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K-CAP 2007: day 3

3 December 2007 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

Interactive Knowledge Externalization and Combination for SECI model

Yoshinori Hijikata from Osaka University in Japan talked about capturing both tacit and explicit knowledge from two people while they are engage in a conversation. Stages of the conversation are: socialization, externalization, internalization and combination. The GRAPE interface was used to allow the users to collaboratively build a classification tree as they speak. Four general discussion models were observed: (1) both users understand and agree with each other based upon their individual experiences, (2) one user doesn't have knowledge of the topic being discussed, but understands the other user's explanation, (3) one user doesn't understands the other user's explanation completely, but nevertheless modifies his own understand, because he trusts the other user's expertise, (4) both users disagree with each other, but one user reluctantly gives into the other user.

Human Computation

A Luis von Ahn talked about the CAPTCHA test he developed. The test is designed to protect a website from being misused by automated computer programs. A computer has trouble passing the test, but a human can pass it with ease. This has led to a whole new industry of "captcha sweat shops" where spam companies employ people in developing countries to solve captcha tests all day long, so they can sign up for free email accounts and use these to send out spam. In total about 200 million captchas are solves every day. Solving a captcha takes an average human 10 seconds. So, this amounts to a great deal of wasted distributed human processing power.

This led to the development of reCAPTCHA, a game that has all the advantages of a regular captcha, but also helps the OCR process of digitizing all the world's books. A scanned word from a book that a computer could not recognize accurately is offered up as a captcha for the human to interpret.

Luis von Ahn also developed the ESP game, where people have to assign keywords to an image with a partner with whom they can't communicate. If both people guess the same keyword, they win and the keyword gets assigned to that image. The keywording helps services like Google's image search to return more accurate search results.

The scary thing is how much information can be found out about a person just by monitoring them playing the game. After just 15 minutes of game-play, the researchers could predict a person's 5-year age bucket with 85% accuracy and gender with 95% accuracy (only a male would, for example, attempt to label a picture of Britney Spears as "hot"). This is just from a short time anonymously playing an online game, so, you imagine just how much information Google knows about you based upon what search for?

Some other new games being developed in Luis von Ahn's lab are: Squigl, a game where two players trace out an image; Verbosity, a game where people are asked to describe a secret word via a template of questions; Tag-A-Tune, a game to label sounds. All these games and more will soon be coming to the Games With A Purpose (GWAP) website.

K-CAP 2007: day 2

1 December 2007 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

Maintaining Constraint-based Applications
Tomas Eric Nordlander talked about a brilliant constraints programming system for hospital inventory control. He defined Knowledge Acquisition as: "the transfer and transformation of problem-solving expertise from some knowledge source into a program. The process includes knowledge representation, refining, verification and testing". He goes on to define Knowledge Maintenance as: "including adding, updating, verifying, and validating the content; discarding outdated and redundant knowledge and detecting knowledge gaps that need to be filled. The process involves simulating the effect that any maintenance action might have". Knowledge Maintenance is extremely important, but frequently under-appreciated.

The author designed a system named proCAM for Cork University Hospital. This system replaced the hospital's previous manual logistics system. It had to answer three basic questions: what products to store? When should the inventory be replenished? How much should be ordered? To answer these questions, proCAM considered: historic demand, service level (risk of being out of stock), space constrains, time constraints, holding cost, ordering cost, current stock level, periodic review time, and more. These can be generalized into physical constraints, policy constraints, guidelines and suggestions (nice to order and store two products together that get used together).

proCAM used a combination of operational research algorithms and constraint programming (CSP) to do its magic. It is very easy to use. The users of proCAM only see two values on the display: the order level (the stock level at which a new order should be placed) and the order number (the amount of the product that should be ordered). Behind the scenes, the system takes all constraints and past history into account to calculate the ideal order amounts. It can even detect seasonal variations in stock usage patterns and adjust order amounts accordingly. If someone tries to order a product that violates one of the system's constraints, this violation is highlighted the user is given the option of: overriding the constraint and placing the order anyway, adjusting the constraint, or canceling the attempted order. Constraints can be maintained on-the-fly by hospital staff with this easy-to-use interface. proCAM also supports different sets of constraints between e.g. the day-shift and the night-shift staff of the hospital.

One could imagine the same system being adapted to almost any inventory control scenario.

Strategies for Lifelong Knowledge Extraction from the Web

Michele Banko (a student of Oren Etzioni's) taked about "Alice" system. Similar to TextRunner, Alice goes from a text corpus to extract facts, but also attempts to create logical theories (e.g citrus fruit = orange, kiwi). Alice adds generalized statements and embellishes class hierarchies. It allows lifelong learning. It does bottom-up, incremental acquisition of information. So, it will extract facts, discover the new concepts, generalize these facts and concepts and repeat this process indefinitely. The output is an updated domain theory.

Alice, when answering a query, does not use exhaustive search, because its data is never assumed to be perfect. Instead, it uses best-first search and search-by-analogy (association search) to navigate its knowledge tree.

Evaluation consisted of assessing the returned knowledge as: true, off-topic (true, but not interesting), vacuous, incomplete, erroneous. The system was 78% accurate. Problems occurred when the best-first search got distracted by going deep down a specific search branch.

Indexing ontologies with semantics-enhanced keywords
Madalina Croitoru, standing in for Bo Hu, talked about a system of adding keyword meta-data into ontologies for improved indexing.

She talked about the need to index ontologies for easier and faster search retrieval. Ontologies are different from text documents, so traditional text indexing can't be blindly applied. Ontologies are suppose to be conceptualizations of a domain, so the emphasis of this work was to take advantage of this aspect when indexing ontologies. Existing ontology indexing approaches use flat keyword indexes, human authored manual indexes or page-rank-like indexing techniques.

The author's semantic enhanced keyword approach works by unfolding all axioms in an ontology until all primitive concepts are extracted. These concept names are then weighed according to whether they are e.g. negated or not. Finally, because ontologies are conceptualizations of a domain, then it should be possible to take advantage of other people's conceptualizations of the same knowledge. So, the approach harvests wikipedia articles (and other articles link to from these articles) relevant to the ontology, and then uses latent semantic analysis to further tune the ontology keyword indexes.

