WI 2018

wi18This Saturday I’ll be flying off to present the co-authored paper, Dynamic Visualization of Quality in Online Conversations in Santiago Chile at the 2018 IEEE/WIC/ACM International Conference on Web Intelligence. I’m very excited to present this research because it was a truly collaborative effort with 3 undergraduate students and my long-time collaborative Dr. Evren Eryilmaz. Below is the abstract and tagcloud of the paper.

Abstract— This paper reports on software designed to visualize levels of quality within online conversational media. Prior to construction, data mining was performed on 2,157 online conversations and examined for attributes of quality. This initial dataset was analyzed for lexical complexity and prompt-specific vocabulary usage and helped guide the redesign of an existing asynchronous online discussion board (AOD). The new design incorporates a real-time quality analyzer and provides users with a visual breakdown of their post in relation to the overall group discussion thread. Results found that the proposed system produced higher levels of overall quality in discussion posts and increased interactions with higher quality discussion posts. Survey results and a social network analysis (SNA) indicate that the proposed system produced higher levels of system satisfaction and group cohesion when compared against control software.


B. Thoms, E. Eryilmaz, N. Dubin, R. Hernandez, S. Colon-Cerezo. “Dynamic Visualization of Quality in Online Conversations,” Accepted for inclusion in Proceedings of 2018 IEEE/WIC/ACM International Conference on Web Intelligence, December 3-6, 2018, Santiago, Chile.

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When having a SMART home, makes me feel dumb.

I recently moved from my nice cozy 1-bedroom apartment, to a 3-bedroom, 3-bathroom townhouse. With the transition came a wave of new technological additions including a Google Home Max for the living room, a Google Home for the upstairs, a Google Nest camera for the living room, and Google Nest thermostats for upstairs and downstairs climate zones… Oh, and I also picked up four smart lights (lifx) and adapters. Now for the quick good, bad and scary of moving to IoT world.

The good. The great thing about IoT is in its connectivity. I, or my family can communicate with a a connected device either through the phone (if not at home), but more conveniently by talking to a smart speaker. Common phrases around the house now include, “Google, play Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee on TV1” and “Google, turn on/off the kitchen lights”. I love my Chromecast and the easy smartphone interface makes it a joy. But now the interface is my voice, which makes things much more seamless. Another fun thing we like to do in our home now, although I’m not sure it warrants the hefty price tag is to fool around with the colors of the lights. For the 4th of July (same for Bastille Day!) we had red, white and blue in our kitchen. And for Halloween, we’ll dress up the lights again. We can also control these lights from afar.


The bad. Connectivity can be a funny thing. And when I say funny, I mean frustrating. Every morning I go downstairs to find one of my 3 kitchen smart lights on. I think this is more to do with power surges in my home, but still, it is a frustrating experience you don’t get with non-smart technologies where on/off switches control the power.  Another very, and I mean very, frustrating experience is having to repeat myself with my smart speaker. In some cases the speaker doesn’t hear me, or can’t hear me when I’m rocking out to louder music. In other cases, its NLP processor has a hard time differentiating between turn kitchen 1, 2 and 3 lights on, versus turn kitchen 1 light on, kitchen 2 light on and kitchen 3 light on.An annoying respnse is “Sorry, I don’t know how to help with that right now.” It doesn’t help that I’ve been told that I mumble.

The scary. Finally, there is a lot of concern surrounding IoT and  security. An interesting article by the NYT (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/23/technology/smart-home-devices-domestic-abuse.html) focused on how smart devices can be controlled for nefarious purposes, but there are so many more areas for abuse, from hackers, government eavesdroppers and even the smart speaker manufacturers themselves. I couldn’t say, or I won’t say, what I song I was singing at home, but Google Assistant interrupted and told me that it liked the sound of that. This was an unprompted response to a conversation were weren’t having. So they are listening, but who and for what purposes remains a mystery to me…


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49th Annual Symposium on Computer Science Education


Yesterday, I had the pleasure of presenting my co-authored paper, Social Software Design to Facilitate Service-learning in Interdisciplinary Computer Science Courses, at the 49th Annual Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE). The paper was a fun write that combined my research in social online social networks, interdisciplinary study and service learning.  Below is the abstract:

