Job’s death. The world is guilty of not showing their respects, just as it did with Steve Jobs. I wanted to write something to acknowledge Dennis Ritchie. Just as Steve change my life for being a believer, a visionary and a leader, Ritchie change it to create the science that supports almost everything I do (and even what Steve did). That’s a tall order to fill up, the word everything is BIG, so let’s check out some of his accomplishments:

  1. Creator of the C programming language. That along earns it quite an array of accolades and influence. Here are some ripple effects of this creation:
    • Without C, there is no C++
    • Without C, there is no Objective C
    • Without C, there no Unit OS, or Windows OS. No Linux, no Symbian, OSX, or iOS. Without these, there would be no Nokias, no Blackberries, no Androids, no iPhones or iPads.
    • Thanks to C, the words ‘programmer’ and ‘software developer’ became ubiquitous in society
  2. Because of C, software engineering and programming was made accessible to the masses, and became a ‘popular’ career path in university programs.
  3. Created the generic operating systems theory that supports the fundamental concepts of all modern operating systems.
  4. Implemented the UNIX OS. Again the ripple effects of this accomplishment are too much to list here.
  5. Author of “The C Programming Language,” also known as “K. & R.”, standing for Kernighan and Ritchie.
  6. Awarded the Turing Award in 1983 for his enormous contributions in the fields of computing and operating systems. The Turing Award is the highest distinction given to a human being for their contribution to the field of Computer Science.

His accomplishments were the foundation to the technology revolution we experienced in the last decades. The gigantic footprint Dennis Ritchie left in the world are in my modest opinion, far-reaching, transformational and revolutionary than anyone that left this world in 2011. He was certainly not the most charismatic and public person in the world, so the media didn’t like him as much as Steve.

This is image is trending today… for some reason 4 months after Ritchie died.

Here is another article making another side by side contribution.

I have nothing but great respect for both of these men. Without their dents in the universe, my life would have been a much different one. If you think Dennis Ritchie deserves your respect, share this with your friends, and let the world know that 2011 was the year when we lost two very important figures, and not just one.

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Ontology... what?

Today, in science, especially in information technology, the word ontology is a hot ride. In short, an Ontology is the  specification of a concept. The idea has grown almost to the point of becoming a buzz word for academics and professionals in the computer science field, and yet a big part of the industry ignores the subject for lack of friendly documentation or understanding that describes it in bogus terms, why is important and how it can change computing for the better.

The word appeared for the first time in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1989. Because it’s a relatively new word for English-speaking folks, the word itself it gets in the way of story it tells. In reality it has been around for quite some time in society.

The philosophical study of existence, “what is real and what is not”, it’s been around for centuries. We can find evidence of the questioning of nature and reality all the way back to the Pre-Socratic era, with philosopher Parmenides of Ela. Parmenides is most known for a poem he wrote called “On Nature” (read the poem here). The poem describes two different perspectives of the same reality, but it zeroes in one powerful idea, that no matter how different appearances of that ‘that it is’ (he calls it ‘the way of opinion’), the truth about ‘it’ does not change (‘the way of the truth’). In a nutshell, this is the first recorded attempt to formalize the realization that existential things don’t change regardless of the lexicon or language used to describe them. Many more developed their own thesis on how to define reality. Plato also made notable contributions to the field of Ontology, and his later disciple Aristotle put a dent in this universe with his works Categories and Metaphysics.

Why is this important today? Because all natural science fields that describe elements of the real world, already have their own ontologies, but this is not the case for Computer Science and Information Technology. Physics, Chemistry and Biology all have a very clear lexicon or dictionary that describes their scientific domains. But we have yet to define an Ontology that describes the world we present through software. When building information systems, different authors, developers and companies declare the same entity ‘that is’ not as the entity itself, but instead as one of its appearances. What we end up with is a lot of unnecessary repetition, corrupted data structures for entities and unnecessary computations made for the sake of mapping appearances that represent the same entity. A call for a Global Ontology has been the topic of many academics for a long time, and in many ways considered the holy grail of information sciences.

Mathematics, as the universal language, describes abstractions and logical reasoning to determine the truthfulness of an assumption. We do it with the use of specialized notation, like numbers and shapes that do not have a tangible form. No author, developer, company or human being in the planet will argue what the number ‘3’ represents. Mathematics provides the foundation for all Ontologies of any other domain definable by humanity. I couldn’t put it any better than Galileo Galilei:

The universe cannot be read until we have learned the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word. Without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth

Going back to Ontology in the Information Sciences, some questions remain unanswered:

  • What are the fundamental objects or structures we ought to define to represent the tangible and abstract concepts from a specific domain?
  • How can we successfully share and relate objects from different domain ontologies?
  • How can we define ontology structures in a way they are effective for operational and usable digital communications?

The biggest challenge in information science with respect of the use of ontologies, is that of establishing a base line agreement in the industry to use a common lexicon and vocabulary consistent with the theory specified by the a particular domain ontology. A Global Ontology would be defined as the aggregation of all domain ontologies, where a domain ontology represents the abstractions and tangible objects of part of the world or a specific knowledge domain.

Competition begs to be mentioned in these lines. The mammoths in the software industry have shown more interest in sticking their guns out for discriminator structures under the same ontological domain with their competitors. For example, Google Maps, Bing Maps and MapQuest all offer services in the GIS domain, yet they’ve decided not to share the same vocabulary and lexicon to name their GIS objects. Think about this for a minute, if these companies decided to share a global GIS schema, then their only discriminator really would be the quality of their service… but that’ll make it too easy for developers to switch sides; so they decide to give their own twist on unique vocabulary. The result is arbitrary mappings for “State”, “Province”, “StateProvince” and “Municipality”, each with multiple data types, sizes and formatting, ultimately adding layers of unnecessary complexity to such a simple concept like that ‘that it is’.

This is already too long of a post, so I’ll cut it short. Maybe in future posts, I’ll cover ontology more closely to engineering, and what you, as an architect, computer scientist, programmer, etc, can do to make your work  a much pleasant and rewarding one. My very good friend Leonardo Lezcano, has published many works in the healthcare domain ontology, with research and papers covering the Semantic Web and Semantic Interoperability. You can find some of his works HERE and HERE.

This is somehow a challenging topic to explain, and for the recipient to say “I get it” the first time around. I’ll feel good if I get a “I kinda got it” after someone reading this :)

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