K-CAP 2007: day 1

28 November 2007 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

Papers and presentation that I found interesting from day 1 of the K-CAP 2007 conference:

Everything I know I learnt from Google: Machine Reading of Web Text

Oren Etzioni talked about his TextRunner knowledge extracting search engine. TextRunner gathers large amounts of knowledge from the web. It does this by focusing on semantically tractable sentences, finding the "illuminating phrases" and learning these in a self-supervised manner. It leverages the redundancy of the web, so, if something is said multiple times, it is more likely to be true.

This is all loaded into an SQL server and can be queried by anyone. If you type a query into the search engine it will return all the structured knowledge it knows about that query. For example: "Oren Etzioni is a professor" and "Oren Etzioni has an arm".

Capturing Knowledge About Philosophy

Michele Pasin talks about his PhiloSURFical project to build an ontology of the history of philosophy for the purpose of improving the browsing and searching experience for philosophy students and teachers. His view is that ontology should not be about true or beauty, but instead should focus on enabling reuse and sharing. Requirements for this tool were that it should support: uncertainty (e.g. of dates), information objects, interpretation of events, contradictory information and different viewpoints. The ontology itself is based upon CIDOC CRM. It captures events such when one philosopher interprets another's work, teaches a student, and/or debate with another scholar. The knowledge base contains 440 classes, 15000 instances, 7000 individual people, 7000 events and 500 axioms related to the philosopher Wittgenstein.

Searching Ontologies based on Content: Experiements in the Biomedical Domain

Harith Alani talked about the need for a good system to find existing ontologies on the web. Users need to find ontologies that they can reuse and/or bootstrap their own efforts. Existing content-based searching tools don't work, because, for example the Foundation Model of Anatomy (FMA) doesn't have an actual class called "anatomy" anywhere in it. So, a search for "anatomy" would not result in this ontology being returned.

The research involved interviewing a number of experts to established a gold standard. The experts were asked to list the good ontologies on certain topics (anatomy, physiological processes, pathology, histology). However, even the experts only agreed on 24% of answers.

The researchers new ontology search tools uses the wikipedia to expand the queried concepts (future work involves also using UMLS and WordNet to expand the query). The result was that Swoogle achieved an accuracy f-measure of 27% and the expanded term search's f-measure was 58%. The conclusion is that more ontology meta-data is necessary.

Capuring and Answering Questions Posed to a Knowledge-based Systems
Peter Clark from Vulcan, Inc. talks about their Halo project. The project aims to build a knowledge system (using the AURA knowledge authoring toolset) that can pass high-school level exams in physics, biology and chemistry. The system should be able to answer a free-text question such as: "a boulder is dropped off a cliff on a planet with 7 G gravity and takes 23 seconds until it hits the bottom. Disregarding air resistance, how high was the cliff?"
The system enforces a restricted simplified version of English that humans express the questions in (based upon Boeings Simplified English for aircraft manuals, modified for the specific domains). The language is both human usable and machine understandable.

Common sense assumptions need to be made explicit for the system. So, for example, in the above example it must be specific that the drop is straight downwards and not arced. So, the humans who were asking question to the system had to go through the following cycle: read original question text, re-write in controlled English, check with the system and take note of any re-writing tips, allow the system to turn the text into logic, check the paraphrase of the system's understanding, press the answer button and evaluate the system's attempted answer to the question, retry as necessary.
38% of biology questions were answered correctly with 1.5 re-tries per question (1-5 range).

37.5% of chemistry questions were answered correctly with 6.6 re-tries per question (1-19 range).

19% of physics question were answered correctly with 6.3 re-tries per question (1-18 range).

The researchers considered this to be a huge achievement! The system uses the sweet spot between logic and language to do something no other system before it could come close to. There was no single weak point that caused the system to give the wrong answer. Bad interpretation, bad query formation and missing knowledge all equally caused incorrect answers.

K-CAP 2007 pictures

16 November 2007 | 0 Comments | Tags:

I attended the recent Knowledge Capture (K-CAP 2007) conference in Whistler, Canada. I will write more on the interesting papers and presentation from the conference in future blog post. However, for now, some pictures from the conference and surroundings.

(yes, that is a real bear on the path)

Thumb K-Cap 37 2007-10-31-1

(I've switched the Coppermine Gallery from a multi-page view to a single-page view for each album. The idea is to open pictures in a new tab (by ctrl/command-clicking on them), if you want a closer look at them. Tell me how you like the new layout.)

Manchester Pictures

16 November 2007 | 0 Comments | Tags:

After almost four years of living in Manchester I took the opportunity of a friend visiting to explore the city. Here are some pictures of this mighty city in the North of England.

Pictures are from the Trafford Centre, my flat, Imperial War Museum, and City Centre.


Travel: Auckland (loft)

19 June 2007 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

Auckland GalleryAfter my stay in Wellington I went onwards to Auckland for a brief two day visit. I went to the Loft for one evening. It is very similar to Gaura Yoga in mood, style and popularity, although maybe a little more industrial looking. It is a very nice place that attracts many, many people to Krishna consciousness.

I went to visit the brahmacari monks living in "peaceful" South Auckland in a wonderful ashram environment. They live a very regulated life of distributing books (50000 Srimad Bhagavatam 1st Cantos in the warehouse, waiting to be distributed), studying books (2 hours each day), distributing prasadam (at the many Auckland universities) and chanting the Maha-Mantra (at least 16 round each day). Such wonderful character-building service to all of humanity! The brahmacaris also have a vegetable patch in their back garden. Such a moderately sized garden is enough to supply food for most of the year. So much so that they often have to give some away to the loft, because they can't eat it all. If it is so easy to feed 8 hungry men, then what is this non-sense about world hunger due to overpopulation (although granted, the population of New Zealand isn't exactly large)?