Service-learning continues to play an increasing role in higher education as instructors look to incorporate high impact practices that challenge students through active and experiential learning. Yet limitations in learning management systems (LMS) can be barriers to service-learning project success. In this paper, we present an experience report on the design and implementation of an interdisciplinary service-learning course for computer science. We also present on the design and implementation of specialized social networking software as a mechanism to support service-learning across interdisciplinary computer science courses. More specifically, this research introduces customized social software, consisting of blogging, wiki and discussion software as tools for facilitating the specialized needs of these courses. These needs range from the ability for project management and milestone tracking, which are supported through wiki technology and messaging, self-reflection, which is supported through blogging and information exchange and knowledge sharing, which are supported through online discussion boards, social bookmarking and file-sharing. Results were largely positive, with a majority of students indicating that the course learning environment supported learning, collaboration and course community.

Find out more about SIGCSE here: https://sigcse2018.sigcse.org/

B. Thoms, E. Eryilmaz. “Social Software Design to Facilitate Service-learning in Interdisciplinary Computer Science Courses,” Accepted for inclusion in the 49th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, Baltimore, MD, Feb. 21-24, 2018.

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The Blockchain Bubble

Over the past year, blockchain technology has exploded.


For those in the dark, a blockchain is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using some form of cryptography. With the near-collapse of the financial markets in 2008, blockchain technology came into existence as a way of managing transactions that are independent of traditional financial institutions that control and dictate fiduciary trust between two independent entities. The blockchain eliminates these brokers through the implementation of a publicly verifiable ledger. You can read all about the original blockchain in Satoshi’s Nakamoto’s whitepaper, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.” https://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf

While the technology has proven largely successful through the original Bitcoin implementation, numerous imitation technologies have emerged, some proving to be better than their founding father. Nevertheless, regardless of which technology proves to be best, the phenomenon that has emerged is a combination of part 1849 Gold Rush, as miners seek to add blocks to the blockchain and are thus rewarded with cryptocurrency, which represents fiduciary gains provided by the specific blockchain technology, part DotCom Boom, as digital companies compete and find uses for blockchain technologies and part Housing Bubble, where investors are looking to cash in on and manipulate the market to maximize financial returns on investment.


Let’s take a look at one particular exchange, Ethereum… Ethereum is an open-source, public, blockchain-based distributed computing platform featuring smart contract functionality, it is alarming at the cryptoexchange growth. In one year, the price of Ether has skyrocketed from $10 to over $1000. The only plausible explanation is Bubble Madness, of course, but what happens when the bubble bursts on all of these cryptoexchanges? What happens to the underlying systems that depend on blockchain technologies to support their business models? After all, the technology is open source, but the power required to construct blocks is high; in the case of mining a single bitcoin, the estimates range from 100MW and 10GW of power. To understand what even 1GW of power can generate check out the following article: https://energy.gov/eere/articles/how-much-power-1-gigawatt.

Given all this, the rise and fall of cryptocurrencies has been exciting and discovering new uses for their application even more so. And it will be interesting to see how government regulation and market demand play out over the next 3-months. If I had to put my money on it… I would buy gold, which is always a good bet.


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Fake News! Read All About it!

For those interested, I will be presenting a lecture at the Camarillo Public Library on Oct. 9 @ 6pm. The lecture is open to the public.

Abstract: In this lecture series, Dr. Brian Thoms will present on issues surrounding fake news. While the subject has received wide-spread attention in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election and post-election, the concept has been around for centuries and refers to the deliberate publication of misinformation and or hoaxes in mainstream media. In addition to a brief history of fake news, Dr. Thoms will also present on tips and strategies for verifying whether or not information we receive, or media sources we receive it from are, in fact, reliable. The lecture will also explore the phenomenon of viral news and how misinformation spreads across popular online social networking systems such as Facebook and Twitter.


I will also be serving as panelist on Contemporary News and News Gathering in Thousand Oaks. This program will be held on Thursday, October 12 beginning at 6:30pm at the Grant R. Brimhall Library. Panelists will include media experts from KCLU, the Daily News and Los Angeles Times and will be moderated by TO Mayor, Claudia Bill de la Pena.

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