September 3, 2001-- Newsletter #146

By Joe Burns

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September 3, 2001--Newsletter #146

This newsletter is part of the internet.com network.
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors,

I taught the first session of my HTML class yesterday. It is still stunning to watch a person who is so new that even the most basic bold flag impresses them. One young lady said to her lab partner, "I can't believe I'm doing this" and all she did was set text to bold and underline. This is what teachers mean when they say the job is rewarding.

Furthermore, this semester I found that many students did NOT want to take the class online. 90% wanted the course as an in-class format. They wanted a teacher and set hours over the freedom of online. Interesting.

Did you hear...

For the first time, I am going to add to my class rules and regulations that all cell phones, beepers, and 2-way communication devices are not allowed unless I give special permission. If a cell phone goes off, the rule is that I get to answer it. I say that because research has shown that students as young as grade school are carrying the latest electronic gear. The research has shown that it isn't just upscale schools either. Cell phones and pagers are found at every level of the socioeconomic scale.

If you have any money in "online cash" with a company like Flooz, Beenz or Cybergold, quickly check your account. Flooz is down. Beenz died on the 26th of August. Cybergold said that all online money had to be spent by the end of the month, or it would be gone.

According to the BBC, Hotmail has a hole that hackers are using to read other people's emails. The hole is not mass. One must be targeted to have his or her mail read. The instructions are apparently spreading all over newsgroups. Hotmail knows of the problem and CNN is reporting that the hole is already plugged.

Vietnam has laid out a plan to get up and on the Web. The Vietnamese Minister of Trade has sent a 10-point plan to develop e-commerce up until 2005. The ten-point plan calls for new infrastructure and the protection of privacy and intellectual property.

Now on to today's topic...

I get, what I think are, nasty emails from people all the time. Someone won't like what I said or will find a concern with a tutorial and will toss off an email with little regard for the text.

Often times, if I am set back by an email, and there's a telephone number at the bottom, I'll call. I've done it at least 50 times now. The people who fired off the email are often a little surprised to be hearing from the guy they just told off.

What's funny is that often I'll take the tone of a letter incorrectly and once I talk with the person, we become quick friends and we have a nice conversation.

Man, if there was just a way to place the correct emphasis and emotion on that text. Yes, I know. There are smiley faces galore, but they don't often hit the mark. What we need is a language.

Hopefully it will contain the letters, "ML".

Enter HumanML! HumanML stands for Human Markup Language. Really. It's being developed by the fine people at OASIS. OASIS is the XML interoperability consortium.

In a story released last Friday, it was announced that a committee has been formed and things are moving forward to, once-and-for-all, develop a set of elements that would allow text to carry with it not only meaning but implication.

If successful, the first applications of HumanML will be to allow for a physician or psychologist to embed certain human characteristics into text. A person's inflection could be added right along with what was said. That's fairly amazing, huh?

Furthermore, the OASIS committee hopes to come up with tags that will allow for embedding kinetics, or body movement. The story I read suggested the basic tags "smile," "frown," and "kneel," among others. I'm sure that taking it to the next level would allow even smaller categories of these tags such as a "big smile" or a "sinister smile." My guess is that those would be set as attributes though. Something like:

SMILE TYPE="sinister"

Would you need to use a height and width attribute in there also?

As the HumanML committee chair, Ranjeeth Kumar Thunga, has said, "Subtle, complex human signals are misread, misinterpreted, not presented clearly, not conveyed properly, or simply ignored. This is the cause of various conflicts throughout the ages and day-to-day".

That's true but isn't there a concern in there also? Even if we do provide the ability to categorize and tag just about every human emotion and movement, isn't it other humans that will be doing the tag placement?

Aren't those humans going to misinterpret those signals?

Isn't that why we set all this up in the first place?

Creating all of these tags and allowing them to be pushed into artificial intelligence and the notes of physicians is certainly a monumental and noble undertaking, but is it one we should take?

How many things have you seen and wished we could "un-invent" them? I'm talking things like certain poisons, weapons of mass destruction, the Bee Gees.

If we undertake this project and it gets out, then what we have done is allowed the same humans that have been messing up for decades to now set their mistakes to a more solid format.

With almost every call I make or every email I return, I find a person who wasn't as upset or nasty as I first interpreted his or her correspondence to be. Most turn out to be nice people who wrote their words with a lilt or a wink and a smile that simply eluded me. Once I was in contact and could hear the inflections, then it all made sense. Sure, the person still had the concern but it wasn't couched anywhere near as nasty as I first thought.

Maybe you think this would be better if the person writing the text could use HumanXL. Well, maybe, but how many times have you said something stupid or made an inflection you wished you hadn't?

Using these tags, you make that tone permanent. Take- backs will be a lot harder. If someone sets your tone a certain way and posts that to the Web, it's out there and even if it is changed, the original is out there...somewhere.

This is an incredible undertaking and I know I sound like I am showing up to rain on a parade, but stop and think about it.

If I can't read your email without taking it the wrong way, how on earth can I hope to tag what you say the right way?

What about that, huh? ;-)

>>>>>>>>>>>>>

That's that. Thanks for reading. I hope you didn't take it the wrong way.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: I am just starting my Broadcast Journalism course. The first week was for setting up a number of ethical dilemmas and interesting information meant to spark interest. Here's one I gave today. We're so use to seeing taped news footage these days that it's tough to think of a time when TV news was just a talking head. NBC began their nightly newscasts in April of 1944. CBS started in May of 1948. Douglas Edwards was the announcer. ABC followed close behind in August of the same year. ABC had two announcers, H. R. Baukhage and Jim Gibbons. It wasn't until 1949 when NBC debuted the "The Camel News Caravan" that footage was first used. The Caravan ran until 1956 with John Cameron Swayze as announcer.

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