I also gave a talk about Krishna consciousness to students at Massey University in North Auckland. This was part of a series of activities the devotees had organized as part of a "spirituality week" that was going on there. Krishna consciousness was a welcome break from the legions of christians that jumped on top of every unsuspecting student that entered the main concourse the day before (I was told).

Just a few hours after that I was off on a 32 hour flight back to the UK.

Pictures from Auckland are viewable here.

Talk on Scientific Spirituality at Gaura Yoga

17 June 2007 | 4 Comments | Tags: ,

While in Wellington (New Zealand) I gave a Sunday presentation at Gaura Yoga. I talked on Scientific Spirituality. I talked about science in general and how it works (or not). Then I went on to talk about Krishna consciousness explaining how it is a very scientific process of spirituality which is in many ways more advanced and beneficial than materialistic science.

View the video of my presentation:

Download a more high-quality version of the video and download the Apple Keynote slideshow presentation (mac only).

Travel: Wellington

8 June 2007 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

After the amazing Bhakti-retreat I headed off to Wellington, New Zealand. I had stayed in Wellington for one year in 2003. So, it was quite emotional to be back.

Thumb Pict4121Gaura Yoga is the main hub around which all Krishna conscious activities in Wellington revolve. All other outreach centers around AU and NZ are based on this remarkable establishment. Gaura Yoga is not a temple. Rather it has the look and feel of a high-quality caf?©. Yoga classes and seminars take place during the week and a three hour-long kirtan is held every Saturday, followed by a massive masterfully executed festival on Sundays. An average of 25 people attend each yoga night and 30 - 100 guests come to the Sunday programs (and these are paying guests wanting to hear about Krishna, not devotee staff).

Visnumaya devi dasi manages Gaura Yoga. Throng of pictures here.

I want to move to Wellington after finishing my PhD, so I spent most of my time looking for jobs while there. Lucky for me: there is currently a huge shortage of software engineers in New Zealand. I'm told it works something like this:

A while ago (during the .com boom) everyone in the world (and more than everyone in India) studied computer science even if they had no interest, talent or skill in the subject in hope of cashing in. However, now that the good times are over, suddenly no one in NZ is interested in computers anymore. CS student numbers have gone way, way down. Thus getting a job in academia is nigh on impossible at the moment. University departments are funded based on how many students they teach. Fewer students, means less money, which means no hiring of new staff. However, because no one is studying computer science, very few people are graduating with software qualifications (and even those that are, are mostly moving to the USA where salaries are much higher than in NZ). This leaves the NZ IT companies clamoring for every last software engineer they can get their hands on.

Most companies hire via various recruitment companies, so I got in contact with a number of these recruiters. They had a whole slew of companies they wanted to represent me to. However, they preferred to do this closer to the time of my actuall arrival. Nevertheless, I got three job offers from the different companies I interviewed with. So, I can pick my job.

Wellington, here I come!

Travel: Brisbane Bhakti Yoga Retreat

6 June 2007 | 1 Comments | Tags: , ,

Thumb Dsc 0027After a short stay in Brisbane the devotees headed off to a retreat center two hours out of town on Mount Warning, Murwillumbah, NSW. The center had been shut down for many years, but the owner wanted to get it going again. However, fixing it up was a big job, which he could not have managed on his own. So, the devotees offered to help. It took many weekends of hard work to clean out the dirt and numerous living entities that had taken up residence in the abandoned buildings. Now however, looking at the results, one would never know. It is a very nice setting.

The bhakti yoga retreat was a wonderful program of getting up early, finding one's way to the main building in the darkness of the night using a flashlight, having a nice morning program, chanting the maha-mantra on beads, having another nice program, listening to inspiring classes by Devamrita Swami, having a nice healthy breakfast, resting, attending an occasional seminar, having a sensational lunch (taking into account all the devotees' health needs) and a nice evening program that usually lasted deep into the night and exhausted everyone with hours and hours of blissful chanting.

I finally got the opportunity to meet some devotees in person who I had previously only known and communicated with online. Plus, of course, all the great enthusiastic practitioners of Krishna consciousness I met for the first time.

The last day of the retreat was a particularly memorable one. We did a one and a half hour trek over the mountain to the New Govardhana temple. New Govardhana is a huge community of devotees, complete with wild peacocks, poisonous snakes and beautiful deities. The pace of the walk was hard and fast, yet Sitapati led a transcendental kirtan all the way (while carrying his son on his shoulders and accordion strapped to his chest). I had a hard time just walking!

Near the end of the walk the heavens opened and 15-minute rain storm swept over all of us. Everyone was drenched. However, we dried off soon enough when we reached the temple and carried on chanting for what must have been another two hours of kirtan. Then Devamrita Swami arrived at the temple, gave the Sunday Feast lecture and proceeded to have another 1-2 hour long kirtan. This one even more intense than the previous ones. Then, finally, a hugely opulent feast. What a day! (If only every day could be this wonderful...)

Many, many pictures of the retreat are viewable here.

Travel: Brisbane city

4 June 2007 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

The next destination in my travels (a short plane flight away) was Brisbane, Australia.

Brisbane is very different from Melbourne. While the climate in Melbourne is mild, Brisbane is downright tropical. I did not like it very much. Too hot. The city also has more of a never-ending sprawling feel to it, while Melbourne felt more like a central city with distinct suburbs.

I stayed in the temple in Brisbane. It is not as huge or impressive as Melbourne temple, but also managed very nicely by Tirtharaja dasa. Despite being in the city, the temple was surrounded by nature. For example: I was amazed that there were quite a few wild turkeys running around the temple's gardens. My stay was comfortable. The devotees were bending over backwards to host their guests.

Besides the temple there is a Govinda's restaurant in the city center. Close to Govinda's is Atma Yoga, Brisbane's outreach center. It has been in existence a bit longer than Urban Yoga, but is also still quite new. It is managed by the venerable Sitapati dasa and his team of expert devotees.

Unfortunately, I didn't manage to visit either of these establishments, but from what I hear, they are excellent places to be.

Travel: Melbourne

3 June 2007 | 2 Comments | Tags: ,

Thumb Pict3471I took a 6 week break from my PhD study. During that break I traveled to various places down-under. My first destination: Melbourne, Australia.

I stayed in the glorious Melbourne Mahaprabhu Mandir. It is a beautiful and amazing temple run under the skillful direction of Aniruddha dasa. The temple buildings were originally an old school complex situated in a rich suburb of Melbourne.

In addition to the temple, the devotees also run two restaurants in the city centre: Gopals - an up-market restaurant, and Crossways - a cheaper all-you-can-eat restaurant aimed at massive prasadam distribution. Both restaurants are within 1 minute walking distance from each other on one of the busiest streets in Melbourne.

Above Crossways is Urban Yoga, a newly opened outreach center. A place for yoga, meditation, discussion, cooking classes, etc. Tri Yuga skillfully manages this inspiring program. Many young people are taking advantage and developing an interest in Krishna consciousness in this convivial setting.

I took many pictures during my visit. They are viewable in the gallery section of this website.

pictures from recent Swansea vist

25 February 2007 | 1 Comments | Tags:

Thumb Pict2909I visited the Swansea Govinda's Restaurant / Temple a few weekends ago.

The pictures of me were taken with a 3 megapixel Nokia mobile phone camera. All the other pictures were taken with my trusty 5 megapixel Minolta A1. Can you tell the difference in quality?

View the pictures here.

Devamrita Swami: BG4.9 End of Logic and Reason

14 February 2007 | 1 Comments | Tags: , ,

Weimar is a great University city. Apply your great education to understanding Krishna. Proof of Krishna is not in logic and reason, the proof is in the scripture. But sometimes logic and reason is useful to help you understand the scripture. Logic and reason cannot stretch into completely spiritual topics. It can only take you so far.

Who has never felt attraction to anyone? All this attraction originates in Krishna. Once you understand Krishna you can understand the source of all attraction. The goal isn't to become some dry theologian. The goal is to train you to feel the natural dormant attraction to Krishna. Krishna isn't some theoretical construct, but the source of all attractiveness. He drowns the inhabitants of Vrindavan in unlimited pools of ecstasy.

Most people today think that the result of getting knowledge is increased income. Without the financial reward most students wouldn't go to school. The result of transcendental knowledge is to go to a place from which you will never return.

"All I know is that my body needs some sensuality and my crazy mind needs some intoxication. And while I'm doing that I'll study something that will hopefully make me some money."

That is life as it is lived today.

The vow to sing this particular song during the kartik month is a necessary part of bhakti. To truly appreciate the damodara-lila you have to have an understanding of the spiritual paradox. What is the use of education without understanding Krishna?

This is the highest science of pure love: the one who binds everyone through maya is bound by his devotees' pure love.
Every time Mother Yasoda tried to bind Krishna the rope was two fingers too short. But how do you bind someone who has no beginning or end? That is real knowledge. But Mother Yasoda had bhakta-nista, devotional stubbornness. She was determined to discipline her child. Krishna's determination is called sva-nista. Krishna's stubbornness is that he will always reciprocate with his devotees.

Who has been bound before? Remember the old DDR days when you were bound? You couldn't go where you want, or do what you want. One secret police informer for every three persons in the country. And what about the "ropes of affection"? How many have been bound by that? You go out looking for someone: "please bind me, please bind me". Being bound is a faulty situation. But people nowadays are gloried for being in bound:

"I don't know anything: it's great! I don't understand who I am, but 'who cares'? Knowledge to get to the root of anything: that is impossible."

Because of these contaminations we don't feel the thirst to understand Krishna.

Have you ever gazed into someone's face continually and the beauty just increased and increased? With your husband you can try. Go ahead, try it. How long can you look at his face continuously? Do you ever curse the creator: "oh, why just two eyes to look into my husband's face"? Therefore, there is not real beauty in this world.

Everyone here has just a few basic desires, but you go through so many tribulations just to satisfy them. Now think of having unlimited desires. And think of having the unlimited ability to satisfy those unlimited desire. That is God. He has the surajaya-laksmi ability.

These are some paradoxes you can meditate upon and they will bring great joy to your life. Do any of your professors at university tell you: "upon graduating with this degree you will not take another material body"? Just Professor Krishna said that.

- You said that by understanding Krishna we will understand everything else, but I have heard Prabhupada say that we must first become conscious before becoming Krishna conscious?
- How can we love everybody, because someone might be very nasty and not fulfill the necessary requirements that I could love them?

GD Germany tour 2 day 5: Epilogue

25 December 2006 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

Guru Maharaja asked Frank-Peter what the most memorable part of our trip was. Answer: the Swami's lectures and the spiritual feeling of nourishment in the heart from devotee association.

Bits of advice from the Guru:

  • Marriage, whether you know the person or not, is difficult. However, if you stick to it until you're over 45, the passions die down, and you start to work together very well. The problem is that few couples can weather the storm for that long.
  • German ISKCON was famous around the world as the epicenter of extremism and fanaticism.
  • Women need to decide: do they want to surrender to the nest, or do they want to become Krishna conscious career women?
  • Mellow husbands are okay, but passionate men are in for a shock when they are no longer the number one baby of the family. For every child you have the attention you get from your wife goes down by at least 33%.
  • You want to get things done, you ask a busy person.
  • Service defines everything: you have to stay at an appropriate level of fitness for executing your service. Its very easy to ignore your health.
  • Germans are probably the most direct persons on the Earth. They are tough. You can tell them things straight-on. They appreciate it, too. You are not wasting their time.
  • A good manager/executive like Dina Sharana is defined not so much by what they do, rather they are defined by what they do not do.

Also, check out the pictures from the trip.

DS Germany tour 2 day 4: Drive from Berlin to Leipzig

22 December 2006 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

As we drove from Berlin to Leipzig I noticed that wind power generators were everywhere. Every few km there was a patch of about 15 windmills. Germany is the world's greatest producer of wind power. It generates double the amount of wind power than the next runner up (which is France, I think). A good thing too: German has instituted a law that requires that all nuclear power plants are shut down in the next 50 years. The 40% of the country's power that those generate needs to be replaced with renewable energy.

The East Germans are quite hearty people. More so than their western breatheren. They seem more emotional and personable.

Guru quotes:

The TV is the greatest destroyer of Krishna conscious family life and time for chanting

The prasadam in Berlin is very good. When there is good prasadam, the mind is peaceful.

DS Germany tour 2 day 3: Berlin

14 December 2006 | 2 Comments | Tags: ,

We travelled to Berlin with Maitreya-Muni das, a very nice disciple of Pritu Prabhu. It was a very nice sunny day with hardly any traffic. A very nice ride up to Germany's capital city (4 million people live in Berlin).

The temple itself was a bit of a shock. Located off a main street in an old courtyard of sorts, it had a run-down DDR-look to it, but at the same time was extremely peaceful. None of the noises from the busy road penetrated in. Dieties of Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra shone brightly. Supremely excellent prasadam was served upon our arrival. I've rarely seen Guru Maharaja chant so much while taking a meal. The food was most definitely out of this world.

I met Bhakta Andr?©, an expert photographer who took off in his Krishna consciousness while visiting New Zealand. In Wellington he met Devamrita Swami and married his long-term girlfriend.

The Saturday Feast started off with an hour of super-sweet bhajans. The singing, harmonium and mrdanga playing was expert.

DS Germany tour 2 day 2: Weimar

9 December 2006 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

Weimar is a famous beautiful university town. The birthplace of Schiller, one of the most famous German authors ever. It is one of the only cities in East Germany that has grown in population since the reunification. Income comes mostly from tourism. Gurudeva's comment about Weimar devotees: quite an unusual crowd, they were quite mellow, usually Germans are really intense people.

The devotees are a nice, close knit community of university students and householders: no big leaders, no big programs; just simple, kind, loving and caring, free-flowing, non-rigidness.

East Germany has lots of unemployment. Practically every second person I spoke to didn't have a job. Even educated people have trouble finding themselves jobs. However, rent is very cheap. Living life does not cost much.

The programs are in a former slaughterhouse with very cheap rent. Even running just one program each week the congregation can easily afford to permanently rent the room.

DS Germany tour 2 day 1: Schloss

5 December 2006 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

Devamrita Swami spent the night at my old home in Germany. He suggested I should take a course in lawyer's rhetoric for making a presentation and arguing. I need to learn negotiation and cynicism: to size up the opposition and get what you want (this was right after having been chewed up and spat out at yet another PhD interview).

Another idea: sales training. Salesmen need to anticipate possible objections, never say something one could answer 'no" to.

While at my parents' house he saw a picture of my playing the cello. He said:

"I didn't know you played the cello, you should play it in kirtan. Use all skills in Krishna's service."

He then also saw a picture of my sailin a boat:

"I didn't know you sailed, when was that?"

In the morning he visited expert physiotherapist who had been practicing for 27 years to treat his whiplashed neck. "There is a definite difference between a good physiotherapist and an ordiany masseure", the physiotherapist explained. "The physio has much more knowledge of how the body works". This guy loved his job and spent 30 minutes loosening the Gurus stiff neck.

DS continued to ask lots of questions about the event from various pictures of me my parents have all over the house. My graduation, sailing, my playing musical instrument, etc.

He appreciated the quiet area/house. I served Gurudeva an all-organic breakfast: apples, oranges, grapes, strawberries, millet with raw sugar and maple syrup. I found German food to be very high quality, much more so than in the UK. Or, maybe it's just what my body is used to from growing up there.

We went to briefly visit Schloss Rettershof. It is now a hotel, but 20 years ago it was a huge Hare Krishna centre. The devotees used to have 17 Mercedes sankirtan mini-vans with which travelling sankirtan parties used to fan out over the surrounding area every week. Everyone gathered back at the Schloss (castle) on Sunday for the Sunday Feast.
During this time GM was using Schloss Rettershof as a base to travel into Eastern Europe, communist Russia, and so on. Thus he wanted to see his old home once again.

Once when Srila Prabhupada visited Germany the devotees made a huge advertizing campaign to publicize his arrival. They had the idea to print and put up posters everywhere, announcing: "der F? 1/4 hrer kommt!" (the leader is coming), with a picture of Prabhupada under the writing. Of course, the word F? 1/4 hrer was commonly used to refer to Hitler. As one might imagine, the campaign caused quite a commotion and outcry. However, as a result thousands of curious people came to observe Prabhupada. The streets leading up to the temple were lined wall-to-wall for miles with curious people eager to catch a glimpse of the strange Indian "F? 1/4 hrer".

Gurudeva mentioned that my flat was very nice as a transfer location when switching continents (when jetlagged to the max). He said (mercifully) that my cooking skills were increasing. He especially liked my pasta salad. There is also quite a lot to be said for good facilities, large external computer monitor, high-speed wireless Internet, rebounder, quiet location, good prasadam.

Dina Sharana met and accompanied us on our trip to Weimar. She is the new Euro GBC for Germany. She talked a lot about the revival of ISKCON Germany. An endless task that she is working very hard to accomplish. Devamrita Swami jokingly calls her the Kaiserin (Empress).

DS visit day 5: flight

2 December 2006 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

On this day we flew to Germany from Heathrow. While checking in at the airport there was some complication with the booking. The lady at the ticket desk spent what must have been 30 minutes merrily reading over regulations, filling out forms, discussing with her colleagues until finally issuing us with tickets. All was fine. Oh, the bureaucracy. GD's comment: only India comes close to the British standard of bureaucracy, and they learnt it from the British.

Uneventful flight to Frankfurt in a small plane ...
... and to my parents' house in Germany ...

Upcoming DS Germany tour 2 diary and podcasts

26 November 2006 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

I've (finally) finished writing up my notes and editing the recording from a trip to Germany with my spiritual master in April 2006. I'll post these on this blog over the coming weeks.

So, the blog posting relating to the trip are obviously not in real time. They are from a long long time ago (a whole 6 months!).

Janmastami 2006 in Cardiff and Swansea

20 August 2006 | 4 Comments | Tags: , ,

I attended Krishna's birthday in Wales.

I took a train down to Cardiff, walked to the Soul Centre and felt like I was going to faint from the strain of the long trip and fasting. Some fruit helped restore my body.

I then took some pictures of the Soul Centre. It is a very stylish urban spiritual centre, don't you think?

The devotees went out on harinam in Cardiff for two and a half hours. It was great! After about an hour of chanting while walking around the city centre we spread out some blankets and spent the rest of the time sitting down and chanting.

Just as we were preparing the seated area a group of about five young people came up to me and asked me what "all this" was about. I briefly started to explain when one of them asked if we believed in the Bible. I said "yes, we do". Somewhat surprised, the guy started to ask some more questions. By this time I started to realize that these were rather fanatical (though respectful and inquisitive) Christians I was talking to.

Soon the kirtan had started and was going on in full-force, purifying the surrounding atmosphere. Oh well, I thought, I might as well take the opportunity to talk to these evangelical Christians about Krishna while they hear the holy name.

They presented all kinds of doubts and attacks against the notions of reincarnation, salvation outside of solely following Jesus, karma, vegetarianism (apparently, it says in the Bible that God wants us to eat meat). I explained the Krishna conscious perspective on all these point. One young man was surprised to hear the sensible KC viewpoints. The others however were closed-minded. They strained their brains to come up with something that "this heathen Hare Krishna" could not answer.

However, little did they know that all knowledge comes from Krishna, especially on his birthday. With Krishna on my side I could answer all their points. After we had talked for quite some time they asked me what distingishes a bona-fide religion from a bogus one. I answered that one aspect of a bona-fide religion is that it has a disciplic succession, like catholicism, for example.

I was very much surprised when they shoot back:

Catholics are not Christians!!

They argued that the catholic church has changed aspects of the literal meaning of the Bible. It also believes that we can go to heaven simply by following a mechanical process without surrendering our heart (which is actually true: someone can, for example, go to Gandarvaloka, which resembles the Christian idea of heaven, just by following the necessary rules and regulations of pious life; though, of course, that isn't the perfection of life).

I now realize that the lack of a disciplic succession is the main fault in evangelical Christianity. It takes the Bible as literally true. Too literally true. Without a chain of teachers coming down from the original teacher it is very easy to misinterpret the teacher's teachings and loose the true meaning (BG4.2). That is exactly what these poor Christians have done. They follow the exact words of the Bible without taking into account time, place, circumstance and intent. It is not just Chistians however. There are so many bogus interpretations of the Bhagavad-Gita which distort the true meaning.

Later, returning to Swansea, we sang bhajans until late into the night. Suki-Krishna expertly led the most amazing chanting on the harmonium. We also watched a documentary about Indradyumna Swami's amazing Festival of India tour. It is such an inspiring series of festivals! The film made me want to go to Poland and help out (but I won't because my body couldn't handle the intense austerity of the tour).

At midnight, the time of Krishna's appearance, over 100 different preparations were offered to the deity. The devotees then partook in the obligatory feast. As usual, I couldn't eat more than about two preparations because of dietary restrictions. So is life. On the bright side: my body held up surprisingly well. I even managed to chant 54 rounds throughout the day.

Cardiff Rathayatra 2006

10 August 2006 | 1 Comments | Tags: ,

Cardiff Rathayatra 2006 galleryI attended the Cardiff Rathayatra 2006 and took many, many pictures, as usual.

It was a nice peaceful festival. It was also, of course, much smaller than the London Rathayatra. After the street procession there was a festival in Coopers Fields park. Unfortunately, there was a rock festival going on nearby on the same day which probably kept some people from attending the festival. Nevertheless, it was very nice. Everyone was so happy (see the pictures)!

I met up with Joe, an old friend from Southampton University. He has since given up on the PhD he was pursuing. He has however achieved a brown belt in Jiu Jitsu (the martial art I also used to practice). He showed me some moves. Conclusion: I still know a bit, but I'm super-rusty.

Someone guessed my age and estimated me to be about 5 years younger than I am. It happens to me all the time. It is common that practitioners of Krishna consciousness look younger than they are. Or actually: we look our true age, but so-called "normal" people have abused their bodies with so much sense gratification that it prematurely ages.

The final kirtan with Janananda Prabhu and Candramauli Swami (who actually looked younger than I remembered him) was wonderful. I couldn't get enough of it. It was like frosted ecstatic cake with sugar on top, but without any of the side-effects. I thoroughly recommend it for everyone.

Swansea Visit Day 2: Mantra Tantric

25 July 2006 | 1 Comments | Tags: ,

The next day in Swanseas Govinda??(TM)s Vegetarian Restaurant / ISKCON Temple I was asked (ropped into) giving the morning Caitanya Caritamrita class.atma yoga teachers training

It was day for the Mantra Tantric session of the yoga teacher??(TM)s training course. Tantra by the way, just means ??oepractice??. The word has all kinds of negative connotations, but the original meaning is simply to practice mantra chanting. Simple.

The Mantra Tantra session goes as follows: students pair up and sit cross-legged about one metre from each other, staring to each others eyes while repeating a mantra. The mantra is also running as a tape in the background. Everyone in the room chants in unison. The intense gaze of the other person forces one to be attentive to the chanting. One can??(TM)t ??oespace-out?? as the other person would immediately notice and make one feel guilt.

We chanted a total of seven different mantras. The first and last for 30 minutes and the other five for 1 hour each (with 15 minute breaks in between).

Mantras included:

jaya jaya sri-caitanya jaya nityananda
jaya advaita-candra jaya gaura-bhakta-vrinda

vancha-kalpa-tarubhyash ca
kripa-sindhubhya eva ca
patitanam pavanebhyo
vaisnavebhyo namo namah

Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya

Haraya nama Krishna yadavaya namah
gopala govinda rama sri-madhusudana

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare

Hari haraya namah

Govindam adi-purusham tam aham bhajami

It is a serious austerity. For some people it was the most difficult part of the teacher training. Physical austerity is one thing, but this kind of serious meditation really messes with one??(TM)s mind. It??(TM)s not easy. However, if one is committed to the process and ensures the austerity one derives great personal benefit. Proper austerity always results in increased personal power. Atmananda (the founder of Atma Yoga) says that one Mantra Tantric session gives as much benefit as 1000 Power Yoga classes.

I was paired up with the only other male yoga student. We did well. Still, my mind would be kicking and screaming as the hour long chanting session progressed. However, gradually it became more and more peaceful. The first 2 hours were the most difficult. Also, sitting in one place the whole day was somewhat painful. I felt that the next day.

Many hours later ??¦ we were rewarded with a very nice feast. Haribol!

A gallery of pictures of the events may be found here.

Swansea Visit Day 1: Atma Yoga Teacher's Training

24 July 2006 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

I arrived in Swansea early evening and was received very nicely. After taking prasadam and chatting to some of the devotees for a while, I joined in with Karana Karana??(TM)s (back from Auckland, New Zealand for the occasion) ongoing Atma Yoga teachers training course. She had 10 eager and qualified students she was moulding into expert yoga teachers. Not only that, by the way Atma Yoga is designed, these students were also slowly becoming devotees of Krishna (which is of course, the original point of yoga; indeed, it is the very meaning of the word).

So I joined in a Slow-Deep Strength yoga class, suffered a bit due to having not fully digested the food I just ate, got a lift to the ashram, found my room and had a good night??(TM)s rest.

London Rathayatra 2006

6 July 2006 | 1 Comments | Tags: , ,

I attended the glorious London Rathayatra a few weeks ago. It was just great!

The Rathayatra is an age old festival that involves taking Krishna in his super-happy, happy, happy form of Jagannatha comes out for a rid on a huge cart. It has been observed in the Indian city of Puri for thousands of years. By the mercy of Srila Prabhupada it is now also held is most major cities around the world.

Now for some interesting things that happened to me throughout the day:

There was constant chanting and dancing going on. Huge kirtan parties were going wild. So many senior devotees were singing and jumping here, there and everywhere.

I got the opportunity to pull some of the carts, which was surprisingly hard work, considering the amount of people that were pulling. Krishna is heavy! I also got a quick turn at sweeping the road in front of one of the carts. Just like the King of Orissa traditionally sweeps the road for Jagannatha, the mayor of London traditionally comes out and takes a turn sweeping, as well.

As I was walking along a disheveled, homeless-looking person can and asked me for a light for his cigarette. Instead, I gave him a prasadam sweet someone had pushed into my hand a few minutes before. The guy went wild. I thought he was going to jump with joy. He started shouting, gave me a big hug and started playfully punching me in the chest. I was a bit taken aback by the sudden outburst and quickly disentangled myself from him. As I looked back he was still yelling and waving.

I met a young book distributer while walking along. He asked if I wanted to try to distribute some books myself. I hadn't done so for quite some time, but thought, what the heck, I'll give it a go. With such a huge festival going it was easy. I sold the two books he gave me within a few minutes.

Arraying at Trafalgar Square in central London there were so many people. The weather was really hot and sunny, so lots of people had come to see and enjoy. I meet so many old friends.

After queuing for about an hour for prasadam we finally got some. It was surprisingly expertly prepared, especially considering the many thousands of people that they had to feed. The menu consisted of:

  • Coldslaw salad
  • Coconut and potato subji
  • Eggplant, curd and tomato subji
  • Popadoms
  • Cashew nut rice
  • Raisin halava
  • Frreshly pressed juice

Our group from Manchester walked to Soho Street temple for a brief visit, aiming to depart from there back home. We got the good fortune to be there for Lord Jagannatha's return from his cart (in expensive cars). Everyone had a kirtan and helped unload the various maha-prasadam from the cars.

We then walked back to Hyde Park, where the procession had begun, climb aboard our mini-bus and departed for a long journey back to Manchester.

My body was totally exhausted. I could hardly walk anymore. Still, in spite of being very tired and suffering from hay-fever throughout the day, the Rathayatra was a day of perfect happiness.

Check out the huge number of pictures I took.

WWW2006 day 5: return journey

30 June 2006 | 0 Comments | Tags: , ,

One "interesting" thing happened to me on my way back from the WWW conference:

I took a late train from Edinburgh to Manchester. I arrived at Manchester at about 11pm on a Friday night. Lots of students were out and about "enjoying" the kali-yuga delights. I was walking down the road from the train station, wondering if I should take a taxi, or walk home when ...

UK Police Armed Response Unit Vehicle

Suddenly, out of no-where, three Mercedes police SUVs appear. They stop in the middle of the road, blocking all the traffic. Within two seconds several police officers in full body armor pile out of the cars, draw their pistols, move in on a group of students, scream at one student to "drop it!" and have the guy in an arm-lock, pinned to the floor.

It happened so fast I didn't have time to react.

It seems one geeky looking teenage student had been brandishing a gun to get some respect (unusual in the UK, since even the police here do not carry firearms - expect, of course, for the Armed Response Units, such as the one that I happened to witness in action). The guy certainly suffered the consequences.

All that made me desire less and less to stay in the UK. Manchester: crime city.

WWW2006 day 5: evaluating websites + free music

30 June 2006 | 1 Comments | Tags: , , ,

There was a talk on "The Web Structure of E-Government - Developing a Methodology for Quantitative Evaluation".

The researchers from University College London (UCL) used several statistical measures for evaluating government websites: worse case strongly connected components, incoming vs. outgoing link, path length between pages, etc. They compared their statistical measure with results from user evaluations. That is, they got a bunch of users together and measured how long it took them to find stuff on various website (both with and without using Google).

They tested the UK, Australia and USA immigration websites. The results:

  • UK is best, both navigating the link structure and searching
  • AU is terrible to navigate, but good to search
  • USA is bad any way you look at it, but at least search will eventually find you what you are looking for.

Automated statistics don't tell you much.

More info at:

This was followed by a talk by Ian Pascal Volz from the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Germany. He talked about "the Impact of Online Music Services on the Demand for Stars in the Music Industry".

His main (and interesting!) finding is that people tend to buy music they already know and like from online music stores like the iTunes Music Store. Peer-to-peer file sharing networks, on the other hand, tend to get people to try and discover new music. Virtual communities are somewhere in between the two.

People who buy music will not spend any money on something they don't already know and value. Even $1 per song is too high a price for a casual purchase. If you want people to discover your music and you are unknown it must be available for free.

On a related topic: when recording lectures on spiritual subject matter, please, please, please don't try to charge for them. No one will pay. Make them available for free. That way to the whole world will benefit.

And so ends the WWW2006 conference. Next stop Banff, Canada for WWW2007.

WWW2006 day 5: semantic wikipedia

28 June 2006 | 0 Comments | Tags: , , ,

A presentation by some researchers from Karlsruhe, Germany was very interesting (well presented, too). They talked about their "semantic wikipedia", an extension to the popular MediaWiki that allows authors to express some semantics, i.e. to get at the hidden data within the articles.

The normal wikipedia only has plain links between articles. Nevertheless, it is the 16th most successful website of all time (according to However, in the semantic version every link has a type. Object properties map concepts to concepts and datatype properties map concepts to data values.

Why do it this way? Answers: adding these annotations is cheap and easy (no new UI), they can be added incrementally and there is no need to create a whole new RDF layer on top of the existing content, the annotations are right there in the wiki text.

This simple addition is enough to allow for powerful queries. You can create pages that automatically pull in all articles of a specific category, with a specific title and between a specific date range, for example. Checking for completeness because easier too: you can construct a query that tests if every Country has a Capital. If some countries come up that don't, those can be easily fixed.

The whole thing self-regulates. Each property has its own page in the wiki, so that people can suggest property types and eventually come to a consensus about which properties are the right ones to use.

The wiki can be imported into OWL and vica versa. The template system can also be leveraged to quickly create semantic annotations.

The whole thing is a win-win-quick-quick scenario (bit of an in-joke there).

WWW2006 day 5: Active Navigation

27 June 2006 | 0 Comments | Tags: , , ,

Over lunch I bumped into John Darlington, the former CEO of Active Navigation, a small company (spin-off from Southampton University) that I worked for a while ago. John is now working for Southampton University as a Business Manager and was involved in organizing the WWW conference.

Active Navigation was a very nice place to work. It had the atmosphere of a small start-up without the killer, passionate, burn-out, no-holds-barred pace.

The company creates a server technology that automatically injects hyperlinks into web pages pointing to relevant, related pages on the same website. Website navigation can be improved by using these injected links. If someone, for example, creates a web page containing the word "ontology" and someone else has written a web page that also contains the "ontology", then the server transforms those words into links to each other's web pages. Someone browsing the website could find the two related pages by clicking on the automatically created link.

John called me over: "Julian! Wow, great to see you!"

Turning to Nigel Shadbolt next to him: "Julian here worked for me for a while, then disappeared into the either, as you do, and now: I'm chairing a session (the one on education), look down and who do I see? Julian, asking a question!"

He suggested I might look into digital media production in New Zealand as a possible career path. Ever since Lord of the Rings that has apparently taken off in a big way down-under.

WWW2006 day 5: ontology + dictionary

26 June 2006 | 1 Comments | Tags: , , ,

Harith Alani presented his position paper on building ontologies from other online ontologies. He explained how building ontologies is difficult, so it is best to reuse existing knowledge bases, or, even better, completely automate ontology construction. The state of the moment is that there are quite a few ontology editing tools, but little support for reuse. Furthermore, these tools are build for highly trained computer scientists, not the average web-developer.

His idea is to combine three existing research areas:
Ontology libraries (e.g. DAML library, Ontolingua) and ontology search engines (e.g. Swoogle) can be used to located ontologies on the Internet.
Ontology segmentation techniques (like mine) can be used to cut smaller pieces out of these ontologies.
Ontology mapping techniques can be used to reassemble the pieces into new ontologies.

Result: instant custom ontology. However, to get this working in practice takes quite a bit of doing. He himself admitted that is was quite an ambitious undertaking. Good idea though.

Mustafa Jarrar (from Beligum) and Paolo Bouquet (from Trento, Italy) presented the next two papers. They talked about a very similar topic. Both were advocating linking ontology terms to dictionary / glossary definitions.

It was interesting two observe these two researcher's presentation styles. Paolo was very fast and frantic, very much unlike Mustafa who was very slow and relaxed, even when trying to hurry (Vata vs. Kapha, for those knowledge in Ayurveda).

Mustafa told of how he built a complex ontology for some lawyers, but, after he had gone through the trouble of carefully constructing this knowledge base, the lawyers found it to be too complicated to understand and threw everything expect the glossary part away. However, the did really like and appreciate having a sensible glossary of all kinds of law-related knowledge.

He defined this "gloss" as:

auxiliary informal (but controlled) account for the common sense perception of humans of the intended meaning of a linguistic term

The glosses should be written as propositions, consistent with the formal definition, focused on the distinguishing characteristics of what is being described, sufficient, clear, use supportive exampled and be easy to understand.

Advantages are that these glosses are highly reusable (very important for his lawyer clients) and that they are very easy to agree upon.

So everyone: link your ontology to WordNet (or something better)!

Paolo picked up the issue and talked about his WordNet Description Logic (WDL). An extension to DL that adds lexical senses to the vocabulary of logic. It allows for compound meanings. So, UniversityOfMillan is automatically inferred as University that hasLocation some Millan.

Using this type of dictionary-link makes it possible to check for errors by comparing the glossary definition to the logical semantics. If they don't match, a potential error can be flagged.

His system also allows for bridging and mapping between ontologies. If two ontology concept refer to the same dictionary definition, then that is a very good indication that they are describing the same sort of thing.

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